Mandarins. Yawn. I’m not at all interested in them. I don’t know why – they’ve never done anything to offend me; they’re terribly convenient and frequented my school lunch boxes and long car trips as a child. But I’d rather any other piece fruit. The only memory I have of really enjoying a mandarin – it was in the form of a cocktail.
Mandarins are in season at the moment and I’m determined to make something tasty with them. I don’t want to turn them in to a sauce for my chicken or fish or stew them to top my pancakes or desserts. I don’t want to add them to my salads or stir fries – all of this the Aussie Mandarins website suggested – even putting them on top of my bruschetta… are you kidding?
So I’m taking inspiration from one of my favourite never-fails, Yotam Ottolenghi, and making a Mandarin polenta cake for Mothers Day.
I had to peel quite a few mandarins for this recipe and it just reminded me why I’m so disinterested in them, all that peeling, pipping and pithing – it’s just not worth it in the end. But this cake on the other hand, was so worth it! My goodness it was delicious. A lovely dense cake of polenta and almond meal, moist with fragrant orange blossom and bitter orange. The caramel mandarins on top were the star attraction and added a lovely juicy sweetness. Mandarins, I will now happily enjoy you in to a cocktail or a cake, but that’s it.
Mandarin polenta cake (Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi)
Serves: 8; Prep time: 20 minutes; Cook time: 50 minutes
50g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
200g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
3 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp orange blossom water
240g ground almonds
120g quick-cook polenta
90g caster sugar
2 Tbsp water
20g unsalted butter, diced
4 Tbsp orange marmalade
1 Tbsp water
– Lightly grease a 20cm round cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper. If using a spring-form cake tin, make sure the paper circle you cut for the base is large enough to go some way up the sides as well, to prevent leaking
– To make the caramel, have ready by the stove a small pastry brush and cup of water. Put the sugar for the caramel topping in a heavy-based saucepan and add the water, Stir gently to wet the sugar through and then place on a low-medium heat. Slowly bring the sugar to the boil. While it bubbles away, brush the sides of the pan occasionally with water to prevent sugar crystals from forming close to the bubbling sugar. After a few minutes, the water will evaporate and the sugar will start to darken. Be sure to keep your eyes on the sugar, as it can easily burn. As soon as it reaches a nice golden colour, remove the pan from the heat. With your face at a safe distance, add the chunks of butter. Stir with a wooden spoon and pour in to the base of the lined cake tin. Carefully, but quickly (so it doesn’t set) spread the caramel over the base
– Grate the zest of 4 mandarins, making sure you don’t reach the white part of the skin. Set the grated zest aside. Peel the mandarins, remove the pips and pith form the segments and arrange them on top of the caramel in the bottom of the tin – you might need to peel another mandarin to cover the whole base
– For the cake batter. Pre-heat the oven to 170’C. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside
– In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle beater, cream the butter and sugar together lightly. Make sure that when they are combined but do not incorporate much air into the mixture. Gradually add the eggs while the machine is on a low-speed. Next add the reserved mandarin zest, orange blossom water, followed by the almond meal, polenta and sifted dry ingredients. As soon as they are all mixed in, turn the mixer off
– Transfer the batter to the prepared cake tin, making sure the mandarins lining the base stay in place. Level the mixture with a palette knife. Place the cake in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes
– While the cake is still hot (warm it up again if you need so the paper doesn’t stick to the caramel), turn it upside down on to the plate and remove the paper. Leave the cake to cool completely
– For the glaze, bring the marmalade and water to the boil in a small saucepan and then pass through a sieve. while the glaze is still hot, lightly brush the top of the cake with it