Baking/ Dessert/ European/ Recipes

Super Easy Lemon Polenta Cake

31/08/2023

This super easy lemon polenta cake recipe is a real impressive crowd-pleaser! Enriched with lemon zest and drizzled in a delicious lemon icing, it’s the crumbly, fluffy citrus cake you’ll want to bake again and again.

A golden lemon polenta cake with a slice removed.

Why We Love This

This easy lemon polenta cake is so easy to make, whip up the batter in 10 minutes, then sit back, relax, and let the oven take over. 

It looks absolutely stunning and will have your friends and family begging for more. We recommend taking the cake to a party or dinner to impress with minimal effort.

Related: Sticky Date Pudding / Greek Walnut Cake

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The show stopping piece of lemon polenta cake: golden crumb perfection.

What is Lemon Polenta Cake? 

This is an easy Italian inspired lemon cake made with polenta, self raising flour and olive oil. While it’s popular to make this cake gluten free with almond meal, we love the ease of using self raising flour instead. The cake is nice and thick with a golden crumb and the best part – it’s less likely to sink in the middle because it does contain gluten!

Fine polenta (yellow cornmeal) is what gives this cake a gorgeous golden yellow colour once baked. It’s also the key ingredient that gives this cake its iconic moist and slightly crumbly texture.

Not to be confused with our other popular Italian lemon ricotta cake! (Although we still argue over which one is THE favourite, you’ll have to weigh in on the comments below).

What You’ll Need

  • Butter – We love using salted butter in baking because the salt really helps bring out the flavour and sweetness in the cake. If you only have unsalted butter, just add a pinch of salt when adding your other dry ingredients to the batter. 
  • Sugar – We use caster sugar (aka superfine sugar) because the fine crystals melt beautifully into the cake. Sub with regular white sugar, or brown sugar for a little extra caramelised flavour. 
  • Eggs – We use extra large eggs that weigh around 59 g / 2 oz. It’s best to use room temperature eggs in most baking recipes, but we’ve made this with eggs straight from the fridge plenty of times with no issues.
  • Buttermilk – This adds a little extra tanginess which pairs deliciously with the lemon flavour of this cake! If you don’t have it, make your own at home with ¾ tbsp lemon zest or white vinegar, or just use regular milk or sub with 1 cup Greek yoghurt.
  • Olive Oil – Adds moisture to the cake. 
  • Lemon Zest – Fresh lemon zest is the key to that delicious lemony flavour you’re looking for! Feel free to sub with orange zest or lime zest if you prefer. You can also leave it out if you want a plain polenta cake that you could flavour with almond or vanilla extract instead. 
  • Fine Polenta – Also known as corn meal or yellow corn flour. (Aussies, keep in mind this is entirely different to products labelled here as cornflour, which is actually corn starch, and often made from wheat – confusing, we know!). Polenta comes in two main grades – fine or coarse. Always use fine polenta for this recipe. 
  • Self Raising Flour – This already has baking powder in the mix. If using all purpose flour, add in 1.5 tsp of baking powder and 1/2 tsp of baking soda.
  • Baking Powder – We love adding a little extra baking powder for extra lift.
  • Optional Lemon Icing – You’ll need icing sugar / powdered sugar and a little lemon juice.
Ingredients laid out together ready to make lemon polenta cake.

How to Make Lemon Polenta Cake

First, gather your ingredients: See recipe card below for measurements.

  1. Preheat your oven to 180˚C / 356˚F (fan forced).

For the homemade buttermilk (skip if using 1 cup Greek yoghurt)

  1. Place the milk in a small bowl and add the lemon juice (or white vinegar). Stir gently then set aside for a few minutes to curdle.

