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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

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 87 Others have said

  • Great recipe - the cake is soft, light as a feather and so moist! Will definitely make again! Trouble is I can’t stop eating it!! Will try the dairy free option for my daughter next time. Thank you so much for the recipe.

    Posted by Castletower on 19th August 2019
  • What a wonderful cake! Made it with Orange instead of Lemon and it's absolutely great :)

    Posted by RinatKap on 5th August 2019
  • Absolutely delicious cake...

    Posted by Jasu Kishan on 21st May 2019
  • I made this cake for Easter and it was a huge hit, everyone loved it!! I may have had one too many slices myself... I will be making this again and trying it with orange. I also like that’s it gluten free and made with good simple ingredients.

    Posted by VerAK on 22nd April 2019
  • I made this with grapefruit rather than lemon and it was lovely. If you want something slightly different try it with grapefruit.

    Posted by Peaches1664 on 12th March 2019
  • Hey there! I am gluten free and sensitive to the gluten in corn as well, So I substituted rice meal (semolina) for the polenta in this recipe and it's baking beautifully. I buy my almonds at the local Indian store and grind my own in a coffee grinder. Super easy and much more reasonably priced. I actually buy my rice semolina there too. It's a great substitute for potenta in either sweet or savory dishes. Love Nigella's recipes and cooking as part of the fun in the kitchen!

    Posted by DHolcomb on 16th February 2019
  • I made this delicious cake, easy and fast to make, my family loved it

    Posted by Cunningham_Gillian on 2nd November 2018
  • I made this yesterday for the first time and it is just so delicious. My husband and I cannot stop eating it. Everytime we pass the table, we grab a bite. The balance of gritty almonds with the polenta and syrup is just amazing. If only almonds were not so expensive, I would be making this every other day!!!! Yet again you have given us a very easy and delicious recipe. Thank you Nigella!!!

    Posted by Jdrkm on 18th October 2018
  • This is my very favourite cake. Everyone that I make it for want the recipe too!

    Posted by JaneBob on 7th October 2018
  • Just had a slice of this made by a colleague for our MacMillan 2018 Coffee morning - had to ask for the recipe as it was the loveliest polenta cake I've ever eaten! Thank you Nardine x

    Posted by JerseyCotillard on 28th September 2018
  • Making this cake for the second time. Toooooo delicious to share, but I must.... It is lemon heaven

    Posted by Scrumpti0sHeaV5n on 6th July 2018
  • This was delicious and easy! I used the masa harina I had in the cupboard. Definitely making this again!

    Posted by MsKolohe78 on 27th June 2018
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