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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 1 cup (165 g) polenta, or stone-ground cornmeal
- ¾ cup (100 g) all-purpose flour
- 1½ 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!