The other day I had a hankering for cornbread. I hadn’t made it in a good while, and there was some polenta languishing neglected in the pantry. And I thought why not combine it with another delight that was due for some attention from me – an orange cake? Oranges and other citrus fruits are at their peak at this time of year, and on the kitchen table were bowls of them, just waiting to be creatively used.
In our previous place in Dottendorf, I was spoiled for choice with two outstanding patisserie shops. One was just a few minutes’ walk away — Huntens — and it specialised in baroque multi-layered tortes. The other, Das Kleine Caféhaus in nearby Kessenich, offered more homely ones with fruit. It was the latter’s simpler but no less delicious cakes that endeared them to me. In particular, an orange cake with a rather curious texture, one that was due, I suspect, to a mix of polenta and almond flour. (I did ask once, but was told it was a professional secret.) And so the search was on for a recipe.
David Lebovitz’s orange polenta cake was a candidate and so was another by Margo made with Meyer lemons. (The internet does make these searches so effortless, as opposed to… “now where did I file Sophie Grigson’s Orange Cake?” I couldn’t be bothered going through my clipped recipes just then.) As usual, I couldn’t resist adding a few flourishes of my own — switched the proportions of polenta and almond flour, as those quantities were what I had to hand, and substituted buckwheat for the wheat flour. I also added more lemon zest than called for. Yes –- I do love a pronounced citrus flavour! When it came time to whipping up the butter, the other recipe’s melted butter seemed more convenient, and so I ended up following that procedure. The eclectic mix ended up needing a longer baking time than either called for. I live and learn….
I must say I was really surprised that my rather breezy experiment didn’t end up a disaster. It was in fact so much better than I’d expected. I had created a lovely cornbread, or rather a corn cake, with a delicate lemony-orangey flavour, which was echoed by the orange glaze. Delicate? Yes, I know. And after I’d used twice the zest called for too! The next round definitely calls for more tweaking.
And the texture? Hmm… there was so little wheat flour in the original recipe that I can perhaps forego that. I have some more experimenting to do to get that open texture of the Kessenich bakery’s orange cake.
Today I give thanks for oranges and lemons and kumquats and calamansi and pomelo, and all others of the amazing citrus tribe. How wonderful that at this time of year when most of us are down with the colds or flu, these Vitamin C-filled fruits are at their most plentiful. Signs of the Supreme Creator’s far-seeing bounty and graciousness!
I am grateful that my rather haphazard experiment turned out well. I continue to learn, and my guideline is that as long as I follow the proportions of dry and liquid ingredients, I am assured of tolerable, if not downright successful, results. I am indebted to recipes, like David Lebovitz’s, that give measures by metric weight and not just in cups.
I also give thanks that my subconscious — which has held an English lemon-drizzle cake for some time — has come through and delivered such a cake as I wished, combined with a cake made of cornmeal.
If you’d like to have a go, here’s my recipe for a robust and unsophisticated but oh-so-eminently satisfying corn cake. It has a lovely citrus flavour that brings much-needed sunshine on a cold and dark winter day, and is so good with coffee or tea or milk.
Lemon-Orange Drizzle Corn Cake
(Please note that the cup equivalents below, except for the glaze, are from original recipes by David Lebovitz and Margo at Perfectly Edible. I have adapted the original ingredients and procedures accordingly.)
Prepare a 25 x 9 cm (10 x 8 in) glass baking dish — butter it and line with parchment paper.
215g (2 cups) polenta (not instant) or yellow cornmeal
140g (~3/4 cup) finely ground almonds
40g (~5 tablespoons) wheat flour or buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
2.5 teaspoons baking powder
3 large eggs, beaten
250 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
125 ml (1/2 cup, 1.5%) low-fat milk
125 ml (½ cup, 3.5 % fat) yogurt
zest of 1 lemon, grated
zest of 2 oranges, grated
juice of 1 orange
250g (1 Foley cup holding 236.6 ml) powdered or confectioner’s sugar
mixed juices of lemon and orange, about 2-4 tablespoons
a scant teaspoon of orange liqueur (optional)
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well.
In a medium bowl, combine the liquid ingredients with the zests and mix well.
Stir in the liquid ingredients into the dry, until just thoroughly incorporated. Do not mix too much (the original recipes stress that this leads to a tough cake).
Pour batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake in a preheated oven for 50 – 60 minutes at 160ºC (325ºF) with convection, 180ºC (350ºF) without convection, or until a tester comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it.
(I left the cake in the turned-off oven with the door ajar for 15 more minutes, because my previous buckwheat experiments needed this.)
While the cake is still warm, prick the top all over with a toothpick or wooden skewer, and slowly trickle in orange juice (first ingredient in the glaze.)
Let the cake cool in the pan.
Meanwhile, prepare the drizzle with the remaining glaze ingredients.
In a small bowl, put the powdered sugar and add the citrus juice one tablespoon at a time to get a thick but drizzley consistency.
Adjust the consistency with a bit more juice or powdered sugar, as needed.
You may wish to give your glaze some oomph with orange liqueur or flavouring.
(I used my own orange flavouring – made from the thinly pared zest of oranges steeped in vodka over 3 months in a dark place.)
Pour the glaze over the cooled cake and leave to set.
Slice into pieces and serve.