The world of baking is a lot like the world of books– there are so many options available that it is impossible to try absolutely everything in one lifetime. But with such a rich selection at your hands, it would be shame to not even try.
Like the comfort of one’s favorite book, there are a few recipes that I continue to revisit because of the pure nostalgia they induce. But in general, I tend to crave a sense of newness and adventure when I bake. This inclination has been with me since the very beginning. The first recipe I ever chose to make was not chocolate chip cookies or vanilla cupcakes, it was a Boston Cream Pie from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. I was 10 years old. Of course, being completely inexperienced in the techniques of baking, I required the “help” of my father for this daunting task (although truthfully, I’m pretty sure he made most of the cake and I helped him!). But nevertheless, it was in this first experience that I truly caught the creative baking bug.
In the preceding years, I spent hours pouring over the latest baking books, searching for the most interesting recipes I could make. I tried everything from pineapple upside-down cakes to chocolate-drizzled peppermint shortbread cookies. Despite my desire for adventure, however, I would never diverge from the recipe as it was written. Baking is, after all, a science. If you change around the ingredients and quantities too much, you will completely alter product’s end quality. As with most things in life, you have to learn the rules before you break them. And as a perfectionist and highly organized person, rule-breaking has never been my strong-suit. A diagnosis of celiac disease, however, changed all of that.
Compared to world of conventional baking, gluten-free is certainly the road less traveled. When I accepted the challenge of gluten-free baking at the age of 18, I had to simultaneously adopt the roles of trailblazer and experimenter. In losing wheat flour as a vital baking component, I consequently inherited a hundred new flours, starches, and meals to take its place. Ingredients I had never previously considered featuring in baked goods–everything from millet and sorghum flour to almond meal and polenta–suddenly became my essential tools. It was a world of new flavors and new textures, a world of ingenuity and experimentation.
I have always said that gluten-free should not be seen as a restriction, it should be seen as an opportunity and an exciting challenge. In an odd way, I am extremely grateful for my diagnosis. Where I was previously afraid to take risks, my diagnosis forced me out of my comfort zone. Where I was fearful of experimentation, my diagnosis helped me develop creativity. And as a result, I have been introduced to the deliciousness of items such as this incredible Rhubarb Almond Polenta Cake.
In appearance, this cake has a delightful rustic quality that is simple, but also presentation-worthy. The true wow-factor of this treat, however, comes in the taste. Ground almonds and canola oil make this cake extremely moist, while the addition of polenta contributes just a slight textural crunch. The cake’s sweet, nutty flavor is then complemented by tangy, orange-flavored rhubarb on top. Because the flavors of this cake are so light, it makes a great afternoon or tea-time treat. But you only have to dress it up with a bit of whipped cream to make an exceptional after-dinner dessert.
This is a cake unlike anything I have ever had. I absolutely adore the textural complexity along with the juxtaposition of tangy and sweet. Plus, it’s not only gluten-free, but dairy-free as well. Honestly, the only bad part is that the cake was gone within 3 days.
So take a risk, take an adventure, and try something new. And the result may be something as delightful as this.
Rhubarb Almond Polenta Cake
2 cups chopped rhubarb (½-inch thick)
¼ cup honey
1 Tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 ½ cups almond meal
½ cup polenta (or medium-grind cornmeal)
½ cup GF Flour Mix*
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup sugar
¾ cup canola oil
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 325°F. Thoroughly grease a 10” springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together honey, orange juice, and orange zest. Toss in chopped rhubarb and mix until thoroughly coated. Arrange rhubarb on the bottom of the prepared pan (there will be some leftover orange liquid in the bowl. You can spoon a little bit of this mixture over the arranged rhubarb, but do not use too much, as it will leak out of the bottom of the pan).
In a separate bowl, whisk together almond meal, polenta, GF Flour Mix, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer, beat eggs and sugar until light-colored (1-2 minutes). Slowly add in oil and beat until well-combined. Gradually add in whisked dry ingredients followed by lemon zest and vanilla. Beat until fully incorporated.
Pour batter evenly over rhubarb. Place springform pan on a cookie sheet to catch any liquid that may seep out during baking. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and let cool 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, run a knife around the edge of the cake and carefully remove the sides of the pan. Flip cake onto a serving plate and remove parchment paper from top. Serve cake warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream (if desired).
*GF Flour Mix
2 cups brown rice flour
2/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca starch