This Italian polenta cake recipe is easy, moist, unfussy, and pretty much perfect — an authentic Italian cornmeal cake with orange and lemon glaze.
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.
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.
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?
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:
- Olive oil
- Vanilla extract
- An orange and a lemon, zested and juiced
- Polenta or cornmeal: You can substitute cornmeal for polenta, and vice versa. I used Indian Head yellow cornmeal.
- Baking powder
How to Make Polenta Cake: Recipe Steps
To make this simple cake recipe:
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease and line (with a parchment paper round) a 9-inch round cake pan.
- In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and zests 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 and thick.
- 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.
- Bake for about 1 hour.
- Turn onto a cooling rack. When cool, top with the citrus icing sugar glaze, and serve.
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.
You’ll also love these simple cornmeal recipes:
Polenta Cake With Citrus Glaze
- 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)
- 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.