Rhubarb is a quintessential taste of spring. The first pink stalks are eagerly awaited in the markets in France from late April onwards. Bizarrely the French seem to prefer mammoth-sized stalks, so a friendly chat with the stallholder in my local market usually results in him agreeing to pick me out all the tender thin stalks that his compatriots aren’t so keen on. The French also recommend peeling their rhubarb – something that has never made sense to me, as along with the skin you remove most of that gorgeous colour.
If you want to make even more of that amazing colour when you’re poaching rhubarb then you have a few options – you can add a shot of cassis to the poaching syrup or alternatively another trick I read about on the lovely Mad about Macarons blog recently is to add some dried hibiscus flowers to the pan.
This recipe came about as I wracked by brains trying to think of a suitable dessert for a Spring-themed charity lunch I held at home recently. I love flat Italian style polenta cakes – they are so delicious warm from the oven, but are also very easy to dress up for dessert with a little crème fraîche, crème anglaise or ice cream.
It was a recipe certainly worth working on, as everyone absolutely loved it at the lunch. I plan to make it again later in the year when the apricots are in the market, although I might swap the orange and cardamom flavourings for lemon zest and a little amaretto. If you make it, do leave a comment!
By the way, I have made this using the ‘instant’ type polenta that is finely ground and also the coarser maize grits, and both worked well.
Rhubarb, almond and polenta cake (serves 8+)
300g young thin stalks of fresh rhubarb, washed and cut into 2cm pieces
2 tbsp demerara sugar
175g unsalted butter, softened
150g golden caster sugar
200g ground almonds
4 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange (untreated), finely grated
juice of half an orange
75g polenta, fine or coarse
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
seeds from 10 cardamom pods, ground in a pestle and mortar
2 tbsp flaked almonds
- Mix together the rhubarb and demerara sugar and set aside for an hour.
- Grease the sides and base of a 9” 22cm spring from cake tin. Line the base with a circle of baking parchment.
- After the rhubarb has macerated, drain it in a sieve over a bowl and then preheat the oven to 160C (140C fan).
- Beat together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.
- Beat in the ground almonds, and then the eggs, one at a time.
- Fold in the vanilla, orange zest and juice.
- In a small bowl combine the polenta, baking powder, salt and ground cardamom.
Fold this dry mixture into the wet one.
- Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface. Arrange the drained rhubarb evenly over the surface and then scatter the flaked almonds over.
- Bake for about 75 mins until the centre springs back when touched and the mixture is dry to the point of a knife or skewer. Cover the top loosely with foil if it is browning too much for the last 15 mins.
Best served warm.
Even though the national dish of the UK is rumoured to be chicken tikka masala, and most British families have an Indian recipe or two in their repertoire, I have never had a homemade Indian dessert. In multicultural Singapore there was the chance to witness many special festivals and as food features prominently in most of them, there was always something to learn. Diwali, or Deepavali, the festival of lights is being celebrated this year on November 11th, so why not try making something different?
Sweets or ‘mithai’ are as part of Diwali as the tin of Quality Street chocolates is at Christmas in the UK. Sweets are also given to, and received by, extended family and business contacts during this period, just like mooncakes for the lunar festival in the Chinese culture. They also figure prominently at weddings and all kinds of celebrations from graduation to weddings and the welcoming of new babies into the family.
Barfi (or burfi) is one of the easiest types of Indian set to recreate at home, as it is naturally gluten free, unlike many of the others. Almost like a fudge, it is made by boiling together milk and sugar, with the addition of ingredients such as coconut, cardamom, rosewater, pistachios. There are even recipes now for chocolate barfi! I would serve this cut into tiny squares (it is VERY rich!) alongside clementines or dates and nuts as a platter for dessert with coffee.
While I was in Singapore recently I recorded a podcast of this recipe with my friend Karen who runs the Singapore Coeliacs support group. If you’d like to hear me talking about this recipe (and me laughing a lot), then you can find it here.
- 3/4 cup sesame seeds
- 1 cup double cream
- 1 cup dried whole milk powder
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom seed
- Roast the sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat till they are golden in colour - about 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- In a non-stick frying pan combine the cream and dried milk powder. Heat over a medium-high heat, stirring continuously until the mixture starts to bubble. Lower the heat to medium and keep stirring and scraping the sides and bottom of the pan for 8-10 minutes, until mixture comes together to form a thick paste.
- Add the roasted sesame seeds and mix well. Stir for another 2-3 minutes until mixture starts to look like a soft dough.
- Lower the heat to low and add sugar and cardamom powder and mix well. Keep stirring for 1-2 minutes and bring the burfi back to a dough-like texture.
- Spread barfi mixture in a lightly greased 6"/15cm square cake tin to approximately ½"/1.25cm thick. Let it set for two hours at room temperature before cutting to desired shape.
- The pieces of barfi will store well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.