Spiced fig, almond and polenta cake

I have just begun a new series for Borough Market’s online magazine on spices. First up: cinnamon and cloves. Also, an intro piece on what we mean by ‘spice’. Each set of spices covered in the series receive a few words on their history and uses, plus a nod in the direction of recipes which make the most of them, and one or two of my own.

For this first round of sweet aromatics there are two recipes — a mulled wine trifle (to be published a few days time), and this spiced fig, polenta and almond cake, which has a hint of Christmas to it, but is a treat whatever time of year you bake it.

The polenta and almond sponge is gently but definitely spiced by ground cinnamon and cloves, with a caramel and fig topping lightening proceedings a little. I enjoy this on its own with a cup of tea. But I’d also serve it as a pudding with yoghurt or creme fraiche—it’s particularly good if served warm, perhaps about an hour after you’ve made it, or covered with clingfilm and returned to a low oven (100C) for 20 minutes while you’re eating your main course.


Cinnamon and clove spiced fig, polenta and almond cake

Serves 8

  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 80g water
  • 40g butter
  • 5 fresh figs
  • 50g plain flour
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 level teaspoon ground cloves
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 5g baking powder
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 180g ground almonds
  • 100g fine polenta
  • 170g salted butter at room temperature
  • 140g golden caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons orange blossom water

Line a 900g/2lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper and pre-heat the oven to 170C fan.

Cut the hard stalk from the top of each fig, then slice each fig in half around its middle (i.e. not through the stalk). Place the fig halves face down in the loaf tin. It’s likely you’ll have 2 tight rows of 4 halves. Assuming so, cut the final two halves in half again, and fill the gaps in the middle of the tin with them.

Put the sugar and water in a non stick frying pan or small saucepan. Slowly heat until the water boils away and the sugar syrup turns dark brown at the edges and a golden brown colour spreads across. Add the butter, stir and remove the pan from the heat. The caramel will foam and bubble and smell amazing. When the foaming dies down a little, pour the caramel over the figs.

Now make the cake.

Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and spices together. Add the lemon zest. Weigh out the ground almonds and polenta.

Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and light. The easiest way to do this is with a stand mixer and the paddle attachment (though you could make it by hand and a fair bit of elbow grease).

Add one egg. Beat. If you’re using a mixer, use a slow-medium setting.

Ensure the egg is incorporated into the butter and sugar mix before adding the second. Then add the orange blossom water. Again, beat until incorporated.

Add the flour and spice mix. Then the almond and polenta and continue beating until the well mixed.

Spoon the cake mix on to the fig and caramel base. Ensure it’s level and pushed into all gaps and corners.

Place the tin on a tray with sides as some caramel may bubble over, and bake in the centre of the oven for 55-60 minutes until the cake is golden brown. You can tell it’s done if a skewer or sharp knife can be inserted and removed without any cake mix sticking to it.

Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes before turning the cake out onto a board or cooling rack as if it were a tarte Tatin.

Wait for the cake to cool completely before peeling the paper away and slicing. Serve with a cooling dollop cream, crème fraiche or yoghurt.