Pistachio Cardamom & Polenta Cake – Cooking for Coeliac’s (Gluten Intolerance)

2014 has arrived and there is much excitement in my world. Last year I drove miles, thousands of them and it meant having to stay away more often than I preferred, which reduced both family and kitchen time. This year I am looking after a another team based in the south, so less travelling and some more excuses to adventure with food (and spend time with the family!).


I met the southern team last week, and decided to treat them to some home made baking, BUT one of them is a Coeliac which is an intolerance to Gluten. The only known treatment for this is a Gluten-free diet which is a bit of a challenge, if you check the packets of many ingredients the number that claim Gluten free is not massive especially if baking cakes and desserts!

I did some research and found a suitable replacement for flour was Polenta, which is Maize (Corn) ground into a meal (course Flour). Its not the same as conventional Flour so baking with Polenta requires some thinking. You have to be careful with other ingredients too, Baking Powder which is used as as raising agent can contain Gluten so check your packets 1st before embarking on this particular cake.

I made this in between customer meetings and conference calls so apologies as there are not too many photographs in this particular post (2 to be precise)!

I decided to bake a Pistachio and Cardamom Polenta Cake with a hint of Rose Water & Lime Butter Frosting, Middle Eastern inspired and something which was an ongoing development during the cooking process, here’s the final version, which was AMAZING, your will need the following ingredients!

Cake Ingredients

  1. 8 cardamom pods, seeds only
  2. 150g pistachios, shelled
  3. 100g ground almonds
  4. 1 tsp rose water
  5. 175g polenta
  6. 1¼ tsp baking powder
  7. 300g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  8. 325g caster sugar
  9. 4 medium eggs, lightly beaten
  10. 1 unwaxed lime, grated zest, plus ½ lime juice
  11. ½ tsp vanilla EXTRACT

Soaking Syrup

  1. 120g Castor Sugar (Mine has Vanilla Pods in it to infuse)
  2. 1tsp Rose Water
  3. 80ml Lemon Juice
  4. 30ml Lime Juice
  5. 1tbsp Pomegranate Molasses (This is critical as it provides a unique Middle Eastern Flavour)

The basis of the recipe were a couple of cakes I found on the Internet which had Semolina as the base and quite a lot of Rose Water, but could not be used as Semolina contains Gluten, hence the Polenta replacement.

I was a bit nervous about introducing too much Rose Water into the cake, as I think its definitely an acquired taste. I decided to add some further adaptions and significantly reduced the Rose Water component, but introduced some more Middle Eastern flavour in the form of Pomegranate Molasses. I also increased the Cardamon and added Lime reducing the quantity of Lemon, which I prefer……….. YUMMMMMM…!

Lime Butter Frosting

  1. 250g Unsalted Butter
  2. 256g Icing Sugar
  3. 2 Limes Zested
  4. ½ Lime Juice

The Cake Process

  1. Grease a round, 23cm, loose-bottomed cake tin and line with baking parchment.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170°C/gas 3 (If using a FAN oven, drop the temperature a bit).
  3. Extract the Cardamom seeds from their pods and grind to a powder in a pestle & Mortar.
  4. Put Pistachios in a food processor and grind for a few seconds, you don’t want a powder but pieces around 2-3mm so there is still texture.
  5. Add the ground Almonds, Cardamom, Polenta, Baking Powder and 2/3rds of the Pistachios and mix briefly. The remaining Pistachios are sprinkled on the Lime Butter Frosting to finish.
  6. Beat the Butter and Sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the Egg in small amounts, incorporating it well. (A Kenwood is good for this with the beater).
  7. Fold in the mixed dry ingredients, then the Lime Zest and Juice, Rose Water and Vanilla extract.
  8. Put it into the lined tin, level and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour until a skewer comes out oily but dry. (Mine took slightly longer, about 1 hr 10 mins)

The trusty Kenwood Chef was used to beat the Sugar/Butter, and also used to mix in the eggs. You might find the mixtures splits during this process, adding a small amount of Polenta will bring it all together.


Put all the ingredients for the Syrup in a small saucepan; bring to the boil to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat.Remove the cake from the oven; while it is still hot, spoon the Syrup over the cake, I used about 4 Tbsp, judge with the eye.

