I went on a course once that was almost cult-like in its attempt to change your life through the power of positive thinking. We had to practice all sorts of mantras and meditations, visualising our better selves becoming the best possible version we could be. No limits, we were told. Dream big. Whatever you want to, you can do it. It speaks volumes about the size of my ambition that one of the things I dreamt of having was perfectly manicured nails. And the thing is, it might be a load of hogwash, but for a couple of months back in 2001, I had awesome nails.
I tell you this because one other thing I really remember from this course was the idea that if you tidied up for visitors, you were insulting yourself; you should value yourself so highly that your house should be visitor-ready spick and span at all times, just for you. And while I love the thought of that, I'm assuming I'm not meditating hard enough on having a perfect house because, well, frankly I'd rather be doing plenty of other stuff, nails included, than spend a million hours per week cleaning my skirting boards. I will always, always be the person who, the night before a visitor, runs round manically with the hoover in one hand and the duster in the other, while with the other hand (still counting?) stir up something welcoming and hopefully delicious in the kitchen. I definitely assume that distracting someone for long enough means that they won't be bothered about the lack of domestic goddess-ness round here.
This is one such welcoming dish, whipped up in the middle of a cleaning frenzy the night before lovely Ruth came to stay for a couple of nights. She is gluten free, and so I knew that I had a responsibility not only to spruce up the guest room, but also to make something we could all enjoy. This is a really lovely cake; the ricotta gives it a creamy tanginess, and serves as the perfect canvas for the sharp, sweet lemon syrup. This gets better after a day or two, so perfect for making the night before the visitors come, and is sturdy enough to freeze well and to cart about in a lunch box.
You can even serve it up for breakfast the next day, making you a pretty perfect host all round. Skirting boards notwithstanding.
225g butter, softened
225g plus 125g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon natural yoghurt
250g ricotta cheese
150g ground almonds
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 lemon, juice and zest
2 lemons, juice only
Blueberries for decoration
Preheat your oven to 170C. Grease the sides, and grease and line the bottom, of a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin.
In a large bowl or using a stand mixer, cream the butter and 225g sugar together until they are light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, yoghurt, ricotta, almonds, polenta and baking soda until smooth and everything is combined.
Pour into the tin and bake for 1 - 1.5 hours. Keep an eye on the top; if it looks like it is browning too much before the cake is fully cooked, cover it with greaseproof paper. The cake is done when a skewer inserted into it comes out clean with no crumbs.
While the cake is cooking, make the syrup by combining the water, remaining sugar, and lemon juice in a small pan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the texture has turned syrupy. Remove from the heat, then stir in the zest.
When the cake is cooked, leave it in the tin and pour over three quarters of the syrup. Leave to cool completely before removing it gently from the tin. Scatter blueberries over the top, then drizzle with the remaining syrup.
Serve with yoghurt.
Yields 8-10 slices.