When Life Gets Complicated…Bake Cake

When I was diagnosed a couple of weeks ago with an allergy to almonds, hazelnuts and chestnuts I was not – to put it politely – very happy. Life has suddenly become a lot more complicated.

I’ve suffered a couple of allergic reactions to almonds (one far more severe than the other) and went to see an allergy specialist to be properly diagnosed. The more serious allergic reaction had happened after I’d eaten fresh almonds on one of the tiny Aeolian islands off the coast of Sicily last year. Within a short time of eating them my whole body was covered in big itchy hives, I had a thick scarlet welt around my neck and shortness of breath with dizzyness. Although I was in a village, it was quite remote with limited / no emergency medical care. However, I think the situation would have been far more terrifying had I been half way up a mountain eating a nut bar or trekking somewhere remote when I suffered the allergic reaction.

I’m still coming to terms with how allergies to these nuts will impact my life (particularly when travelling and eating out) so I shall save a longer blog post on this until I’ve fully articulated my thoughts.

When Caleigh asked whether I’d be interested in taking part in a Spring recipe challenge, I was really keen to participate. This isn’t a recipe blog, mainly because I usually cook straight from recipe books. I’m starting to think that perhaps this will have to change, though, given the prevalence of ground almonds in gluten free baking recipes. The Spring recipe challenge is using oranges as the theme since they are in season at the moment. The challenge is to create a dish which uses oranges, is free from gluten and dairy as well as being free from almonds, hazelnuts and chestnuts.

Thanks to the great gluten free community on Twitter, I learnt that polenta can be used in recipes as a substitution for ground almonds. Who knew? Not me! One of my favourite cakes is this Clementine Cake by Nigella. I’ve adapted the original recipe to remove the ground almonds. The cake is amazingly easy to make. Boiling the clementines for 2 hours will make your house smell absolutely heavenly, even before you pop the cake in the oven.

(A Not Very Complicated) Orange Polenta Cake (gluten free, dairy free, almond free)


– 4 to 5 seedless clementines (weighing approximately 375 g)

– 6 eggs

– 225 g caster sugar

– 175 g gluten free polenta

– 75 g gluten free plain flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Flour, I love the mix of beans in the flour but Dove’s would work too)

– 1 heaped teaspoon of gluten free baking powder


1. Put the clementines in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Cook for 2 hours. Drain and allow to cool. (If you’ve used clementines with seeds in you will need to cut them in half when cool enough to handle and remove seeds at this stage). Take the whole fruit (including skin, pith fruit etc) and blitz it in a food processor/blender to make it smoother. Before I had a blender I mashed it up a bit with a potato masher (!!) and it worked just fine.

2. Preheat oven to 190 C. Grease and line a springform tin. Either a 21 or 23cm tin will work. I used a 23 cm tin.

3. If you’ve blitzed the clementines in a food processor/blender then add all the other ingredients and mix. If you’re not using a food processor, beat the eggs by hand and add the sugar, polenta, gluten free flour and baking powder and mix well, adding in the pulped clementines last.

3. Pour the mixture into the cake tin. Bake for one hour. Check the cake after 40 minutes. I cover in foil at this point to prevent the top of the cake from burning.

4. The cake is done when a skewer inserted to the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

The cake tastes delicious as it is but I add a syrup:


125 ml fresh orange juice

125 g golden caster sugar

Zest of 2 clementines


1. Put the sugar and orange into a small saucepan

2. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until the syrup thickens and then sugar is fully dissolved

3. Allow the syrup to cool

4. Poke holes on the top of the cold cake and poor over the cooled syrup

5. Sprinkle the zest of the clementines over the cake

This full on orange fest of a cake will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight tin. It tastes even better the day after you make it, meaning it’s the perfect bake ahead cake.

A huge thank you to Caleigh for organising this Spring recipe challenge. You will find a round up of everyone’s recipes on Caleigh’s blog this afternoon. I am looking forward to seeing what everyone else has created, all of which will be safe for me to eat!


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  1. Caleigh
    March 12, 2012 / 11:38 am

    I’m glad you enjoyed the challenge! Your cake looks fantastic and I hope you find many more wonderful recipes to add to your collection.

  2. RubellesMoon
    March 12, 2012 / 1:27 pm

    Mmmm I’ve been wanting to make polenta cake for ages and this looks delicious! Sorry to hear about your nut allergy diagnosis, but when you have something as yummy as this, I don’t think you need to worry about missing out on anything 🙂 Great looking cake!! x

  3. hazel (fullymum)
    March 12, 2012 / 2:50 pm

    thanks for sharing this,lovely, yummy and juicy looking. I like using polenta too I have used it in pastry also and it works well.

  4. Jen Brown
    March 12, 2012 / 3:09 pm

    So glad you found a way to make this delicious cake w/out almonds! I tried it (almond version) for the first time several weeks ago after you’d recommended it. Heavenly and you are so right about the wonderful smell.

  5. Jennifer
    March 12, 2012 / 11:57 pm

    Hi Mrs D, I’ve ben reading your fantastic blog for a while but this is my first time commenting. I too have been recently diagnosed with a nut allergy (tree nuts,peanuts and sesame seeds)on top of my coeliacs and it has drastically altered my lifestyle in terms of eating out etc. I just want to say don’t let it get you down:)The key is whole unprocessed organic foods. And have you considered seeing a naturopath? – it’s done wonders for me in terms of reducing the serverity of my reactions.

  6. March 19, 2012 / 12:21 am

    Your cake looks gorgeous. I would love a piece right now. Sorry to hear about those nut allergies. It just makes eating that much more challenging, doesn’t it.

  7. Grace
    April 17, 2012 / 10:43 am

    Hi Mrs D, So sorry to hear you’ve become allergic to almonds, hazelnuts and chestnuts. What a pain! Thought you might like another cake recipe that’s made without any nuts. Hope you like it! Gracex
    Makes 1 cake (10–12 slices) 
    Preparation time 15 minutes 
    Cooking time 50 minutes

    150g/5½oz dairy-free margarine, softened, plus extra for greasing
    125g/4½oz/¾ cup fruit sugar or caster sugar
    2 eggs, beaten
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    4 tbsp clear honey
    250g/9oz/heaped cup unflavoured soya yogurt
    100g/3½oz/heaped ½ cup rice flour
    50g/1¾oz/scant ½ cup gram flour
    50g/1¾oz/¹⁄₃ cup maize flour
    2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
    ½ tsp xanthan gum
    150g/5½oz/scant 1 cup unsulphured dried apricots, finely chopped
    100g/3½oz/½ cup unflavoured soya yogurt
    2 tbsp clear honey

    1 Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4 and lightly grease a deep 20cm/8in cake tin with dairy-free margarine and line the base with baking parchment. Using an electric mixer, beat the dairy-free margarine and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs, a little at a time, until well mixed, then beat in the vanilla extract, honey and soya yogurt.
    2 Sift the flours, gluten-free baking powder and xanthan gum into the mixture and fold in,
    then fold in the chopped apricots. Make sure the mixture is well mixed, but take care not
    to overmix it. Pour it into the tin.
    3 Bake for 30 minutes, then cover with baking parchment to prevent the cake from overbrowning. Bake for another 15–20 minutes until firm to the touch and cooked through.
    4 Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Using a whisk or hand-held electric mixer, whisk the yogurt and honey together in a bowl until smooth. Keep cool in the fridge until needed.
    5 Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes, then remove from the tin, transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. Once cooled, spread the topping over the cake and serve. Store any leftover cake in the fridge.