polenta cake with dried fruit
Italian cake

Polenta Cake With Dried Fruit

This rustic and very filling dessert is an Epiphany tradition in Veneto. Country people would cook this cake in the embers of fires lit on the night of January 5, when they burned the befana or vecia (the effigy of the previous year) to bring good luck. This recipe is inspired by my Aunt Tali’s pinza.

polenta cake with dried fruit

  • 30 minutes preparation time
  • 20 minutes soaking time
  • 1 hour 5 minutes cooking time
  • Serves 6

Ingredient:

  • 150 g (5½ oz) raisins
  • 40–60 ml (1¼–2 fl oz) grappa eau-de-vie
  • 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) milk
  • fine salt
  • 200 g (7 oz) polenta
  • 50 g (5½ oz) raw (demerara) sugar
  • 100 g (3½ oz) dried figs, chopped
  • 50 g (1¾ oz/ 1/3 cup) pine nuts
  • 20 g (¾ oz) fennel seeds
  • 50 g (1¾ oz) butter, softened
  • 50 ml (1¾ fl oz) olive oil, plus extra, for greasing
  • 1 orange (preferably unwaxed)
  • 1 lemon (preferably unwaxed)
  • 400 g (14 oz/2 2/3 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1 sachet (7 g/¼ oz) baking powder (preferably organic)
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 50 g (1¾ oz) fresh breadcrumbs

Instructions:

lace the raisins in a small bowl and cover with the grappa, leaving for about 20 pminutes to rehydrate. Meanwhile, add 150 ml (5 fl oz) of water to the milk in a saucepan and bring it to the boil over a medium heat with 2 pinches of salt. Pour in the polenta in a steady stream and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat.

Add the sugar, rehydrated raisins, chopped figs, pine nuts, fennel seeds, softened butter and olive oil to the saucepan. Add the finely grated zest of the orange and lemon, squeeze in the juice of the orange and then stir to combine well. Allow the mixture to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Stir the flour into the mixture, little by little, until the dough is quite firm. Add the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, then work the dough by hand or use an electric stand mixer.

Grease a 20 cm (8 inch) square cake tin with oil and coat with the breadcrumbs. Spread out the dough in the tin to a 4 cm (1½ inch) thickness.

Bake for about 1 hour: the cake should be quite dense. Serve at room temperature, cut into small pieces.

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