Polenta, coconut and marmalade cake

Having had little time to browse the numerous new recipe books acquired at Christmas, I thought it was time to delve into one.  Looking for mid-week cake inspiration, I flicked through Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s delightful ‘Jerusalem’ and found just what I needed – a cake containing marmalade – semolina , coconut and marmalade cake.

However, as ever, I didn’t quite have all the ingredients, so a semolina cake morphed into polenta cake and orange juice was replaced by pink grapefruit juice. Nothing too radical, so I figured the resulting mix was unlikely to fail, from a bake perspective at least.  More of a question over how it might taste. I use the introductory text in the book as justification. Given the statement that semolina cakes soaked in syrup are pretty ubiquitous across the Middle East and there are so many variants, I might as well go the extra step – wholesale replacement of one of the key ingredients. In for a penny, in for a pound!

I am pleased to say, no harm done in using polenta – or pink grapefruit juice. The orange blossom water in the syrup gives the cake a real aromatic lift.  The amount of sugar in the syrup is high.  I cut it down a bit and still found it very sweet, although this is unsurprising for a cake recipe originating from this part of the world (and containing a syrup!). However, serving with natural yoghurt mixed with a few drops of orange blossom water complemented the cake perfectly and unleashed the coconut flavour and citrus tang, offsetting the sweetness too.

Note to runners: Another thing, I found that just a little bit of this cake half an hour or so before a run improves your pace.  No indigestion guaranteed.  Justification to indulge indeed!

The recipe is that I used to accommodate changes in ingredients.

Preheat oven to 160C (fan)


240ml grapefruit juice

180ml sunflower oil

160g Seville orange marmalade, homemade, of course

4 medium eggs, free range, of course

grated zest of half a pink grapefruit

70g caster sugar

70g desiccated coconut

90g plain flour

180g polenta

2 tblsp ground almonds

2 tsp baking powder


150g caster sugar

120ml water

1tblsp orange blossom water

To serve:

Natural yoghurt mixed with a few drops of orange blossom water

Ottolenghi coconut cake


  • Mix together the wet ingredients: oil, fruit juice, marmalade, eggs and zest. I used my KitchenAid to mix the wet ingredients, then added the dry ingredients: sugar, coconut, semolina, almonds and baking powder. This should form a runny cake mixture.
  • Grease and line a cake tin, capacity 1 litre (or 2 x 500 g as the recipe suggests), pour the filling in and bake for 45-60 minutes for 500g, 1 hour 20 minutes or so for 1 litre tin.
  • Check with a skewer that the cake is cooked all the way through, if it is clean, it is. I also covered the top with foil to prevent burning, given the longer cooking time for a bigger single cake.
  • Just before the cake is ready to come out, add the syrup ingredients to a pan, bring to the boil, remove from the heat and pour over the cake(s) when they come out of the oven.
  • I pierced the cake with a cocktail stick to help the syrup percolate and permeate the cake.
  • Leave to cool completely then slice and serve with yoghurt and orange blossom water.

semolina cake

21 thoughts on “Polenta, coconut and marmalade cake

  1. Fascinating. We eat a kind of ‘polenta’ regularly, a habit acquired in Romania where ‘mamaliga’ as it is called there is a staple in place of bread or potatoes, particularly in the countryside. However, I’ve never heard of a cake being made with it. We most usually eat it with fried chicken livers and cottage cheese (mixed with a generous amount of soured cream) – a typical Romanian meal. By the way, the Romanian stuff (when produced at the village mill from locally-grown corn) has a much better taste than the polenta you can buy in the UK; cornmeal from a Caribbean store in the market is a better substitute, preferably ‘coarse’ but ‘medium’ will do.

  2. Well, I’ve heard some excuses for eating cake – but improving pace on a run is a new one! It looks good enough to need no excuses though. I have a copy of Jerusalem but hadn’t noticed this recipe – will definitely be trying it now.

    • Yes, it’s shameful how I can mould anything into virtue, and I am becoming expert at justifying cake-eating 😉 Jerusalem looks great, this was my warm up. I am contemplating the ma’mul or the more daring chocolate krantz cakes at the weekend – provided i survive Burn’s night tomorrow!

  3. beautiful looking cake and once the temperature warms up and the frostbite danger drops – I’ll use this as incentive to get back to running. But now – orange blossom water isn’t something I’ve ever seen before. It is an essence of some kind – or a syrup?

    • Thank you. Yes, cake is one carrot I dangle in front of myself before a run when the weather is so foul. The orange blossom water is distilled from the blossoms of orange trees – it is very aromatic and a little goes a long way.

  4. Interesting recipe and it looks delicious! I love orange marmalade and I think it gets overlooked and under appreciated for it’s fantastic flavor! I found the pink grapefruit zest interesting and would love to try this.

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