I don’t know about you but I can’t get used to these early evenings especially after the gorgeous summer we’ve had. As much as I love cold weather cooking I am finding myself drawn to sunny colours and citrus flavours in an effort to stretch out that summer feeling. Sunshine and light in a slice is what this Lemon and Saffron Semolina Cake is and long may it shine!
It is a damp, dense, sticky cake redolent with intense lemon and warm saffron flavours. Don’t be put off by the soaking-it-in-syrup stage – it is supremely easy and lends itself to all sorts of riffs (a dash of limoncello or amaretto or some thyme leaves…) and is just utterly delicious! I tend to have a little bag of fine semolina in the cupboards for dusting when I make pasta. It is really easy to find in even the smallest of ethnic (Indian or Mediterranean) food provision shops. This could also be made with 1 large juicy orange instead of 2 lemons.
To make it gluten free, use fine polenta or cornmeal instead of semolina and a gluten free baking powder too.
It is not a difficult cake to make and because of it’s weighty ingredients is quite forgiving.
Lemon and Saffron Semolina Cake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Lemon and Polenta Cake
For the cake:
- 200 g soft preferably unsalted butter (and a little smidgen for greasing)
- 200 g caster sugar
- 200 g ground almonds
- 100 g fine semolina polenta or cornmeal will make it gluten free)
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 3 large eggs
- zest of 2 unwaxed lemons (save lemons to juice for the syrup)
- pinch of saffron threads dissolved in 1 Tbsp of hot water
For the syrup:
- juice of 2 lemons (put the whole, zested lemons in a microwave for about 75-90 seconds to maximise the juice output!)
- 125 grams icing sugar
- Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/ 350°F and put the kettle on.
- In a little bowl/saucer (I used one one those tiny soy dipping dishes) place the saffron threads giving them a bit of a rub together as you do so. Pour over about 1 Tbsp of hot water from the kettle and leave to steep while you get on with the rest of the recipe.
- Line the base of a 23cm / 9inch springform cake tin with a circle of baking paper and grease its sides lightly with butter.
- Beat the butter and sugar till light and fluffy – this will take about 5 minutes depending on how soft the butter is. Don’t skimp on this step as this not only helps to aerate but also serves to somewhat dissolve the sugar.
- Mix together the almonds, semolina and baking powder in a medium sized bowl and beat 2 heaped Tbsp of it into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by 1 egg. Then alternate with ⅓ of the dry ingredients and the 2 remaining eggs, finishing with the dry ingredients. Beat well after each addition.
- Beat in the lemon zest and saffron water and threads.
- Scrape the thick batter into the prepared tin and smooth it out evenly.
- Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, checking after 30. Mine was done at 30 minutes but I have a very hot oven. The cake is done when a cake tester comes out quite clean and the edges of the cake have begun to shrink away from the sides of the tin even if it seems a bit tender.
- Place onto a wire cooling rack, but leave it in its tin.
- Make the syrup by boiling together the lemon juice and icing sugar in a small saucepan. When the icing sugar’s dissolved into the juice, it’s ready. Let it cool for 5 minutes or so.
- Prick the top of the warm cake all over with a cake tester or toothpick – don’t use anything too big like a skewer as it will punch too-large holes in the cake.
- Slowly pour the warm syrup over the cake, and leave to cool before taking it out of its tin.
- Eat as is or serve as a pudding with a spoonful of creme fraiche and a pretty dusting of icing sugar.