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Lemon Polenta Cake

4.88 from 123 community reviews

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Plain and simple lemon polenta cake, a rustic Italian-style cake made with whole grain cornmeal and lots of fresh lemon.

A slice of Lemon Polenta Cake on a plate with fresh fruit
A slice of Lemon Polenta Cake with blackberries and roasted apricots.

This lemon polenta cake is a family-favorite dessert from my file, a definite keeper recipe. It’s easy to make, and bakes up into rustic, Italian-inspired cake infused with lemon zest and juice.

The cake has a tender texture and the lovely crunch of coarse cornmeal —  a/k/a polenta! It’s just the sort of homey, plain and simple cake I love, right next to a simply moist almond cake.

Sliced lemon polenta cake on white plates dusted with powdered sugar

How to serve lemon polenta cake

This cake is fantastic as a plain tea cake or snack.

  • Cut it into slices and just eat it with your hands.
  • Dust with powdered sugar
  • Glaze with 1 cup of powdered sugar blended with 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 1-2 tablespoons milk.
  • Serve slices of cake alongside generous helpings of whatever seasonal fruit is at its sweetest at the moment. Try lightly sweetened berries, plums or peaches in the summer, or prosecco-poached pears or roasted apples in the fall and winter months.
Lemon Polenta Cake dusted with powdered sugar

Polenta vs cornmeal

The difference between baking with very fine cornmeal (cornflour) and coarse cornmeal comes down to texture.

  • Cornmeal is ground from dried corn, and varies in grind from fine to coarse. Fine cornmeal is processed to remove gritty texture, and often most of the healthy parts go with it.
Coarse textured Cornmeal for Lemon Polenta Cake

I love baking with coarse cornmeal, which is ground from the entire kernel, and it retains the grain’s natural germ and bran.

I also bake rosemary and lemon polenta cookies using this type of coarse cornmeal because I enjoy it so much. You can find this type of cornmeal in your regular grocery store.

I often buy these Polenta Corn Grits and sometimes splurge on the special cornmeal and corn grits from Anson Mills.

Lemony and moist sliced Polenta Cake   on a piece of parchment paper

How to make lemon polenta cake:

  • First, bring your ingredients to room temperature, including the eggs.

Pro tip: Shortcut to room temperature eggs: Crack the whole eggs and whites into a small dish while getting your cake pan and the rest of the ingredients ready. You can also place the whole un-cracked eggs in a bowl of very warm water for 15 minutes.

Lemon Polenta Cake with powdered sugar.

Like many cakes, the texture and flavor will actually improve the day after baking – but honestly, in our house it rarely lasts that long! Keep the wrapped cake at room temperature for several days.

Freezing polenta cake

  • Cool completely, then wrap in several layers of plastic wrap and freeze up to 1 month Defrost at room temperature.
Easy Lemon Polenta Cake

Easy Lemon Polenta Cake

Karen Tedesco
This simple, rustic Italian-style Lemon Polenta Cake recipe will be a keeper in your recipe file! It has a lovely crunch of cornmeal and lots of fresh lemon.
Print Pin
4.88 from 123 community reviews
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Course Desserts
Cuisine Baking
Servings 8 servings


  • 1 cup (165 g) polenta, or stone-ground cornmeal
  • ¾ cup (100 g) all-purpose flour
  • teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 (60 ml) egg whites (1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup (220 g) sugar
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil or neutral oil such as canola or avocado
  • 2 tablespoons (30 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup (125 ml) whole milk plain yogurt or sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Powdered sugar


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees (175 C) and place an oven rack in the center of the oven.
  • Line the bottom of an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper to fit (see how-to video above) and lightly brush the bottom and sides of the pan with oil or cooking spray.
  • Whisk the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.
  • Beat the eggs, egg whites and sugar in a heavy-duty stand mixer on medium-high speed 4-5 minutes, until pale and creamy. On low speed, mix in the oil. butter, yogurt, lemon zest and juice.
  • Stir in the dry ingredients until just blended. Pour the batter into the pan and bake 35 – 40 minutes, or until the top feels firm (not hard) and a toothpick inserted in the center of cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan 10 minutes before inverting onto a rack to cool – run a dull knife around the edge of the pan to loosen.
  • Sift powdered sugar over the cake and serve.

Karen’s Notes and Tips

  • Serve the cake plain or with lightly sweetened fresh fruit.
  • The cake keeps well for several days at room temperature.
  • I sometimes substitute an Italian lemon olive oil when I feel like splurging – it tastes amazing!


Calories: 291kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Sodium: 266mg | Potassium: 67mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 26g | Vitamin A: 246IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 70mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition facts are calculated by third-party software. If you have specific dietary needs, please refer to your favorite calculator.

Did you make this recipe? Search @Familystylefood or tag #familystylefood on Pinterest
Recipe developer Karen Tedesco of the popular website Familystyle Food in her kitchen making a kale salad.

Hey, I’m Karen

Creator of Familystyle Food

I’m a food obsessed super-taster and professionally trained cook ALL about creating elevated dinners with everyday ingredients. Find simplified recipes made from scratch and enjoy incredibly tasty food! Read more about me here.

