Gluten-free orange & blackberry polenta cake: Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning

I love it as a budding food writer when you get exciting recipes to try out; when it is for a great cause, I love to be involved and do my little bit. 

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This a very moist, light cake and it tastes wonderful. It is also very easy to bake. I would recommend making several of these orange polenta cakes for the Coffee Morning as they will vanish very quickly!

This cake, which doubles up as a great dessert, also happens to be gluten-free. It is a real example of a gluten-free bake that doesn’t need to be apologetic for its gluten-free-ness: it certainly stands up easily against non-gluten-free bakes!

Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning

Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning takes place on Friday 30th September 2016. For more recipes, or to register to hold a coffee morning and help ensure no-one faces cancer alone, visit

There are now 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK. For many, cancer can be the loneliest place. Macmillan can be there but not without your support.

To run, bake, donate, volunteer or speak up for people affected by cancer, call 0300 1000 200 or visit

There are other great bakes to try out on the Macmillan website here.

About the recipe:

Essentially this is an upside-down cake, taken to another level: a delightful blast from the past, with a modern twist with the aromatics (the spices and the rosemary).

Don’t get put off by the aromatics in the syrup: having made this cake without any aromatics and then making it again with the aromatics, the version with aromatics won hands-down: you don’t get an in-your-face blast of the aromatics, but they add a subtle note, resulting in a more exciting flavour than just the lovely sweet-sharp orange.

I have slightly adapted the recipe that Macmillan gave me from their gorgeous blood orange version, purely because I could not find blood oranges in any of the main supermarkets. So I went for normal oranges, plus a few blackberries from the garden. But once I get my hands on some blood oranges, I cannot wait to make the blood orange version!

There are many flavour variations that work brilliantly here:

  • use blood oranges instead of normal oranges for a striking red colour – with or without the blackberries
  • use a ground pistachios instead of ground almonds – or even a mixture of them
  • add 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon or ground mixed spice to the cake mixture
  • pop a crushed star anise in with the butter and sugar for the syrup
  • use a few fresh raspberries instead of blackberries – or whatever soft fruits are in season at the time

Recipe: orange & blackberry polenta cake (gluten free) – serves 10

Preparation time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 40 – 50 mins

For the syrup:

  • 45g unsalted butter
  • 140g light brown sugar
  • juice of 1 medium lemon
  • 3 medium oranges
  • 5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 2 large oranges

For the cake:

  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 200g light brown sugar
  • 3 medium eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 100g coarse polenta
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (gluten-free)
  • finely grated zest of 2 large oranges
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
  • about 150g blackberries

To finish and serve

  • grated orange zest or candied orange peel*
  • crème fraîche

* a recipe for a very simple candied orange peel is at the bottom of the post

(1) Grease a spring-form or loose-bottomed round tin (23cm diameter) and line the base with baking paper. Pre-heat the oven to 160C (fan)/180C (non-fan).

(2) For the syrup, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and lemon juice, cardamom pods and rosemary. Keep heating gently, stirring all the time until the sugar melts – for about 3 minutes. Leave to cool and remove the cardamom and rosemary (it is easier to sieve the mixture but you can remove the cardamom and rosemary with a spoon). Pour the syrup into the bottom of the prepared tin. Don’t worry if there are a few cardamom seeds still in the syrup.

(3) Grate the zest from 2 of the oranges and reserve for the cake batter. Slice off the tops and bottoms of both oranges. Remove the rind and pith, following the curve of the fruit from top to bottom. Then cut the oranges into wheels about 5mm thick. Arrange the wheels on top of the syrup in a single, tight layer, and pop a few of the blackberries in the spaces, rounded side face-down.

(4) Beat the butter, sugar and the reserved orange zest in a large bowl until light and creamy. Beat in the eggs a little at a time, and stir in the vanilla extract.

(5) Add the ground almonds, polenta, orange blossom water and baking powder. Stir well into the cake mix. Gently mix in the rest of the blackberries, trying not to burst them: but if some do burst, it is not a problem in the slightest, and you do get lovely streaks in the cake!

(6) Spoon the batter into the tin and flatten gently. Bake in the centre of the oven for 40 -50 minutes, until the top is light brown and cake is slightly loose from the sides of the tin. If in doubt, go close to 50 minutes.

(7) Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the tin before removing from the tin, placing a plate on top and carefully inverting the cake onto it. Delicately peel off the greaseproof from the top of the cake. Serve with crème fraiche, and either a grating of orange peel or slivers of candied orange peel (below).

Candied orange peel

Candied orange peel is so simple and tastes great. You simply take thin peelings from the orange zest using a vegetable peeler, cutting away any of the white pith that might be on the peelings.

Now either chop them, slice them into thin strips or leave them fairly large, and pop then in a small pan with about 400ml water and 100g of any sugar. You could also add some spices to the water, such as crushed cardamom, star anise, a cinnamon stick……

Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Remove the orange from the syrup and leave to cool.


Author: Philip

Finalist on Britain’s Best Home Cook (BBC Television 2018). Published recipe writer with a love of growing fruit & veg, cooking, teaching and eating good food.

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