Elderflower and polenta cake from Lombardy

In this very instant it’s the best cake in the world. It is a fairy godmother cake from another time. It belongs in an ancient garden, dappled, overgrown, heaving with ivy and tangled roses. It needs friends with whom to share it. Right now it’s just me in my urban fox-ravaged patch, with this cake. But when I close my eyes I am displaced.

There are many things I should rather be doing this morning than baking, or eating, a cake… but the elderflowers are in full bloom, the time will pass in an instant. So I walked over to the elderflower tree at the bottom of our road, nipped a few overhanging flowers, and began to bake.

I saw this cake just a few days ago on Stefano Arturi’s Instagram. Stefano is the author of the excellent blog Italian Home Cooking, and, as with all of his recipes, he explains the origin and stories behind this nearly forgotten, old-fashioned pàn de mèj (millet, originally). He describes it as ‘a dry cake, exquisitely perfumed, whose restrained elegance and goodness should be revived.’

I totally agree, and now is the time.

Elderflower and polenta cake recipe barely adapted from Stefano Arturi’s Italian Home Cooking

3 to 6 heads of elderflowers, depending on the size
150g white flour (I used spelt)
150g coarse polenta
1 tsp baking powder
Good pinch of salt
Grated zest from one lemon
120g sugar (I use golden caster sugar)
80g butter, melted and cooled
40g light olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 170C (330F). Line with parchment paper and butter a small (23cm / 9in) cake or pie tin.

Shake the elderflower heads to get rid of any small bugs.

Mix together the flour, polenta, baking powder, salt, lemon zest, and sugar.

Add the melted butter, olive oil, beaten eggs, and vanilla extract. Stir to combine.

Pick the flowers from the stems and chop them up a little. Combine 5 tablespoons of the flowers into the batter.

Scrape the batter into the cake tin.

In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of elderflowers with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Sprinkle over the cake.

Bake the cake for about 30 minutes, until a knife or skewer comes out clean.

Eat warm or at room temperature, traditionally with a pour of cold single cream, though it is delicious as is.

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