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More Nigella recipes

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

Makes: 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, 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 99 Others have said

  • Made this cake today for the 3rd time. Everyone loves it. I prefer half and half semolina and ground almonds. I couldn't find uncooked polenta but semolina works perfectly well.

    Posted by DottyDot on 18th January 2021
  • Made this cake today - really easy and the smell in the kitchen was fantastic when it came out the oven. Used Erythritol sugar and icing sugar so even healthier! The lemon syrup over the top was lovely

    Posted by Bobo2009 on 17th January 2021
  • I have been making this cake ever since I got Nigella's book which she kindly autographed 10 years ago. It is one of my favourite cakes, along with the Devil's Food Cake. Have tried other variations of both but always come back to Nigella's recipes. Thank you!

    Posted by gemmasp on 7th January 2021
  • I’m trying so hard to stop myself baking as I’m avoiding sugar but ... has anyone tried baking the cake with a baking-friendly sweetener like Stevia? I would probably have to omit the syrup.

    Posted by Chinatown on 6th January 2021
  • Try making it with half almond half pistachio flour! Takes it to another level...

    Posted by Ndstern on 27th December 2020
  • Making this for the second time, and I can't wait till it comes out of the oven! I've been substituting limes, just to use up what we have in the house, and adding less confectioner's sugar to the syrup. I love how tart and amazing it tastes that way. This recipe is super easy, and comes together quickly. And omg y'all the TEXTURE and flavor of this cake are just a dream. It freezes well, too - last time I made it I had to freeze it in slices to stop myself and my husband from devouring it all in one go. Highly recommend!

    Posted by Veggiesplease on 14th July 2020
  • Amazing! The edges have a crunchy caramelised texture while the centre is syrupy, buttery and crumbly. I made this as a test and now cannot stop eating it. I reduced the sugar a little bit as I don't like super sweet cakes. Also only used about 2/3 of the syrup. Will be making again very soon.

    Posted by Solly on 2nd June 2020
  • Amazing and so easy! Didnt have lemons so used oranges , might use Grand Marnier next time or limoncello!!! Definitely a lock down favourite.

    Posted by Soleil67 on 28th April 2020
  • Fabulous recipe. Lockdown delight. Ran out of flour and tried something different. Might try oranges next week. Share it? They should be so lucky!

    Posted by jange69 on 24th April 2020
  • Hey nigella...this cake is the S..&£#! I love it so much that I've started to add variations. Today I made a cinnamon apple honeyed version and it just works! Just add buttered sliced apples cooked with cinnamon and honey until they're softened. Cool and leave all the juice in the pan. Fold cooled apples into the final mix (I omitted the zest) and cook as usual. Add lemon juice and icing sugar to the apple juices and pour over cake...fantastic. You inspire me so much with your recipes...keep them coming.

    Posted by Wrightyho on 1st March 2020
  • Lovely cake to make on a wet Sunday afternoon with the summer scent of lemons. Will definitely make this again, a firm favourite.

    Posted by Jazzyjane on 1st March 2020
  • I made this on Sunday because I had some leftover semolina. It is excellent!!! I is one of my favourite cakes together with the Clementine Cake!

    Posted by mads09 on 27th January 2020
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