Polenta and red date shortcake

Polenta and red date shortcake

The Real Food of China
16 pieces
Leanne Kitchen

Bakeries in Beijing make cakes and slices of various shapes and sizes from these two simple ingredients: cornmeal and red dates. Corn, a Chinese non-native, is seen all through China’s north — great swathes of it grow all over the region. Grilled cobs are a popular street snack and corn congee (made from cornmeal) is eaten for breakfast. Red dates, more correctly called ‘jujubes’, can survive rather cold winters and are a popular northern Chinese fruit. They’re eaten both fresh and dried, candied, in soups, teas and, as here, in baked goods.


Quantity Ingredient
200g coarse polenta
200g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
185g caster sugar
175g unsalted butter, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg yolk, mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for glazing
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Red date filling

Quantity Ingredient
250g dried large red dates
115g caster sugar


  1. To make the red date filling, put the dates in a heatproof bowl, then add enough boiling water to just cover, weighting down the dates with a plate to keep them submerged. Soak for 2–3 hours, then drain well, reserving the soaking liquid. Remove the stones from the dates. Combine the dates, reserved liquid and sugar in a saucepan, cover and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes over a low heat until very soft, then remove the lid and cook for another 15 minutes or so, until the liquid has mostly evaporated and the mixture is thick and jammy. Remove from the heat and cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and flour the base and sides of a 28 x 16 cm baking dish, then line the base with baking paper.
  3. Combine the polenta, flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl and stir to combine well. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs, then add the eggs and mix until a soft dough forms. Lightly knead the dough in the bowl until smooth, then divide in half. Working with one half at a time, place the dough on the work surface and use your hands to shape it into a rectangle, then roll it out to fit the base of the dish. Gently transfer the rolled dough to the dish, taking care as the dough is soft.
  4. Spread the date mixture evenly over the dough, then shape and roll out the remaining piece of dough and place it over the top of the dates. Press the surface gently with your hands to make sure it is even. Brush the egg yolk mixture over the top and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden and firm. Cool in the dish, then cut into pieces to serve.
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