Gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free, this cake surprises the palette as the almond flour and polenta lends to its nutty texture and works in contrast to the silky smooth poached pears, while the aroma of spices add a depth of flavour and a hint of zing from the ginger. Sweetened with a touch of honey, it is the perfect, light after-dinner dessert, and can be made ahead! Enjoy on its own or with a cup of hot tea. You can also drizzle the top of each slice with a little syrup for added natural sweetness. I first shared this recipe with Best Health Magazine.
Spiced Pear & Polenta Cake
Yield: 1 x 9" cake
Hand mixer / stand mixer with a whisk attachment
Grease and line a 9" cake pan with parchment paper.
Ginger Saffron Poached Pears:
5 bartlett or anjou pears, peeled, stems in tact
6 cups apple juice
8 slices fresh ginger root
1 pinch saffron
1 vanilla bean, split
Spiced Polenta Cake:
195 g extra virgin olive oil
200 g honey
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
60 ml pineapple juice, room temperature
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
270 g almond flour
130 g polenta (medium grain cornmeal)
½ cup pinenuts
Poaching the pears
In a saucepan big enough to hold the pears in a single layer, bring all ingredients except the pears, to a gentle boil, then turn down to a simmer. Be sure to scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and place it in the liquid, along with the bean.
Place the pears gently in the poaching liquid. Cover the surface of the liquid with a piece of parchment to prevent the pears from discolouring while poaching.
Poach for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the ripeness of the pears. Test by piercing through the thickest part of the pear with a knife, it should have just a slight resistance.
Carefully remove the pears once they are ready, placing them on a clean plate to cool.
Once they are cool, level the bottoms with a knife, taking off about ¼ of an inch so they remain upright in the cake pan later.
Remove the ginger slices from the poaching liquid. Turn up the heat until the liquid starts to boil again. Reduce the liquid until it thickens, resembling a light syrup. Set aside.
Making the cake
Preheat the oven to 325F. Grease a 9” springform pan with olive oil, and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. If your oven runs hot, you can double the parchment paper on the sides, or use cake pan baking strips.
Whisk all spices, salt, almond flour and polenta together in a bowl and set aside. Add the vanilla to the pineapple juice and set aside.
In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, mix the oil and honey starting at medium speed, turning it up to high once it is emulsified, for 2 minutes.
Add the eggs, 1 at a time. Once all the eggs have been added, continue mixing on high for 4 minutes. This step is to add as much air as we can to the batter.
Gently fold the dry ingredients by hand into the egg mixture, using a spatula, in 3 additions, being careful to retain as much air as possible in the batter.
Add the juice at the end, and fold gently to incorporate.
Place the batter into the prepared pan, and arrange the poached pears in a circle, making sure they are about 1 inch away from the sides of the pan, and there is some room between each pear. Sprinkle the pinenuts all over the top for some added crunch.
Cut out a square piece of aluminium foil. Place it very loosely on top of the cake pan. Place the pan on a baking tray, and bake for 50 minutes, covered with the foil.
Remove the foil and continue baking for another 30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool for 30 minutes in the pan, before removing the ring, leaving the parchment in tact until the cake is completely cool. The center will be more moist, but will hold it’s shape once it cools. Lift the cake gently from the bottom and place it on a serving platter. Decorate with fresh raspberries and serve with the syrup reduction on the side.
This cake keeps for 2 days, in an airtight container, at room temperature. Warm slightly to enjoy the day after.