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Polenta Cake With Citrus Glaze

Feeling corny.

This Italian polenta cake recipe is easy, moist, unfussy, and pretty much perfect — an authentic Italian cornmeal cake with orange and lemon glaze.

polenta cake recipe

All about this Italian polenta cake recipe.

“Eureka!,” I actually shouted — out loud, in my empty kitchen — when I first tasted this polenta cake recipe. I had been working on one for a while, adjusting this and that. My first tries always resulted in the same thing: dry, dry, dry.

But I persisted. I wanted an old-school, authentic Italian polenta cake: a moist, sweet cake with only olive oil and eggs for fat, not one whose moisture was propped up with syrup soaks or lots of dairy like sour cream or unsalted butter. After four tries, I got it right. And this cornmeal cake is just so good.

polenta cake ingredients

Where does polenta cake come from?

Polenta cake is Italian, though and through. Polenta originated in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, as a peasant food. Because polenta is a great “blank canvas” ingredient, like pasta, it can be used in many ways, from savory dishes to sweet desserts, like here.

What does this polenta taste like in a cake?

First of all, I want to say how much I love this polenta cake. This cake is simpler and plainer than a layer cake (in a good way), and more tender and cake-like than cornbread.

Cornmeal, or polenta, gives the cake a satisfying, gently granular texture. The olive oil and citrus elevates the flavor and fresh taste. This polenta cake tastes at once fresh and light, and simple and old-fashioned.

cake batter in pan before baking

What is polenta?

Polenta is coarsely-ground cornmeal, made from dried corn. Polenta tastes very mild, making it a perfect canvas for other ingredients and flavors, whether a bowl of savory, creamy polenta, or a sweet polenta cornbread or cake.

Are Grits and Polenta the same thing?

Both polenta and grits are types of dried ground corn, or cornmeal. The difference lies in the type of dried corn. Polenta is dried, ground flint corn; grits are dent corn. According to this Food Network article about polenta, “[f]lint corn contains less starch than dent corn, which is why cooked polenta is less creamy than cooked grits – and why polenta doesn’t need to be stirred as frequently as grits during cooking.”

baked polenta cake on cooling rack

What is polenta cake made of? Here are the ingredients.

This recipe makes an intentionally simple, uncomplicated cornmeal cake: a single-layer, nine-inch cake with a fresh citrus glaze that complements the cornmeal and olive oil flavors.

To make this polenta cake, you will need these ingredients:

  • Sugar
  • Eggs
  • Olive oil
  • Vanilla extract
  • An orange and a lemon, zested and juiced
  • Flour
  • Polenta or cornmeal: You can substitute cornmeal for polenta, and vice versa. I used Indian Head yellow cornmeal.
  • Baking powder
  • Salt
pouring citrus glaze on cake
Pour the citrus glaze over the top of the cake, and then spread.

How to Make Polenta Cake: Recipe Steps

To make this simple cake recipe:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease and line (with a parchment paper round) a 9-inch round cake pan.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and zests until thick and light, about 5 minutes.
  3. With the mixer on medium-low, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Raise the speed and beat until emulsified and thick.
  4. Add the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low until fully combined. Scrape the bowl, and stir any unmixed batter until the mixture is smooth.
  5. Bake for about 1 hour.
  6. Turn onto a cooling rack. When cool, top with the citrus icing sugar glaze, and serve.

slice of citrus cornmeal olive oil cake

Polenta Cake Recipe Tips

The most important consideration for this polenta cake recipe: Make sure the olive oil emulsifies into the cake batter. You must make sure the oil is well incorporated into the eggs and sugar or else the batter will break, resulting in a greasy, uneven cake.

Bake this cake at a relatively low 325 degrees, not 350 degrees, Fahrenheit. Cornmeal tends to dry out quickly when baked. The lower oven temperature ensures that the cake can bake through without getting over-baked or dry on the outside. It takes a little longer to bake, but it’s worth it.

slices of polenta cake with glaze

You’ll also love these simple cornmeal recipes:

polenta cake recipe

Polenta Cake With Citrus Glaze

This simple olive oil polenta cake tastes moist and sweet, and is a breeze to make. The fresh orange and lemon citrus glaze brings out the fragrant olive oil and mild cornmeal flavors, resulting in a lovely cake that fits all seasons.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Keywords:: baking, cake, citrus, cornmeal, dairy-free, dessert, easy, olive oil, polenta, polenta cake
Servings: 1 9" cake
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (or icing sugar)

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease well and line with parchment a 9-inch round cake pan.
  • In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and orange zest until thick and light, about 5 minutes.
  • With the mixer on medium-low, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Raise the speed and beat until emulsified, about 1 minute. Scrape the bowl and stir, making sure the batter is evenly mixed.
    PRO TIP: This is the most important part to get right! Make sure that the olive oil is emulsified into the batter. If you see an oil slick on the top, scrape the bowl and keep beating.
  • Add the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low until fully combined. Scrape the bowl again and make sure the mixture is properly stirred together.
  • Pour the polenta cake batter into the cake pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Do not overbake.
  • When cool enough to handle, run a thin knife or offset spatula around the edge of the cake pan to loosen the cake from the sides. Turn the cake onto a cooling rack and cool.
    PRO TIP: I often keep this cake upside down and serve it that way. The top will be flatter and have fewer crumbs.

For the Citrus Glaze and to Finish

  • Whisk together the powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice (from 1/2 orange) and 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from one lemon). The glaze should be thick but pourable.
  • Pour the glaze over the cake, and use an offset spatula or knife to spread it evenly, ideally letting some of the glaze drip over the edges.
    PRO TIP: Place a sheet of parchment beneath the cake or cooling rack to "catch" any glaze that drips off of the cake for easy cleanup.
  • Decorate the top of the cake with a slice of orange or two right before serving if you'd like. Serve at room temperature.

Notes

This polenta cake will keep, covered at room temperature, for about 4 or 5 days. Remove the fresh citrus garnish after the first day, though. That will not keep.
Cake is always better the next day. Make this a day in advance for the best flavor and texture. 

7 comments

  • 5 stars
    This turned out wonderfully!!! I have had so many dry polenta cakes and am thrilled to say that this was moist, and the light citrus notes made it just perfect. Everyone loved this and asked for the recipe so I shared it, of course 🙂

  • Sounds good. looking forward to trying it.

  • 5 stars
    Hi Lisa,
    I just wanted to let you know that when we opt to print your recipes with the photo, the photo isn’t showing up for some reason.
    Other than that, I totally LOVE the new site. It loads incredibly fast! Things are easy to find as well. Great Job Lady!!

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Leona! Thank you so much for noticing this. This is exactly the kind of good feedback I need as we work out all the new kinks. I appreciate it, and hope you continue to enjoy Unpeeled. I’m going to get right on that print image situation 🙂

  • 5 stars
    Such a nice little cake! Thank you.

  • Hi. This looks delicious! I will make it as is but am wondering, if you think it would also turn out if I were to use gluten free flour In place of the regular flour. My son-in-law and a close friend both have celiac disease and I am searching for a good dessert that I can make for them.

    • Unpeeled

      A gluten-free flour blend should work, though it miiiight slightly sink in the middle due to the lack of gluten to help give the cake the full structure. But I wouldn’t worry about it. With all of the cornmeal, it’s already halfway to being a gluten-free cake 🙂 I usually use King Arthur or Cup 4 Cup. I hope you enjoy. Just make sure the olive oil in the batter is fully emulsified, and you’re good to go.

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