Baking: Peach polenta cake, a gluten-free delight

This is the best cake for the alternative coconut, almond and rice flours

Here is a fruity gluten-free cake that is perfect for the summer months. Baking gluten-free cakes is worth trying and doesn’t require any special skills. It is just like any other baking, but without standard wheat flour. There are plenty of alternative flours that are now commonly used in baking, such as rice flour and coconut flour. But, by using ground almonds instead of flour, you’ll soon become quite confident, not to mention popular with all the luxuriously moist, light and tasty cakes you can make.

Claudia Roden is acclaimed for her gluten-free orange and almond cake which first appeared in her Book of Middle Eastern Food, in 1968. The best ones have an intensely fruity dimension, such as a tangy citrus syrup, a Mediterranean twist or Middle Eastern warmth. Many of the most popular gluten-free cakes contain polenta, which is made from corn, so it is naturally gluten-free.

When you can buy punnets of succulently ripe peaches this polenta cake is very tasty, and stunning when decorated with a glazed layer of fruit over the top. Adding polenta to the cake gives a firm structure and a distinctive mealy texture. Use fine polenta (also known as quick-cook or instant polenta) rather than coarse polenta. Best of all the polenta imparts a gorgeous burnt-yellow hue.

There is lots of moist richness with melted butter, but you can also use sunflower oil. The orange syrup gives it just the right amount of sweetness, and this is where you might like to add a dash of liqueur, such as peach schnapps, if you would like to serve it as a delicious dessert. Glazing the fruit once baked with a brush of warm apricot jam will keep it looking vibrant if you want to keep it for a few days (you can also use redcurrant jelly). Decorate this cake in your own style with blanched, toasted, flaked almonds or chopped pistachio nuts. Serve it chilled with thickly whipped cream, yogurt, mascarpone or creme fraiche. If you have a muffin tray, take this recipe and easily turn it into a tray of gluten-free muffins for the beach or a picnic.


Peach polenta cake

Serves eight
3 eggs
200g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
200g melted butter
5 ripe peaches, washed, halved and stoned
75g fine (or quick cook) polenta
2tsp gluten free baking powder
200g ground almonds
orange syrup
100g orange juice
75g sugar
Optional: 2tbsp apricot jam (or redcurrant jelly) to glaze

Preheat the fan oven to 160 degrees. Grease and line the base and sides of a 20cm cake tin with parchment paper.
2 Using an electric whisk, beat the eggs, caster sugar and vanilla extract until the mixture is pale and thick enough to leave a ribbon-like trail when falling from the whisk.
3 Melt the butter and set aside to cool down slightly. Blitz half the peaches to a puree consistency.
4 Combine the polenta, baking powder and ground almonds. Fold the dry ingredients into the batter, followed by the peach puree and melted butter. Stir well to combine fully.
5 Spoon the peachy cake mixture into the prepared cake tin. Cut the remaining peach halves into wedges and arrange over the top of the cake.
6 Bake on the middle shelf of a preheated oven for 50 minutes to one hour or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean (to avoid the top of the cake overbrowning, bake uncovered for the first 30 minutes, then cover with tinfoil for the rest of the baking time).
7 Make a syrup by heating the orange juice and sugar in a saucepan and simmering for two minutes, then set the syrup aside to cool down. Pierce all over the top of the cake with a skewer, creating tiny holes for the syrup to seep into, then use a tablespoon to slowly spoon it over the warm cake, being careful not to allow it to flow over the edges.
8 Leave the cake to cool fully in the tin. If you want to preserve the vibrant look of the fruit on top, warm the apricot jam or redcurrant jelly and brush it over the top of the fruit pieces.

Rather than peaches, ripe nectarines (a cross between a peach and a plum) and redcurrants glazed with redcurrant jelly would be delicious. Other classic fruit combinations include blueberries and lemon zest, blackberries with cinnamon, orange and cardamom, and fig and honey. Substitute 30g poppy seeds in place of polenta if you can't get it.