We snuck away to our favorite beach retreat last weekend, the charming and peaceful Orua Bay on the Awhitu Peninsula. We had our usual list of achievements to accomplish…DVD pile to watch, recipe list to cook, vacant stares to fix on horizon, brains to shut down. Check, check and check. I also had a million and one cushions to appliqué in preparation for the upcoming Auckland Art & Craft Fair. Of course they will all sell like a million and one hotcakes and my bruised thumb and punctured fingertips will all be worth it.


The other task at hand was to bid farewell to a statuette we bought in Mina Clavero, Argentina, a couple of years ago. I wish I could remember his official name. For the purposes of this post I shall call him José. We found him in a health store (I’ll take one ceramic saint and a bag of almonds thanks) and his purpose in our lives was, apparently, to watch over our wellbeing forever and ever, amen. He’s fallen a little short of that lately and what I used to see as a friendly glance in our direction I now perceive as a sinister stare. He did get knocked to the floor at one point, breaking his head off and chipping his shoulder (ominous) but we lovingly glued him back together and thought our efforts to restore his former glory would have worked well in our favor. Not so! He has thus steadily crept into the clown-in-my-child’s-room category of possessions which have no welcome presence in a home in which you wish to sleep through the night.

So we made the executive decision that maybe José was missing his homeland and wanted to take a boat ride back there toute de suite. The boy made a sturdy and sea-worthy raft out of branches, tied him in snugly with flax, gave him a hibiscus as a peace offering and an unripe lemon for the road (it would ripen by the time he docked in Argentina). He was then cast afloat on the ocean and we drove off without looking back for fear he would wash up again.


With that crippling superstition out of the way I then focussed on cooking up a storm to fuel an otherwise lazy weekend. Recipes to come in the next few weeks will be a divine slow-cooked lamb shank dish and my slightly fancy version of pasta putanesca. The focus of today’s post though, is a cake which is on my Top Ten Cakes of All Time list, and might…just might…be a contender for first place. The boy and I ate this latest incarnation within 24 hours of its exit from the oven. Obviously the fault here lies with the awesomeness of the cake and not our greedy natures. Obviously.


This is a recipe from Dish which I’ve baked an innumerable amount of times. It has a slightly savory bent to it with the use of rosemary and fennel which is offset by a sweet-as-you-like syrup. I love flourless cakes. They have a beautiful texture and gentle crumble with moreish, nutty undertones. This cake called for semolina in place of my version which uses polenta. Both work well so use whichever suits depending on your gluten and/or pantry status. The recipe makes a small cake so use a 20cm tin or you will have a crepe where a cake should be. This cake needs no fancy frills…a dollop of good quality yoghurt is the best accompaniment. I recommend the full cream version of the Gopala brand which can be found in most supermarkets. It’s the cheapest and, in my opinion, by far the best of the natural yoghurt range.

ORANGE, ALMOND & POLENTA CAKE WITH LEMON, ROSEMARY & FENNEL SEED SYRUP

INGREDIENTS (CAKE)
100g butter – at room temperature
1/2 cup demerara sugar
2 eggs
125g ground almonds
1/3 cup fine polenta (or semolina)
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange

INGREDIENTS (SYRUP)
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 tbsp honey
6 tbsp water
juice of 2 lemons
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp rosemary – very finely chopped
1 small, thin-skinned lemon – thinly sliced

METHOD – CAKE
1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease and line the base of a 20cm round cake tin.
2. Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer for 5 minutes (the sugar will still be grainy at the end of this time) then beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined.
3. Combine the almonds, polenta (or semolina), baking powder, salt and the orange zest in a separate bowl and rub between your fingertips to infuse with the zest.
4. Combine the almond and egg mixtures along with the orange juice, stirring gently until well incorporated.
5. Tip into the prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for 45-50 minutes until golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin.

METHOD – SYRUP
1. Put all the ingredients, except the lemon slices, into a saucepan and stir to dissolve the sugar. Simmer over a low heat until the surface is covered with small bubbles and the syrup is thick.
2. Add the lemon slices and gently turn to coat in the syrup. Simmer gently for 3 minutes then remove from the heat, cover and leave to stand for a further 5 minutes. This finishes cooking the lemons.

TO SERVE
Turn the cake out onto a plate and slowly spoon the hot syrup over the cold cake until it is all absorbed, then top with the lemon slices.

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