Polenta has a unique texture and can carry other flavors really well, especially citrus. When baked in a cake, it produces a sturdy structure and acts like a sponge, drawing in all the flavor from the orange syrup.
For the cake
- 180ml/6fl oz mild olive oil
- 220g/8oz caster sugar
- 300g/10½oz ground almonds
- 3 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 mandarins, finely grated zest only
- 3 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 3 tsp orange blossom water
- 150g/5½oz polenta
- 1 tsp baking powder
For the thyme and orange syrup
- 4 mandarins, juice only
- 4 tbsp orange blossom honey
- 5 sprigs lemon thyme
For the icing and decoration
- 50g/1¾oz icing sugar sifted
- 7–8 tbsp pistachio or walnut oil
- chopped pistachios, for decoration
- Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Grease and line a 20cm/8in the round, loose-bottomed cake tin.
- To make the cake, whisk the oil and sugar together with a handheld electric whisk for a few minutes, until well combined. Add a little of the ground almonds and mix well, then add an egg and mix again. Repeat, adding a little more of the ground almonds, mixing, then an egg, and mixing again, until all the ingredients are used up. Mix in the mandarin zest, rosemary, and orange blossom water.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the polenta and baking powder, add them to the wet ingredients and fold through. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin, spread to the edges, and level off the top. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 160C/140C Fan/Gas 3 and bake for 25–30 minutes. The cake will be a deep golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean.
- Meanwhile, to make the syrup, put the mandarin juice, honey, and thyme sprigs in a small saucepan. Warm through gently, but do not let it boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, leaving the thyme to infuse.
- Poke holes all over the cake with a skewer, then leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes. While the syrup is still warm, remove the thyme, then drizzle the syrup over the cake. Leave it to cool in the tin for a further 30 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- To decorate, whisk together the icing sugar and pistachio oil until you reach drizzling consistency. Drizzle over the cooled cake and sprinkle with the chopped pistachios.