Oh my. The nebulous world of corn meal. So many processing techniques, labels, marketing; corn starch, maize meal, grits, polenta, hominy, harina masa… I’m confused.
This winter, after returning from the States, I was on a mission to find myself some grits, after having had some for breakfast in Charlottesville with some friends. Grits spoke to me on some deep, delicious level — it was love at first bite. For the unacquainted, grits are a traditional Southern staple dish of savoury porridge made from coarse maize/corn. It is a comforting dish often finished with butter and cheese and all the fixins’. You can add anything to a hot bowl of grits; bacon, cheese, shrimp, peppers, onions. Anyway, it’s a delicious hot mess, and I felt I needed to recreate it at home in Ireland.
And so I find myself staring blankly at corn in all its manifestations on the health food shop shelf. Google tells me that polenta is the Italian version of grits, so polenta it was.
Walking home polenta in-hand, I started thinking about Italy. I had recently been drinking some wines from Puglia in the South, which is the region that produces most of Italy’s olive oil. Imagining the captivating valleys of Puglia with its horizon of Primitivo and Negroamaro vines and bounty of aromatic herbs and olive groves, I decided to construct something edible that translated my little not-so-gritty dream. I thought that incorporating grits/ polenta into something baked could be a considerably more successful venture than inevitably messing up the sacred straight-up grits. Thyme is currently in season in Ireland, and pairs beautifully with the lemon, olive oil, and a little crackle of black pepper. The smell that filled my apartment while this was baking was terrific; I wanted to seal it into everything around me.
So yeah, I didn’t make any grits, but this cake is so lovely; delicately perfumed, fluffy, and full of harmoniously thrown together flavours. The thyme may be seasonal, but this cake tastes like full-on summer somewhere balmy and gentle. It is also gluten, dairy, and sugar-free. If you don’t have Vitafiber powder, I suggest substituting with some honey.
- 100g polenta flour/ fine corn meal (also called maize)
- 60g ground almonds
- 2 large free-range eggs
- 6 tbsp yogurt (I used soya)
- 100mls olive oil
- 40g erythritol
- 70g vitafiber (you could probably substitute with another sweetener like sugar or honey)
- A few sprigs of thyme
- Pinch of stevia
- Zest and juice of one large organic lemon
- A sprinkle of black pepper
- A pinch of sea salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
For the drizzle
- 40g vitafiber powder (or 2 tbsp honey)
- 1 tsp olive oil
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- A pinch of sea salt
- Preheat oven to 180C and grease a cake tin with olive oil.
- Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
- Add in the eggs and wet ingredients and mix gently.
- Scoop into cake tin and bake for approximately 25 minutes, but bear in mind that my oven is crazy and I could be way off. Bake until an inserted knife comes out clean.
- Allow the cake to cool and mix your drizzle ingredients together.
- Drizzle on the cooled cake and be transported to Puglia!