Fig, polenta & almond cake

by Ed Smith

A cake with a gentle and characteristically Christmassy spiciness

This recipe was inspired by my article about cinnamon and cloves. This cake is a treat, whatever time of year you make it, though the smell of it baking is a characteristically Christmassy one. The polenta and almond sponge is gently but definitely spiced by ground cinnamon and cloves, with a caramel and fig topping lightening proceedings a little. I enjoy this on its own with a cup of tea. But I’d also serve it as a pudding with yoghurt or creme fraiche—it’s particularly good if served warm, perhaps about an hour after you’ve made it, or covered with clingfilm and returned to a low oven (100C) for 20 minutes while you’re eating your main course. 


1 x 900g loaf tin
100g golden caster sugar
80g water
40g butter                          
5 fresh figs
50g plain flour
1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
Grated zest of 1 lemon
5g baking powder
A pinch of sea salt
180g ground almonds
100g fine polenta
170g salted butter at room temperature
140g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp orange blossom water


Line the loaf tin with greaseproof paper and pre-heat the oven to 190C.

Cut the hard stalk from the top of each fig, then slice each fig in half around its middle (not through the stalk). Place the fig halves face down in the loaf tin. It’s likely you’ll have two tight rows of four halves. Assuming so, cut the final two halves in half again, and fill the gaps in the middle of the tin with them.

Put the sugar and water in a non-stick frying pan or small saucepan. Slowly heat until the water boils away, the sugar syrup turns dark brown at the edges and a golden brown colour spreads across. Add the butter, stir and remove the pan from the heat. The caramel will foam and bubble and smell amazing. When the foaming dies down a little, pour the caramel over the figs.

Now make the cake.

Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and spices together. Add the lemon zest.

Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and light. The easiest way to do this is with a stand mixer and the paddle attachment (though you could make it by hand and a fair bit of elbow grease).

Add one egg. Beat. If you’re using a mixer, use a slow-medium setting. Ensure the egg is incorporated into the butter and sugar mix before adding the second. Then add the orange blossom water. Again, beat until incorporated.

Add the flour and spice mix. Then the almond and polenta and continue beating until the well mixed.

Spoon the cake mix on to the fig and caramel base. Ensure that it is level and pushed into all gaps and corners.

Place the tin on a tray with sides as some caramel may bubble over, and bake in the centre of the oven for 55-60 mins until the cake is golden brown. You can tell it’s done if a skewer or sharp knife can be inserted and removed without any cake mix sticking to it.

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 mins before turning the cake out onto a board or cooling rack as if it were a tarte tatin.

Wait for the cake to cool completely before peeling the paper away and slicing. Serve with a cooling dollop cream, creme fraiche or yoghurt.

Recipe & image: Ed Smith