Allow the cake to cool, then take out of the tin. Coat the top of the cake with the frosting, sprinkle with the remaining Pistachios and gentle press in to fix.

I had one challenge whilst trying to find the Polenta in the shops, a large chain had some Corn Meal, but looking on the side of the Packet, there was the label ‘May Contain Traces of Gluten’. This brand was very cheap and obviously processed in a factory grinding flour and other Gluten laden products. Another higher end shop had Polenta, but it was Organic and very expensive. Eventually I gambled and went for Polenta Express, Gluten Free but apparently the dry grains had been pre-cooked in some way, it still looked and felt like flour/meal and worked a treat.

The cake is quite (well very actually) moist and sticky,  great on its own (as my new friends found out), but also goes really well with a serving of Crème Fraiche or Double Cream.

Feedback from my new team was VERY encouraging, a couple of them have vowed to make it themselves, they loved it so much. Its definitely an ADULT cake, the Pomegranate Molasses used in the Syrup really adds an amazing flavour dimension, the Rose Water is very subtle, and tends to stimulate the nose rather than the taste buds which is what I was hoping for. The Lime Butter Frosting adds another texture and all the flavours work together really well.

Pomegranate Molasses and Rose Water is readily available, I use Steenbergs and Ottolenghi’s to source mine along with the Cardamom.

So there we go, if you know someone with a Gluten Intolerance, and Dairy is not an issue, have a go at this, you will be pleased you did.


A Brownie or not – You decide!

I’m very fortunate to have a great team supporting me at work, doing admin booking hotels and flights as I travel up and down the country. With this in mind, and as a way of saying thank-you I decided to bake them something nice, so what to cook.

I remember watching Willie Harcourt-Cooze on television in 2008, when the series ‘Willy Wonka’s  Chocolate Factory’ appeared on Channel 4, and told his story of buying a chocolate plantation, setting up a processing factory in the UK, and persuading Waitrose to range his specialist chocolate. I have used ‘Willie’s Cacao’ several times, its fantastic chocolate for cooking and was going to be the star ingredient in my treat for the team. I purchased his first book around that time, it has some great recipes in it including one for brownies. My attempt is a variation on his recipe with some subtle changes, so read on to see what I did..

As your saw from the heading picture this is not a slimming treat, Organic Unsalted Butter, Unrefined Golden Sugar and lots of eggs being needed, but I was determined to include one of the ‘5 a day’ so fresh Raspberries were going to be a hidden surprise.

Before starting gather all the ingredients, a habit I have got into as it makes cooking so much easier. Switch the oven on and set to 175deg (fan),  then line a 20cm x 20cm square baking tin with butter and parchment paper, this makes removing the final brownie so much easier.


250g of Willie’s Drop’s are placed into a bowl over simmering water with 300g of unsalted butter and slowly melted, you can see the glossy mixture in the picture above, silky smooth and decadent. I used the 71% Sambirano Single Estate Madagascan which is beautiful and readily available.


6 Eggs and 3 Yolks were added to 300g of Golden Caster Sugar and processed by the trusty Kenwood Chef using the Balloon Whisk attachment. I set the beast going at full speed to create a very light, pale and airy mixture, this helps to lighten the final brownie, it took about 6-8 minutes and significantly increased the volume of the mixture.


With the Chocolate/Butter mix melted and combined, add to the Egg/Sugar mixture and gently fold in 100g of Plain Flour, this is more than the original recipe as is the extra Egg Yolk. You should end up with a smooth batter like the picture above. The next stage is to pour in about 1cm’s worth of mixture to cover the base of the tin, then place the Raspberries  as seen in the following picture.


Pour the remaining mixture gently into the tin, the mixture can dislodge the fruit so go slowly, then add more raspberries pushing them into the mixture so that they are just below the surface of the batter mix.

The Brownie/Cake mixture needs baking for about 30 minutes, then remove from the over and LEAVE IT ALONE TO COOL DOWN SLOWLY……..  If you don’t do this, when you try and remove from the tin, you will end up with  mess.


When the Brownie has cooled down, you can remove from the baking tin by gently lifting by the parchment paper, then dust with Icing sugar.

It was absolutely delicious, quite light and moist for a Brownie, I think its more cake like but the team loved it, as did several other people who where in the office at the time.

If you like chocolate, you should have a go at this, its quick to make and just scrummy……. Enjoy