May|June Cover Recipe : Polenta Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote and Lemon Mascarpone Cream

Andrea Mackenzie’s creative take on traditional strawberry shortcake.

Rhubarb, for many of us, has a remarkably nostalgic flavour. It conjures up warm childhood memories, feeding our souls with recollections of a delicious moment of rhubarb indulgence, perhaps in the form of a rhubarb pie or crumble straight out of the oven. 

Versatile in zest and texture, rhubarb can go from super lip-puckering sour with a crisp crunch, to soft, sweet, and tangy when simmered down to a nearly creamy state. 

Its combined sweet and savoury elements add zing to a variety of course options, including pork entrées, charcuterie boards, ice cream, and, in this recipe, as a topping on a cake.

 Consider it a no-brainer that rhubarb combined with strawberries is next level. I paired rhubarb and strawberries to create a light variation on a strawberry shortcake made with polenta. Glazing it with a silky sweet sauce made from mascarpone adds a lighter taste and touch, a pleasant contrast to the grainy texture of the cornmeal.

 This dessert is bound to get your taste buds primed for the summer season. I’ll bet you have a patch of overlooked rhubarb in your yard or neighbourhood from which you can harvest. Get out there, enjoy the fresh spring air, collect a few stalks, and start cooking! 


Polenta Cake

½ cup fine cornmeal 

1½ cups all-purpose flour 

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

2 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar 

½ cup canola oil

¼ cup whole milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F°. Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter.

Add the dry ingredients, except the sugar—the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt—to a medium bowl. Mix with a whisk to ensure all ingredients are combined. 

In another medium bowl, combine the 2 eggs with the granulated sugar. Slowly stream the canola oil into this mixture while combining it with a whisk. Add the milk and the vanilla extract.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet, using a whisk to incorporate. As soon as everything is combined, stop whisking. The batter will be thick.

Slowly pour the batter into the pan. Place the pan in the oven. Bake the cake for 50 minutes.

At the 45-minute mark, insert a toothpick into the cake. If the toothpick still has crumbs stuck to it, return the cake to the oven. Bake for 5 more minutes.

Insert another toothpick into the cake. If the toothpick is clean, take the cake out of the oven. The top of the cake should feel firm in the centre.

Let the cake cool for 15-20 minutes.


Strawberry-rhubarb Compote

3 cups fresh (or frozen) chopped rhubarb, small dice

2 cups fresh (or frozen) strawberries, hulled 

1 cup sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract 

½ tsp cinnamon

Pinch of salt

Combine the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt in a medium saucepan.

Bring to a boil and let it cook on low to medium heat for about 25-30 minutes, cooking less or longer depending on how thick you want it.

The sauce can be served warm or cold. Keep refrigerated.


Lemon Mascarpone Cream

1 cup mascarpone (room temperature)

½ cup whipping cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

Zest of one medium-sized lemon

1½ Tbsp honey

Pinch of salt

Juice from half a medium-sized lemon 

3 Tbsp water

In a medium bowl, whisk the mascarpone, whipping cream, vanilla extract, lemon zest, honey, and salt until creamy and uniform in texture.

In a separate bowl, mix the lemon juice and water together, then add to the cream mixture and whisk together until incorporated.  For an even smoother consistency, use a hand blender.

Taste and adjust for sweetness or tartness by adding more honey or lemon juice, or both to your personal preferences.

To serve, place a slice of cake on each plate, top with a healthy spoonful of compote and a dollop of Lemon Mascarpone Cream. 

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