This is a traditional dessert from the not-so-humbly named ‘The Most Serene Republic of San Marino’ – Republica Serenissima – one of the world’s smallest and oldest republics which, though not technically part of Italy, is surrounded by Emilia-Romagna and Le Marche regions near the Adriatic Sea making it an easy day trip from Florence and Bologna (where this recipe is similarly revered). It has distant origins in the Italian cibo povero tradition referencing rustic recipes that were traditionally made by peasants of the time and was baked on an open fire in a copper pot with a concave lid that housed hot coals allowing the cake to cook on both sides. Although it’s eaten all year round, this is a cake that is traditionally made to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th December and is an intoxicating mix of seasonal ingredients including fresh apples, figs, golden sultanas, Tuscan honey, Umbrian olive oil, polenta, organic spelt flour, sourdough breadcrumbs, cinnamon and the zest of several lemons and oranges. The result is a fresher fruitier alternative to the traditional Christmas cake which I serve in small portions with rich Normandy crème fraîche swirled with limoncello, a garnish of Amalfi lemon zest and a sliver of fresh fig.
A knob of butter
200g organic spelt flour
100g sourdough breadcrumbs
100g unrefined granulated sugar
500ml whole milk
3 large free range eggs, beaten
100g Italian runny honey
55ml Italian olive oil
100g dried figs, cut into quarters
500g rosy eating apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sea salt
Zest of two large oranges
Zest of two large lemons
Icing sugar, for dusting
How I make it
Heat an oven to 180C.
Lightly butter a large loose-bottomed cake tin.
In a large bowl, mix together the polenta, flour, breadcrumbs and sugar.
In another bowl, gently blend the milk, eggs, honey and olive oil. Add this to the polenta mixture and then add the figs, raisins, apples, cinnamon, salt and the zest of the citrus fruits.
Pour the mixture into the buttered cake tin and bake for around 50 minutes until it is cooked through. Set aside to cool before dusting with icing sugar.