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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/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 75 Others have said

  • i'm going to make this one day, but first have to get ground almonds. I have to avoid gluten, so almond is ideal, but I find it rather expensive.
    And thanks of always putting ingredients in the order that we have to use it. This is s much easier !!

    Posted by Hilde Shaba on 18th June 2018
  • Hello, I am making this cake right now and it was so easy and fun doing it :) I have been watching your show every night from when I was 10 and I love you! Thank you Nigella Best Regards //Shirrin from sweden

    Posted by Infinity1988 on 6th June 2018
  • I made this cake for Easter 2018 and it went over like a dream! Thanks Nigella so very yummy and lemony.

    Posted by e-m-h-e-a-l-i-n-g on 16th May 2018
  • Delicious! Just as Nigella says: lemon curd in cake form. Having a smaller, 20cm cake tin, I made a two-thirds version, which worked fine. I'll leave you to do the maths, but recommend baking a smaller cake for only 25 minutes.

    Posted by Fan in Japan on 31st March 2018
  • Made it, gorgeous! 5 star recipe xx

    Posted by Solya199 on 15th March 2018
  • Incredibly easy to make and very delicious. Moist and intensely lemony with a very good texture. Thank you Nigella!

    Posted by linalotto on 24th February 2018
  • I made this for a friend who is gluten free. It was for her birthday. Her husband said "You hit it out of the park! This is amazing!" My friend couldn't stop thanking me for making this. She sooo loved how lemony this cake was. Thank you, Nigella for this recipe which is now one of my go to cake recipes.

    Posted by mgrace on 19th February 2018
  • Love this cake. So easy to do.

    Posted by Janeg01 on 17th February 2018
  • 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
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