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Lemon Polenta Cake

by . Featured in KITCHEN
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Introduction

This cake is a sort of Anglo-Italian amalgam. The flat, plain disc is reminiscent of the confections that sit geometrically arranged in patisserie windows in Italy; the sharp, syrupy sogginess borrows from the classic English teatime favourite, the lemon drizzle cake. It is a good marriage: I love Italian cooking in all respects save one - I find their cakes both too dry and too sweet. Here, though, the flavoursome grittiness of the polenta and tender rubble of ground almonds provide so much better a foil for the wholly desirable dampness than does the usual flour. But there is more to it than that. By some alchemical process, the lemon highlights the eggy butteriness of the cake, making it rich and sharp at the same time. If you were to try to imagine what lemon curd would taste like in cake form, this would be it.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

This cake is a sort of Anglo-Italian amalgam. The flat, plain disc is reminiscent of the confections that sit geometrically arranged in patisserie windows in Italy; the sharp, syrupy sogginess borrows from the classic English teatime favourite, the lemon drizzle cake. It is a good marriage: I love Italian cooking in all respects save one - I find their cakes both too dry and too sweet. Here, though, the flavoursome grittiness of the polenta and tender rubble of ground almonds provide so much better a foil for the wholly desirable dampness than does the usual flour. But there is more to it than that. By some alchemical process, the lemon highlights the eggy butteriness of the cake, making it rich and sharp at the same time. If you were to try to imagine what lemon curd would taste like in cake form, this would be it.

For US cup measures, use the toggle at the top of the ingredients list.

Lemon Polenta Cake
Photo by Lis Parsons

Ingredients

Yields: 12-14 slices

Metric Cups

For the Cake

  • 200 grams soft unsalted butter (plus some for greasing)
  • 200 grams caster sugar
  • 200 grams ground almonds
  • 100 grams fine polenta (or cornmeal)
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder (see NOTE below)
  • 3 large eggs
  • zest of 2 lemons (save juice for syrup)

For the Syrup

  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 125 grams icing sugar

For the Cake

  • 1¾ sticks soft unsalted butter (plus some for greasing)
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 2 cups almond meal
  • ¾ cup fine polenta (or cornmeal)
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder (see NOTE below)
  • 3 large eggs
  • zest of 2 lemons (save juice for syrup)

For the Syrup

  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar

Method

  1. Line the base of a 23cm / 9inch springform cake tin with baking parchment and grease its sides lightly with butter.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/gas mark 4/ 350°F.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar till pale and whipped, either by hand in a bowl with a wooden spoon, or using a freestanding mixer.
  4. Mix together the almonds, polenta and baking powder, and beat some of this into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by 1 egg, then alternate dry ingredients and eggs, beating all the while.
  5. Finally, beat in the lemon zest and pour, spoon or scrape the mixture into your prepared tin and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes.
  6. It may seem wibbly but, if the cake is cooked, a cake tester should come out cleanish and, most significantly, the edges of the cake will have begun to shrink away from the sides of the tin. remove from the oven to a wire cooling rack, but leave in its tin.
  7. Make the syrup by boiling together the lemon juice and icing sugar in a smallish saucepan.
  8. Once the icing sugar’s dissolved into the juice, you’re done.
  9. Prick the top of the cake all over with a cake tester (a skewer would be too destructive), pour the warm syrup over the cake, and leave to cool before taking it out of its tin.
  1. Line the base of a 23cm / 9inch springform cake tin with baking parchment and grease its sides lightly with butter.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/gas mark 4/ 350°F.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar till pale and whipped, either by hand in a bowl with a wooden spoon, or using a freestanding mixer.
  4. Mix together the almonds, polenta and baking powder, and beat some of this into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by 1 egg, then alternate dry ingredients and eggs, beating all the while.
  5. Finally, beat in the lemon zest and pour, spoon or scrape the mixture into your prepared tin and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes.
  6. It may seem wibbly but, if the cake is cooked, a cake tester should come out cleanish and, most significantly, the edges of the cake will have begun to shrink away from the sides of the tin. remove from the oven to a wire cooling rack, but leave in its tin.
  7. Make the syrup by boiling together the lemon juice and confectioners' sugar in a smallish saucepan.
  8. Once the confectioners' sugar’s dissolved into the juice, you’re done.
  9. Prick the top of the cake all over with a cake tester (a skewer would be too destructive), pour the warm syrup over the cake, and leave to cool before taking it out of its tin.

