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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.

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.

Lemon Polenta Cake
Photo by Lis Parsons

Ingredients

Serves: 16

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/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/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, substite 150ml light and mild olive oil for the 200g of butter.

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, substite 150ml light and mild olive oil for the 200g of butter.

Tell us what you think

What 67 Others have said

  • This is a truly scrumptious cake. Really well balanced - the lemon keeps it fresh and the cake is not overly sweet.

    Posted by Livvytish on 2nd November 2017
  • I love this cake Nigella! I took it to a dinner last weekend and an Italian guest was singing its praises (the ultimate endorsement?) I just found personally that in a fan forced oven, 160°C for 30mins stopped it burning. Also brown sugar instead of the white sugars & cultured butter makes for a good taste. I love the limoncello idea posted below!

    Posted by Petitfilou on 1st October 2017
  • Dangerously tasty! Must stop eating it lol

    Posted by EmmaPorter on 22nd July 2017
  • This cake has great flavour, but is a little too sweet for my taste.

    Posted by Preethi22 on 10th July 2017
  • Loved by the whole family - my son wanted me to bake it for his 6th birthday! I adjusted to a fan oven and while it does sink a little in the middle - looks and tastes amazing!

    Posted by Rama36 on 1st March 2017
  • This is absolutely delicious but I totally disagree with the reviewer who said it would be better with a coarser polenta - based on this recommendation I made it with coarse polenta to take to a dinner and the cake was flavoursome but super-gritty! Definitely go with the fine polenta!!!

    Posted by LizzieMc on 5th February 2017
  • This recipe is so easy and has gone done well each time I've made it. For a recent fund raising event at work I substituted 50g of dessicated coconut for the polenta, and used 2 limes in place of one of the lemons and then added some coconut rum to the sugar syrup. It went down so well I won the prize for the 'tastiest cake'!

    Posted by futomaki on 12th October 2016
  • This lemon polenta cake is amazing and so easy to make and my guests thought so too, its definately a keeper. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

    Posted by Rubytuesday21 on 28th September 2016
  • Delicious cake! I also used course semolina as one of the members said below and I agreed that it makes for a more interesting crust. although I would also like to try it again with fine semolina as it so quick and easy to make. Only downside, the egdes of my cake came out of my fan assisted oven quite brown, so not too sure if I should reduce the heat/cooking time next time?

    Posted by Jas83 on 19th May 2016
  • Lovely cake. I used almond flour and I put half of a lemon juice in the cake delicious.

    Posted by chrislew on 5th April 2016
  • Love this recipe. I tried it twice and I do prefer coarse grain polenta it makes for a much more exciting crust. I also tried orange which is not as nice, and it's also better served cool rather than warm.

    Posted by SarahBakerCakes on 1st February 2016
  • JUST TRUST ME: Use a high quality limoncello instead of the syrup, and let it sit overnight. Your guests will RAVE about this cake :)

    Posted by SisterMableSyrup on 21st December 2015
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