Brustengolo, an ancient Umbrian olive oil and polenta fruitcake

brustengolo polenta fruitcake
An Umbrian traditional fruitcake, brustengolo is a healthy snack made with polenta flour, lots of nuts and dried fruit. It has the colors and the flavors of fall.

This is a very rustic and ancient recipe from my hometown Perugia. Not too sweet, egg-free, gluten-free, robust, Brustengolo makes for a substantial snack full of healthy goodness. It’s basically a baked polenta enriched with dried fruits and nuts and flavored with the classic Umbrian combination of anise, fennel and orange. You can cook the polenta flour on the stovetop before baking or simply mix it with a liquid and let it rest a few hours to fully hydrate and become digestible. You can change the proportion of nuts to dry fruits and add diced apple if you like it moist. It’s dense, but it should not be stodgy, just make sure to cook it thoroughly and don’t make it thicker than 2/3 of an inch.
It’s comforting after a walk in the woods or a busy afternoon under the rain.
Umbrian countriside in the fall
I use quick-cooking polenta which is easly available here but you can substitute it with finely ground cornmeal. In this case make sure to add the milk hot instead of milk at room temperature and let it rest overnight or at least 3-4 hours. For a vegan version use water or vegetable milk instead of regular milk.

  • 250 g ( 9 oz) quick-cooking (instant) polenta flour, preferably finely ground.
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) light brown sugar
  • 350 ml (1.5 cup) milk or vegan equivalent
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cup of a mixture of nuts and dehydrated fruit. I used 50 g (1. 5 oz) each walnuts, pinenuts, hazelnuts, dried figs and raisins
  • 1 tablespoon good quality candied orange or the grated peel of one large orange
  • 1 teaspoon anise seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • optional: 1 diced apple

Mix polenta flour, sugar and milk and let it rest for at least one hour. The mixture will be intially fluid but will eventually set like a thick porridge. Add olive oil and stir until completely incorporated. Mix in fennel seeds, aniseeds, candied orange, fruits and nuts.
Preheat oven to 180° C/ 350° F.  Spread the mixture into a generously buttered 10 inch ( 25 cm) tart pan. Bake in middle of the oven 40 minutes, or until dry and golden around the sides. Cool the brustengolo in the pan on a rack.
Serve at room temperature accompanied by a hot drink or mulled wine.
Umbrian autumn view
Serves 8-10, a small wedge goes a long way.
an Italian fruitcake made with polenta, olive oil, nuts and dried figs


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