Additional Information

NOTE: To make this cake gluten-free, make sure to use gluten-free baking powder, or omit the baking powder altogether and beat the batter exuberantly at step 4.

To make this cake dairy-free, substitute 150ml light and mild olive oil for the 200g of butter.

MAKE AHEAD:
The cake can be baked up to 3 days ahead and stored in an airtight container in a cool place. Will keep for a total of 5-6 days.

FREEZE:
The cake can be frozen on its lining paper as soon as cooled, wrapped in a double layer of clingfilm and a layer of foil, for up to 1 month. Defrost for 3-4 hours at room temperature.

NOTE: To make this cake gluten-free, make sure to use gluten-free baking powder, or omit the baking powder altogether and beat the batter exuberantly at step 4.

To make this cake dairy-free, substitute 150ml light and mild olive oil for the 200g of butter.

MAKE AHEAD:
The cake can be baked up to 3 days ahead and stored in an airtight container in a cool place. Will keep for a total of 5-6 days.

FREEZE:
The cake can be frozen on its lining paper as soon as cooled, wrapped in a double layer of clingfilm and a layer of foil, for up to 1 month. Defrost for 3-4 hours at room temperature.

Tell us what you think

What 104 Others have said

  • I made this cake for a gluten intolerant friend and he loved it - so much that he took all leftovers home. For my personal taste, the polenta I used was too coarse, so I'll go for cornmeal in the future. Definitely a keeper.

    Posted by aingeasil on 21st May 2022
  • I absolutely adore this cake. It fills the house with an amazing aroma and it’s always a huge favourite among my friends. Thank you Nigella.

    Posted by Reggie22 on 30th April 2022
  • I'd ben looking for a quality and moist Polenta cake recipe for sometime and came across this one. I used oranges instead of lemons, simply because that's what I preferred. But OMG, this recipe is super moist, the coarse polenta is just the right texture and exactly what I desired. Its my favourite cake recipe now and my definite go to for all occasions! My family and friends just love it. Thank you Nigella what a great addition to my homemaking

    Posted by LK1310 on 29th April 2022
  • This is my all time favorite cake from Nigella, I make it every holiday or when I feel nostalgic. Goes well with every ocassion.

    Posted by Rosaline31 on 14th December 2021
  • This is amazing. I use all the lemon ( organic Italian lemons) except the juice which is used for the drizzle. Every one loves it and begs me to make another! This recipe doesn't need the drizzle it's firm and moist on its own. If I really want more sweetness I add the lemon/ sugar drizzle. Thank you for this recipe Nigella.

    Posted by cmcmarmite on 13th November 2021
  • I have been making this as my ‘go to’ cake for about 8 years. Everyone loves it and I bake it for celebrations, work, family and friends. I am often asked to make it for bake sales too!!! The BEST lemon polenta cake ever!!!

    Posted by Jude71 on 28th October 2021
  • I made various Lemon/Polenta cakes. And everyone always tells me that the Nigella cake is the best. So I now only make this Lemon/Polenta cake. Why bother with the rest when you can have the best!

    Posted by SilviSherr on 19th June 2021
  • It is simply a statement of fact that Nigella writes the best cake recipes. This one, without question, is in the top 5. It tastes like a lemon bar in cake form. I have never served it without being asked for the recipe. Make it once, and it will be a permanent fixture in your repertoire!

    Posted by joshv41680 on 12th June 2021
  • I didn’t have any polenta so used semolina. Worked perfectly! (Though not gluten free.)

    Posted by AlineSalas on 24th May 2021
  • I have made this numerous times, everyone loves it and so easy to make gluten free by ensuring your baking powder is gf. Thank you

    Posted by VivNik28 on 13th March 2021
  • Made this a few days ago and unlike other cake, it isn't getting drier as the time goes on. Still zesty and damp and fantastic. I made this with two oranges instead of lemons, in a lined loaf tin, and instead of the drizzle I mixed about a cup of icing sugar with orange juice from the zested oranges and spooned it over the cold cake, as I fancied it with icing. Fabulous, easy and very popular!

    Posted by KASSIA70 on 27th January 2021
  • Wow! 'Nuff said...

    Posted by Azaeleaprawn37 on 25th January 2021
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