(Pukka) Polenta & Primrose Cake.

I have a thing with polenta. Not a good thing I may add.  The moment I discovered it & I also learnt I had an issue with it. It was Jamie Olivers fault. He was young, he was probably in Italy and he had a wooden scrubbed table in front of him. Now as you can imagine I’m no prude when it comes to tableware – I’ve eaten of far worse things than scrubbed tables – it wasn’t the table that made my stomach turn just a bit, it was the runny grobbles that  Jamie slopped onto the table, with a well in the middle to be filled with an extremely tasty I’m sure stew of some sort. The table eating didn’t bother me, the stew looked saucy..it could’ve been a winner, if it wasn’t for the bright yellow guck. Polenta & me spent 15 years having a wide birth from each other, with occasional stomach churning recollections of the scrubbed table.

But the other day I tried making a cake with some leftover Primrose Curd. It’s an apple, egg, butter,lemon & primrose mix & I had high hopes for my cake. My first attempt with wheat flour looked like a WI prize winner. but within moments deflated into a wet batter. I mourned the loss of my cake & my kids ate it with a distaste I haven’t seen since Polentagate.  However, behind the stodge was a gorgeous flavour. Fortunatly perhaps because Primrose & Polenta both start with the same letter (seriously it doesn’t get much more sophisticated than that in my head) I thought once more about Polenta & wondered if it was time to put aside my fear of the corny grain – perhaps this grain might be less slop, more substance in my cake?

Well, knock me over with a feather. A trip to the shop & a bake later and I am utterly in love with Polenta. gloopy it is not. It is my best friend of the week, it makes the loveliest gluten free cake (yes a lovely gluten free cake) and it turns out to like being scattered with primrose flowers – which is lucky because look all around you, they are everywhere at the moment. So here you have it.  It’s been the star of my market stall for the last couple of weeks. Men & women have been going weak kneed over it & polenta is out of stock in the fair counties of Herefordshire & Monmouthshire. Polenta really is nice, in cake; in utterly gorgeous cake – good enough to adorn Jamie Olivers scrubbed table.

Primrose & Polenta Cake

Peel & chop 3 cooking apples (you’ll want 450g of apple), squeeze over the juice of 1 lemon slowly cook them until they are soft & pulpy, melt in 125 g butter &  dissolve in 200g sugar- take off the heat & allow to cool enough to mix in 4 beaten eggs. Stir the mixture together until it is smooth. Stir into the mixture 1 tsp of baking powder (look for Rice Flour on the ingredients if you’re wanting to make a properly gluten free cake – baking powder often has wheat flour in it) & then stir in 500g polenta & 2 tablespoons of yoghurt.  Now leave it for 1 hour to let the polenta grains absorb the liquid (you’ll thank me for this bit) If it’s very stiff once the grains have absorbed the liquid add glug of milk to loosen the batter. Then place the mix in a cake tin, wet the top of the cake and pat it down with your fingers (don’t ask me why this is important, but it is) put your cake into your oven preheated to 180 or whatever temperature you make your best cakes in. (oven temperature, not the temperature of your kitchen, although if that helps don’t let me stop you.) cook your cake until you can stick a knife in & it comes out clean.

Once cooled, drizzle your cake with icing sugar glaze (I use lemon juice in mine for sharpness) & scatter the top of your cake with Primose flowers. I freeze petals & crumble them over the cake – but it would look just as nice with whole petals – the only thing that doesn’t work is an earwig stuck in the icing. (a downside to using freshly picked flowers is how many earwigs you get to know)

Pukka. Primrose. Polenta. Innit.

 

 

 

Primrose Curd – A taste of spring to come

The dirty palette of winter landscapes has suddenly been injected with splashes of vibrant tones, fields are greening with neon new shoots and verges are speckled with yellows of all hues; primroses. gorse flowers, celandine and daffodils, signalling that spring really is coming.

Up here is the hills we’re still in the throws of winter but even here we’ve spotted a few buttery primroses celebrating the very welcome, very delicious flavours of early spring. So whether you’re in sunny parts where spring is springing, or in a colder pocket where you need a glimpse into spring, this is for you…..  What better way to celebrate the coming of spring than with a sweet treat full of spring sunshine flavours, and if you have primroses in your garden you can turn a handful of flowers into a desert to delight even the saddest Jack Frost.

My friend Rebecca lives in a little cottage which has a beautiful shady garden which is covered in primroses in the spring, it is so carpeted in fact that the cottage is called Primrose Cottage and her 2 sons Tim and Rob gather the primroses I use in my curd. Rather than collecting from verges, gather your primroses from clumps in your own gardens. You can pluck and propagate at the same time as primrose seeds can be sown green – pop open the fruit capsule & push the tiny seeds just under the earth – you’ll have your own Primrose Cottage in no time.

Primrose Curd  – with Primrose Meringues

Makes 8

Ingredients

4 large egg whites

240g granulated or caster sugar

8-10 primrose flowers, chopped

Primrose curd (see below) or lemon curd

300ml double cream, whipped

Preheat the oven to 300F/150C/Gas 2. Put the egg whites and about a quarter of the sugar in a large bowl and whisk to soft peaks. Still whisking, gradually sprinkle in all but about 3 tbsp of the sugar, beating until it is holding soft peaks again. Finally, fold in the last of the sugar and the chopped flowers.

Line a large baking sheet with non-stick baking parchment and spoon the mixture in eight well-spaced mounds (they’ll need a good 3cm between each).

Bake for 45 minutes, or until palest gold and dry and firm to the touch. Leave to cool on the paper.

Very carefully peel the meringues off the paper — they will be fragile. Turn upside down and spoon cream and primrose curd on the base. Decorate with more flowers, crystallised if you like.

Primrose curd

Ingredients

A generous handful of unsprayed washed primrose petals

450g sugar

450g Bramley apples

125g unsalted butter

4-5 large eggs

The zest and juice of 2 lemons

Day one: finely chop the primrose petals, place them with the sugar in a container and stir through the primrose flowers. Cover and leave for at least 24 hours (this will allow the flavours from the petals to be released into the sugar).

Day 2: peel and chop 450g of apples, put them into a pan with 100ml of water and the lemon zest. On the hob, gently cook the apple until it is yieldingly soft, then mash it into a purée.

One-third fill a pan with water and place a snug-fitting heat‑proof bowl on top of the pan. Add the apple, butter, lemon juice and primrose sugar mixture to the bowl. Heat the pan and stir the mixture until the butter has completely melted.

Turn off the heat and add the eggs to the mixture through a sieve. Stir the eggs in thoroughly with a balloon whisk.

Put the pan back on a gentle heat and stir the mixture for about 10 minutes, until it thickens. (It will thicken further as it cools.) Pour the curd into sterilised jars, seal immediately and store in the fridge, where it will keep for up to a month.

If you want to use the curd straight away, transfer the mixture to a wide bowl (ideally a stainless steel one) and sit in a larger bowl of iced water. Stir occasionally until cold.