It's not really blackcurrant season; i do realise this. But when did you ever eat a fresh blackcurrant, except perhaps in the picking? The reality is, blackcurrants are for cooking, and when they are ripe there are so many other enticing things that are begging to be used, that my blackcurrants usually get picked and put in the freezer for use through the colder months. Hence i always associate blackcurrants with winter (hot blackcurrant juice anyone?).
I usually make a batch of blackcurrant jam with freshly picked currants, but the rest get frozen. I have to be conscientious about using them through the winter, or come the following summer i'm picking fresh blackcurrants while i've still got a bunch in the freezer. With my penchant for baking i don't have too much trouble using them up; i tend to substitute blackcurrants in almost all recipes that call for blueberries. I don't grow blueberries (i've heard they can be a bit tricky, although i have never tried), and i can't see the point of buying them when i have a perfectly good substitute in the freezer. In fact i prefer blackcurrants to blueberries in many things - blackcurrants have so much more 'zing' to them. A blueberry muffin is nice, but a blackcurrant muffin is positively delightful. I can't understand why blackcurrants are so under-utilised in the realm of baking. Even my favourite book of baking recipes ('A Treasury of New Zealand Baking') contains five blueberry recipes, but not a single recipe for the use of blackcurrants. Never mind, dear reader, if you have blackcurrants to use, pick a blueberry recipe at will, substitute blackcurrants, and i think you will be pleasantly surprised. The following recipe is, as may be expected, adapted from one such blueberry recipe. Julie Le Clerc contributed 'Upside Down Blueberry Polenta Sponge' to 'A Treasury of New Zealand Baking'; my version uses less sugar, blackcurrants instead of blueberries, and i don't concern myself with the flaff of turning it out so the berries are on the top. I think this is my very favourite winter dessert, and i love to make it when we have guests for dinner.
By the way, i made this recipe twice while on the 'Vegan Adventure', and you will see i have tagged it as vegan, although the recipe below contains eggs. If you wish to make a vegan version, you need to substitute 5 tablespoons of aquafaba for each egg (if you don't know what aquafaba is you'd better google it). I recommend giving the aquafaba a 'bit of a whipping' to thicken it up before adding the sugar and zest and whipping it some more. The final product doesn't look quite as lovely as the non-vegan product (although the sponge rises well it tends to sink a bit on cooling, and is not such a lovely yellow colour as the eggy version), but is equally totally delicious.
Blackcurrant Polenta Sponge
2 cups blackcurrants
2 large eggs
150g caster sugar
finely grated zest of an orange or large lemon
165ml fruity olive oil
165ml dry white wine
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
185g standard flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Grease a 20cm square (or similar size) oven-proof dish. Sprinkle the base evenly with the first measure of sugar, then spread the blackcurrants evenly over the top.
Place the eggs, caster sugar and zest in a bowl and whisk with an electric mixer or beater until very thick and pale. Gently whisk in the oil, wine and vanilla. Sift the flour and baking powder and fold them in to the egg mixture with the polenta. Pour the mixture over the blackcurrants in the dish.
Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes.
Serve with vanilla ice cream or lightly whipped cream (or tofu whip if you have made the vegan version - see header notes for this).