Friday, 5 July 2013

Gooseberry Polenta Cake


Gooseberry Polenta Cake

I have a taste for tart things.  Seeing a scattering of sacrificial fruits around the base of my green gooseberry bush is all the encouragement I need to start picking.  This year the bush is heavy with fruit and, left to its own devices, it would jettison far too many berries, thereby providing a feast for the slugs, bugs, birds and beasts.  Whilst I don't begrudge the wildlife a living, I jealously guard my green gooseberry bush.  Removing a couple of kilos of fruit now will stop the 'fruit drop' in its tracks and enable the remaining fruit to plump up, turn golden, and sweeten in the summer sun.  I watch out for those thorns though - I have the battle scars to attest to their viciousness.

Gooseberry 'Invicta'

Gooseberries grow best in cool, damp climates so England is excellent.  Arguably, in Scotland they grow even better.  There they are known as 'grosarts', but I grew up knowing them as 'Goosegogs'.  Given a bit of heat and sun, later in the season you can reduce the amount of sugar you need to add to them.  Usually, they are the first fruits of Spring and the bushes can remain productive into August.  I have to confess a liking for the sharp, young, green fruits.  You may have to add a bit more sweetener to the early ones but you can always add a leaf or two of Sweet Cicely (remove it after cooking) instead of extra sugar.  Sweet Cicely shows perfect timing by being around just in time for early gooseberries.  If you want a sweeter gooseberry, wait a few weeks or go for a red variety like Pax. It's worth saying again, in case you don't know it,that gooseberries pair wonderfully with elderflowers. Imparting a muscat flavour, the Elder produces its flowers at just the right time too.

Slice of Gooseberry Polenta Cake

The gooseberry is a versatile fruit with a high level of vitamin C.  Being also high in pectin it makes good jams.  Made into compote or chutney it is great for cutting oily fish such as mackerel, or fatty meats like pork or, indeed, goose.  Gooseberry fool is probably my favourite way of using them, but the fruit is very good served with a syllabub or in a crumble, pie or tart.  I've put some links to recipes at the bottom of this post but here's one for a gooseberry cake.  It uses polenta to soak up the juices in the bottom of the cake tin and to provide a crunchy top layer.  

Gooseberry Polenta Cake
(for an 18cm cake - enough for 6)

450g (1 lb) green gooseberries
60g (2 oz) caster sugar
1 elderflower head or 1-2 tbsp elderflower cordial (optional)
85g(3 oz) coarse polenta
140g (5 oz) plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
110g (4 oz) caster sugar
110g (4oz) cold butter, diced
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 medium egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon demerara sugar

Pre-heat an oven to 180C (160C fan oven).  Wash, top and tail the gooseberries.  Place in a pan with the 60g of caster sugar, (if using; add the elderflower head wrapped in muslin) and cook the fruit until just bursting.  (If you've used the elderflower head, remove it and discard).  (If you're using cordial, add it now).  Allow the gooseberries to cool completely.  
Lightly butter an 18cm round (deep) cake tin (loose-bottomed preferably).  Mix the polenta, flour, baking powder and salt together then rub in the cold, diced butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Stir in the 100g caster sugar and the lemon zest.  Mix in the egg and milk to form a fairly sticky dough.  
Cover the base of the tin with two thirds of the mix forming a slight lip.  If the gooseberry mixture is very wet, drain off the excess liquid.  Spread the softened gooseberries on the top, not quite to the edge.  Top with the remaining soft dough in random blobs so that the fruit isn't completely covered but paying attention to the edges to stop the fruit leaking out and sticking to the tin.  Sprinkle the tablespoon of demerara sugar on top.  Bake for 30-35  minutes until golden brown.  Leave for 10 minutes before turning out.  

The cake is good served warm or cold with cream and with any leftover gooseberry juice poured over it.  The cake keeps well for a couple of days but will inevitably lose its crunchiness.

Other recipes for gooseberries:
Gooseberry Elderflower Syllabub
Gooseberry Meringue Pie


Recipe inspired by Nigel Slater's 'Rhubarb Polenta Cake'