For the cake

  1. Place the softened / partially melted salted butter in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the caster sugar and cream together until the mixture turns pale yellow and fluffy, around 3-5 minutes. Tip: Scrape down the sides as you go if needed.
  2. Crack in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well each time until they’re evenly blended into the batter.
  3. Pour in the homemade buttermilkolive oil and lemon zest. Stir in until just combined. Note: The batter will look a bit lumpy or curdled at this stage, but don’t worry – this is what you want.
  1. If using a stand mixer, fold in by hand from here. Add the polenta and fold through until combined. Add the self raising flour and baking powder and fold through again until the batter is smooth.
  2. Pour batter into a round springform cake tin (greased or lined with baking paper). Bake for 45 minutes, then test with a skewer. If it comes out clean, it’s done! If not, pop it back in for another 2-3 minutes and test again. 
  3. Optional: Place a sheet of aluminium foil over the top at the 30 minute mark to avoid the top going too dark.

For the optional lemon glaze

  1. Place the icing sugar in a mixing bowl and add lemon juice. Whisk until smooth and slightly runny. Note: For a runnier glaze, add a little more lemon juice. For a thicker glaze, add a little more icing sugar.
  2. Pour the lemon glaze over the cake and spread out to evenly coat the surface.

Wandercook’s Tips

  • Cake Colour – This cake usually turns a deep golden brown on top while baking. If you want to keep the colour a little lighter, cover the cake with a layer of aluminium foil at the 30 minute mark. 
  • Storage – This cake will keep well for 2-3 days when stored in an airtight container (no need to store it in the fridge). If it has dried out a bit when you go to serve a slice, pop it in the microwave for 10 seconds to warm it slightly and add moisture back into the cake.

FAQs

Can I freeze lemon polenta cake?

Yes, you technically can freeze it, although ours is always well and truly eaten up in a couple of days so we’ve never needed to!

To freeze, we recommend cutting into slices first to make it easy to pull out just what you need. Store slices in an airtight container in the freezer for around 2-3 months. Defrost on the kitchen bench for a few hours to bring up to room temperature before serving, or pop a slice in the microwave for around 20 seconds or so to warm through.

What’s the best size cake pan for this cake?

A 22-24 cm (around 9 inch) round springform pan is ideal for this recipe. 

My cake seems gritty, what happened?

It sounds like you might have used a coarse grade of polenta / cornmeal. Use fine polenta next time for the perfect soft, fluffy and slightly crumbly cake you’re looking for.

Can I make it gluten-free?

You should be able to make this cake gluten-free by swapping the regular self raising flour for gluten-free self raising flour. However, there can be some textural differences depending on which brand of gluten-free self raising flour you use.

You should also carefully check the packaging of your polenta to ensure it has been prepared gluten-free.

I completely melted the butter, is it salvageable?

Yes! Sarah did this when we went to film it the first time. 🤦‍♀️ (Laura usually cooks this one!)

Just leave the butter on the bench for 10 minutes or so to cool down and harden slightly, and it will be completely fine to continue with the recipe as normal.

What polenta is best?

Fine polenta works best, also known as fine yellow cornmeal. See image below which shows the yellow colour and fine gritty / grainy texture you’re looking for.

Fine polenta up close showing the gritty texture.

Variations

  • Simple Topping – Keep it simple with a light dusting of icing sugar / powdered sugar over the top of the cake. You can also add fine sprinkling of extra lemon zest, and a slice or two of sliced lemon.
  • Syrup Glaze – Dissolve 3 tbsp icing sugar in around ¼ cup lemon juice and baste over the top of the cooled cake for extra intense lemon flavour. 
  • Serving Ideas – Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, Greek yoghurt, ice cream or lemon curd. Even better, add a small handful of fresh blueberries, raspberries, or sliced strawberries!
  • Tweak the Flavour – If lemon isn’t your jam, you can swap it out for orange or leave the citrus out altogether and go for a simpler vanilla or almond cake with a splash of essence instead.
  • Epic Lemon Flavour – You can up the lemon zest from 1 lemon to 2-3 lemons for a more intense lemon flavoured cake.
A lemon polenta cake showing the perfect golden edge, topped with a lemon icing drizzle and fresh lemon slices.

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★ Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and a star rating below!

Lemon polenta cake on white plate drizzled with lemon icing and topped with lemon slices.