4.88 from 123 votes (115 ratings without comment)

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  1. 5 stars
    Made with sour cream and canola oil everything else as stated. We love the grit of the cornmeal. Husband said it is his new favorite cake!

  2. Gerard Monte says:

    5 stars
    Hi found your recipe and I love it. I’ve made polenta cakes before but not like this one. Having a dinner party tonight and this is the dessert! Wish me luck ! Bon Appetite. Gerard

  3. Could I use a store bought polenta log and add some ricotta cheese to the recipe?

    1. Hi David – Polenta that comes in a tube has already been cooked — it’s not a type of flour or grain. I’ve never tested this cake using that type of polenta, nor with ricotta cheese. My gut feeling is that it won’t work out very well.

  4. Shelley Turnbull says:

    5 stars
    Thank you for the clarification. I will make again with the 2 extra egg whites.

  5. Shelley Turnbull says:

    5 stars
    My source for true stone ground cornmeal was no longer in business and I bought a brand that said stone ground but when I opened it, it was the texture of flour.. it still made a delicious cake.. My question is: Why did you mention adding eggs and egg whites instead of just 2 large eggs. I did separate them first and the whites did measure approx . 1/4 cup.. I am guessing that it was to ensure egg whites did not add too much volume?

    1. Hi Shelley – The extra egg whites are there to lighten the batter and make a fluffier cake. Whole eggs alone contain more fat, which produces cake with a denser crumb. Thanks for such a great question!

  6. Helene Rossouw says:

    5 stars
    Fantastic recipe, especially because of the polenta crunch and budget-friendly without almond flour. This will be a go to. It was super easy and came out perfectly.

  7. 5 stars
    Even after 63 years you can take the man put of Hungary but you cannot take Hungary out of the man. “ Can you make kukoricalisztből készült puding?” my husband asked. It starts with polenta …. but even Google could not produce anything. So I found this polenta lemon cake of yours and it made 8 muffins in 18 minutes. The result declared perfection. My changes were 2/3 cup sugar, the vanilla suggestion, and a lemon process improvement. Cut the ends off one large or 2 small lemons. Then cut in 4 longways. Remove the seeds, and the pith stem down the middle. Then cut it twice the round way to make 12 small pieces. Microwave with 1/2 cup water, covered on High for 4 minutes. Cool. Blend on High to make a purée = about 4 Tbls. Isn’t that better than zesting and juicing?! Add that to the oil and butter mixture and blend them together. Proceed as in your instructions.
    So here’s a very happy customer. Thank you.

  8. Alice Kemp says:

    The cake flavor was delicious, but the polenta was so gritty we felt we were eating sand. In future, I will either use cornmeal or soak the polenta in boiling water before use.

  9. 5 stars
    Excellent polenta cake. Next time I make it, I will likely cut in half and add a layer of something, maybe fresh strawberry jam. It is excellent with fresh fruit as well.

  10. Modified the recipe to use Almond flour. Also reduce sugar to 3/4 cup. It was perfect to satisfy my sweet tooth! Love love the texture and the lemon taste!

    1. Maria del FAbro says:

      This cake is super! Watch out you will want more than one piece. I used almond flour, reduced sugar to 3/4 cup and added 1.5 t vanilla. It has a lovely texture and the taste is rich.

    2. Hey! Can I sub for GF flour? Thanks!

      1. I’ve had people say they’ve substituted with gluten-free flour and it works great. Let me know if you try it!

        1. Thanks. Will do! Looking forward x

  11. Hello,
    It seems that your weight conversion for the sugar is incorrect. It says 22g, but 1 cup of sugar is closer to 200g. Can you update?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Suzanne! Thanks so much for pointing out that typo – it’s been changed to 220g, which is from my digital scale.

  12. 5 stars
    My husband is not a huge dessert fan so I made this thinking that it would be less sweet than many desserts. This turned out to be the case. A friend made a lemon custard to go with it and wow! Nobody could keep their hands off it! My stepmother, who is a tiny little thing who lives on salads year round, actually had not one but two large servings! This is a recipe that is going into the family cookbook for often used recipes. Thank you!

    1. Thanks so much for letting my know, Tarsha. I love the image of your stepmother digging in to the cake! Glad you all enjoyed.

  13. I’ve just tried it with some figs on the top : gorgeous ! Thank you so much for this recipe !

  14. Polenta is not cornmeal, in Italian cornmeal is ‘farina di mais’.
    Polenta is a kind of mush: You pour cornmeal in hot salted water, and cook it for about one hour; this is polenta.

  15. I’ve just made this for my husband but replaced the all purpose flour with gluten free flour and it has worked perfectly! I can’t wait to dive in! Oops sorry, I mean for him to try it 😉

  16. My husband is wild for polenta cake. I’ll have to give this a go!

  17. tanya1234 nasser says:

    luv it thank you

  18. I’m a bit back logged on my reader – but none-the-less, this cake looks absolutely divine! Given my slight obsession lemon desserts and most recently polenta-anything — this is just begging to be made!

  19. I made a similar version of this from Nigella the other day and it was delicious. So dense and full of zing from the lemons. I like the crunch the polenta gives each slice. I hate to admit it but it didn’t last long!

    1. Yes, that lemony crunch is slightly habit-forming…I know exactly what you mean, Claire.