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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.

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.

Tell us what you think

What 59 Others have said

  • 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
  • Love this recipe! It's my go-to staple when I have to bake something at short notice. By making a few tweaks - I 've resolved the issue with it sinking in the middle. I whip butter and sugar longer, add the eggs without the spoon of dry ingredients (never curdles); only use 1 teaspoon of the baking powder; and bake five minutes longer.

    Posted by plastrons on 29th November 2015
  • Lovely cake was a little worried about the about of syrup but it was ok in the end and tasted great.

    Posted by Angelmouse5 on 21st November 2015
  • Truly delicious,with the added benefit of no flour. Every crumb scrumbtious!!!(sorry!) Don't get a guilty conscience eating this. Thanks Nigella!

    Posted by madmary1 on 14th October 2015
  • This cake is yummy and moist. I didn't have almonds on me but did substitute it with hazelnuts and it was delicious!!!

    Posted by Kbwarren on 1st October 2015
  • This is delicious and it quick and easy to put together. My previous 'go to' dessert was a GF Almond lemon cake but this surpasses in ease and taste. Love the added polenta. Love it. So easy for me who is not a dessert maker. Thank you.

    Posted by vidaeterna on 26th September 2015
  • Wonderful recipe.Squisitissima!! If you're looking for a dairy free alternative try by replacing the butter with Nuttelex. I tried this and the cake got the thumbs up from my colleagues at work..not a crumb was left!

    Posted by Mavros on 24th June 2015
  • Fabulous! Loved by my family although there may not be a lot left for them by tomorrow. Tips on how to resist this cake, please! Easy to make and delicious results. Very moist and lemony. Oven timing was just right at 40mins and the syrup soaked in well without collecting at the bottom of the cake.

    Posted by mandynelson on 12th May 2015
  • I've been making variations of this cake with gluten flour for sometime. Today I thought I'd try a gluten free version. I'd been given a bunch of limes so replaced the lemon for limes and made a cordial syrup with all the left over limes. I forgot the butter, and replaced much of the almond flour with boiled and ground chestnuts.... Clearly a different cake but yummy! I so love experimenting!

    Posted by Bkd on 10th May 2015
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