Super Easy Lemon Polenta Cake

This super easy lemon polenta cake recipe is a real impressive crowd-pleaser! Enriched with lemon zest and drizzled in a delicious lemon icing, it’s the crumbly, fluffy citrus cake you’ll want to bake again and again.
4.67 from 3 votes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Course: Cake, Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 12 slices
Calories: 357kcal
Author: Wandercooks
Cost: $8

Ingredients

For the buttermilk (or sub with 1 cup Greek yoghurt)

For the cake

Optional lemon glaze

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 180˚C / 356˚F (fan forced).

For the homemade buttermilk (skip if using 1 cup Greek yoghurt)

  • Place the milk in a small bowl and add the lemon juice (or white vinegar). Stir gently then set aside for a few minutes to curdle.
    1/2 cup milk, 3/4 tbsp lemon juice

For the cake

  • Place the softened / partially melted salted butter in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the caster sugar and cream together until the mixture turns pale yellow and fluffy, around 3-5 minutes. Tip: Scrape down the sides as you go if needed.
    ½ cup salted butter, 1 ¼ cups caster sugar
  • Crack in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well each time until they’re evenly blended into the batter.
    3 eggs
  • Pour in the homemade buttermilk, olive oil and lemon zest. Stir in until just combined. Note: The batter will look a bit lumpy or curdled at this stage, but don’t worry – this is what you want.
    4 tbsp olive oil, zest from 1 large lemon
  • If using a stand mixer, fold in by hand from here. Add the polenta and fold through until combined.
    1 cup fine polenta / yellow fine cornmeal
  • Add the self raising flour and baking powder and fold through again until the batter is smooth.
    1 ½ cups self raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pour batter into a round springform cake tin (greased or lined with baking paper). Bake for 45 minutes, then test with a skewer. If it comes out clean, it’s done! If not, pop it back in for another 2-3 minutes and test again. Optional: Place a sheet of aluminium foil over the top at the 30 minute mark to avoid the top going too dark.

For the optional lemon glaze

  • Place the icing sugar in a mixing bowl and add lemon juice. Whisk until smooth and slightly runny. Note: For a runnier glaze, add a little more lemon juice. For a thicker glaze, add a little more icing sugar.
    1 cup icing sugar / powdered sugar, 1 ½ tbsp lemon juice
  • Pour the lemon glaze over the cake and spread out to evenly coat the surface.

Video

YouTube video

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Super Easy Lemon Polenta Cake
Amount per Serving
Calories
357
% Daily Value*
Fat
 
14
g
22
%
Saturated Fat
 
6
g
38
%
Trans Fat
 
0.3
g
Polyunsaturated Fat
 
1
g
Monounsaturated Fat
 
6
g
Cholesterol
 
62
mg
21
%
Sodium
 
82
mg
4
%
Potassium
 
105
mg
3
%
Carbohydrates
 
54
g
18
%
Fiber
 
1
g
4
%
Sugar
 
31
g
34
%
Protein
 
5
g
10
%
Vitamin A
 
342
IU
7
%
Vitamin C
 
2
mg
2
%
Calcium
 
40
mg
4
%
Iron
 
1
mg
6
%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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Super Easy Lemon Polenta Cake

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Lucretia Borgia
    28/09/2023 at 6:48 pm

    4 stars
    Fabulous taste and texture but I came to grief (I blame my crap oven) with the cake flopping when I opened it to apply the foil at 30 minute mark…
    I recommend leaving it alone for the full 45 before opening: the icing is going to cover the top anyway!

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      28/09/2023 at 7:28 pm

      Thank god for icing right! I might make a note about that. As our oven would burn the top if we didn’t cover it 😅, so yes if your oven can cook the cake the entire time without too much browning, do that!

  • Reply
    Alex
    12/09/2023 at 1:45 pm

    5 stars
    Such a beautiful, delicious cake! Lovely lemon flavour and the glaze on top was so good xo

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      12/09/2023 at 4:16 pm

      Naw, thanks Alex. It’s definitely one of our favourites!

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