Saturday, May 09, 2009

Strawberry and polenta cupcakes

Last weekend the flower-sender took me to Champagne for the bank holiday. We had a thoroughly decadent weekend, staying in lovely hotels, sipping on lots of lovely fizz and indulging in all sorts of delicious food.

To thank him for spoiling me rotten, I decided to cook a rather more special meal last last night. After one of my favourite simple starters and a rather good chicken and asparagus dish (more of which later), I served these cute little cupcakes. The recipe caught my eye in a recent edition of my favourite foodie magazine:
BBC Good Food. I've started to find the first of the British strawberries in the shops and whilst I'm aware that these are no doubt grown in some kind of heated poly-tunnel, I am unable to resist their heady, summery smell. My local supermarket always positions them just by the door and the smell in quite intoxicating; I defy anyone to walk out without a punnet or two in their trolley.

To be honest, I'm all too often disappointed with supermarket strawberries - picked too early and stored too cold, they are all-too-often lacking in flavour. But these beauties were surprisingly sweet and delicious. I loved the idea of incorporating them into little cake and flavouring the icing with their juice. They looked so pretty in the picture too - I knew I had to re-create them.

The only trouble I had was locating one of the key ingredients: polenta. I've never purchased polenta before. Principally this is because I can't stand the stuff. It reminds me rather of wallpaper paste or, if fried, rubber. Not my thing in the slightest. But I have loved almost any and every cake I've ever tasted that incorporated this ingredient. You'd think it would be easy to find. I searched high and low for the stuff - I visited large branches of three different supermarkets plus several small independent shops. The only thing I could find was some ready-made polenta - all ready and rubbery but not what was required for these cakes. I finally struck gold in Waitrose (of course). But even there, all I could get was 'instant polenta'. I'm not sure what this is exactly, but it looked right when I poured it out of the packet and it seemed to do the job perfectly.

I was really pleased with these - the polenta gives the cakes an interesting, slightly grainy texture and the strawberries add moisture. But, to be honest, the best thing about these is the way that they look. So pretty, in a sort of ramshackle, British shabby-chic sort of way. I think it imperative that the icing should be applied in a rather haphazard fashion so that it drips down the sides. You may prefer things a little more... polished and perfect. But I like them just so!

I think these would be lovely served instead of a large birthday cake at a summer birthday party in the garden. Or perhaps to bring out as dessert after a summery dinner in the garden with friends.

The recipe states enough for 12 cakes but I found the mixture was plenty for 16. Guess it depends on the size of your muffin tray and paper cases!

You'll find the original recipe here. My version is below.

Strawberry and polenta cupcakes
Makes 12-16


140g unsalted softened butter
140g caster sugar (golden if you have it, but I used regular)
zest of half a lemon
85g polenta
3 eggs
140g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk
150g strawberries, hulled and chopped into small pieces

140g icing sugar
10 further strawberries
lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases and set to one side.

2. Cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl until very pale and fluffy. I suggest doing this in a mixer or with electric beaters. Next, add the polenta and blend until combined.

3. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork and then add a little at a time to the butter and sugar mixture. Mix as you add.

4. Sieve the flour and baking powder over the mixture and fold in gently with a metal spoon or a spatula until fully combined. Stir in the milk to loosen the mixture and little and finally, gently fold in the chopped strawberries.

5. Spoon the cake mixture into the paper cases and bake in the centre of the oven for around 20 minutes until the cakes are risen, springy to the touch and golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack. When cool, carefully peel off the paper case.

6. For the icing, sieve the icing sugar into a large bowl. Mash three strawberries with 1 tbsp of lemon juice and then push through a sieve a little at a time. Mix into the icing, adding a little more lemon juice if needed until you have a smooth, thick put fluid icing.

7. Either dip each cake into the icing, or spoon the icing over the cakes. Press half a strawberry into the icing on the top of each cake and serve within a couple of hours.

Notes - the cakes will keep (un-iced) in an airtight container for 2 days. Once the strawberries have been popped on top, they don't last very long. But that shouldn't be a problem. If you allow anyone to see them sitting on the side it the kitchen, they won't last long at all!


Jules said...

I've bookmarked this recipe in the hope of making these cakes when the PYO farm opens in a month time.

I usually find polenta in the "ethnic food" aisle near the Indian ingredients in my local Morrisons. said...

How lovely! Both the cakes and the trip to Champagne, we were there this time last year and absolutely loved it.

I haven't seen any British strawberries yet, how exciting!

Sam said...

I often add polenta to bread, it gives it a fantastic yellow colour. I love these cakes they look very summery!

I still haven't had any British strawberries yet, I'll take a look at the market tomorrow and see what I can find. I'm looking forward to a big bowl of strawberries and cream!

Katie said...

They sound wonderful and very fresh and summery. I keep meaning to try cupcakes with polenta

Antonia said...

Jules - ooh, wish I had a good PYO farm near here. How lovely. I'm growing a few in the garden but usually the birds get to them first! Good tip about the polenta. Thanks.

Ginger - we had a great time in Champagne. Such fun though very decadent!

Sam - adding it to bread certainly sounds like an interesting idea.

Katie - I really like the grainy texture the polenta gave to the cakes.

Emily said...

These are just too cute! I've actually never heard of using polenta in a baked good, which is crazy because I love polenta! I can't wait to try them out! We picked strawberries this weekend, some are absolutely going to be used to make these precious little cakes. -e

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

I LOVE cakes made with polenta - and these look especially adorable!

♥Rosie♥ said...

Hi Antonia,

I can taste summer just viewing your lovely cupcakes. I must bookmark this recipe to try.

Rosie x

Chow and Chatter said...

they look great um polenta in cakes

Maria♥ said...

Oh these are so cute and I adore the gorgeous pink colour of the icing!


Affordable homes said...

so tasty for my eyes..

Web Designing said...

i soo love strawberry cupcakes..