Chaos By Choice: Polenta Fruit and Jam Cake

Monday, April 27, 2015

-Tasty cakes for when things are literally being torn down around you.-

My bare feet are currently covered dust. Ceiling dust, mind you. Let's be very specific. It is dust from the ceiling as opposed to common floor dust. This fact alone is alarming because it's very difficult to get ceiling on your feet.

Then again, so it is with home repair. The odd often becomes quite unsurprising, if not altogether lackluster and common. Wires reaching out from gaping holes in the wall. Water pooling about in the living room. The fridge is also screaming at me in a shrill tone. Something to do with the wiring in the wall that my contractor was working on set another something off. Now it sounds like a warning alarm, as if the condiments and produce are preparing to storm the kitchen and I should bastion myself in the bedroom before their revolution begins. (Can you hear the pea shoots sing?)

We're finally getting around to a bit of home repair - some necessary electrical work in the walls and a few minor upgrades while we're crawling about the attic. There's reggae music and conversations in Oaxacan dialect serenading me from above and it's all rather surreal if not also somewhat entertaining. If you've never heard Bob Marley's, "Jamming," in Spanish while people saw apart your home it's quite the auditory mindfuck.

-What you can't see are the holes in the ceiling right now. Or the people in the attic.-

I also must make note of the cats, Eat Beast and Cid. They are in Wonderland, what with all the live wires to chew on, plastic tarps to get lost under and suffocate in, and bits of wall to try eating and that likely contains a flavorful blend of lead and asbestos. Who needs children when you have pets with no innate sense of self-preservation?

We never got to these repairs when we did the initial house work because, well, money. Replacing a busted water heater and an exploding furnace that scorched most of the hair from my face ended up eating some of our electrical budget. Finally, we've put some cash aside and we're getting this underway. After this we can remodel the bathrooms, paint the exterior, rip out the grass, yadda yadda yadda, and we're poor again.

After the contractors leave I'll need to give the house a once over because - again - ceiling dust lightly blanketing all surfaces. This will slowly grow into a greater chore of polishing the entire house, reaping the cookbook shelf of unused books that become gifts or donations. My CPA will be thrilled, as he gets to cut more from taxes and he is often a recipient of many of these books. Woot for us both.

Celebrating a job well done is key. (Well, at least well paid for. I have no desire to test how strong my home insurance policy is by doing electrical work myself.) The easiest way to do this is cake. Everyday cake, preferably. This one does require a food processor - a device I abhor cleaning - but the hassle is worth every single bite. Rustic and gritty from brown sugar and polenta, I fill this cake with everything from fresh fruit to jam, and often a mixture of the two. Slightly under-ripe fruit offers a slap of tart that is mellowed by whatever jam you happen to have sitting about the fridge. (Using the most Enjolras-like jam may also help suppress the scoundrels plotting within.)

This one is a bunch of strawberries dressed with a homemade blackberry jam I made last year. Easy-peasy.


Garrett out.

-Cthulhu wiring.-

P.S. Go check out my Fruits and Vegetables channel at and check it often. It's pretty darn cool and filled with science, magic, and recipes.

P.P.S. I am obsessed with this book. Go read it. Not food related.

P.P.P.S. I also wrote a nifty article about making nut butters for the Sacramento Bee. Make your school boy jokes and then go read it.

Strawberry & Jam Polenta Cake

1 pound strawberries, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup coarse polenta
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
10 tablespoons butter, cold and diced
1 egg
2-4 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
blackberry jam
sugar for sprinkling

1. Lightly butter an 8-inch spring-form pan and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the strawberries and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a bowl and toss. Macerate for thirty minutes, then drain and reserve the excess juices.

2. Put the polenta, flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, and remaining sugar in a food processor and blitz a few times. Add the butter and blitz a few more times until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Mix the egg, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of the milk into a bowl and blend into the mixture with the food processor. Take care not to overmix. The mixture should be sticky and soft. If it isn't add another tablespoon of milk.

3. Press two thirds of the dough into the cake pan and push it 1/4-inch up the sides. (You'll probably need to flour your fingers a bit to keep it from sticking from you.) Be sure there are no cracks or holes. Place the strawberries over the surface, and top with a few spoonfuls of blackberry jam. Crumble the remaining dough over the top. Scatter a bit more sugar over the top and bake for 45-50 minutes. Allow to cool a few minutes, and serve with the juices from the strawberries.


  1. I love the combination of berries and polenta. Plus, "everyday cake" is a concept I can totally get behind!

  2. Luckily, my husband can take care of the wiring, but as you might know, that makes it take longer. Also, he can neither speak Spanish, nor sing, so far less entertaining. He does like to eat cake though.

    1. My husband used to repair jet electronics for the Air Force. Now I can barely get him to fix a switch. WTF?

  3. Ah home renovations! What fun and what a mess! We just finally had new baseboards put in, creates and discovers much more mess than I expected, our house felt a lot smaller with all the furniture pushed 2 to 3 feet away from the walls!
    Looks great now though!

  4. Don't own a home, but had two cats who would have joined yours in the fun! Thanks for the really lovely-looking recipe, and also sharing what is going on. Loved the descriptions of all the sounds you are hearing. Good luck with everything!

  5. This sounds really tasty and easy to prepare. I think I'l try it this next weekend.

  6. Lovely recipe, thanks! I loved that book too, as did my teenager. :)

    1. I spent far too much time looking up some of the references on Youtube though. ;)

  7. Made this with peaches instead of berries, and cornmeal instead of polenta...fabulous! It's now a go-to cake, and one of my favorites. Thanks!!!


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