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Italian Polenta Cake Recipe with Clementine

This clementine polenta cake is my take on the traditional Italian dessert. 

Clementine Polenta Cake

I’d never made a cake with polenta before. In fact, I have never made anything with polenta.

However, I bought a packet from Lidl during the Italian week, which has sat very forlornly in my cupboard ever since. Often, I would open the cupboard in search of something else, and it would catch my eye. Use me, it would quietly whisper.

The plan had been to use it to make a side dish, but I happened to see a picture of polenta cake on Pinterest, and well, the rest is history.

After making (and scoffing) this cake, I am not sure I will ever want to make a cake without polenta. 

Clementine Polenta Cake in a plate with cream

I love citrus flavors in cakes-lemon bread, lime swirl cake, whole lemon bundt cake – you name it; I’ve tried it.

Not only does citrus (and, in this case, clementines) add a fantastic flavor, but it also helps moisten cakes.

This simple one-layer cake is adorned with nothing more than a liberal sprinkle of icing sugar and homemade candied peel.

In keeping with its Italian theme, I’ve dolloped a healthy helping of mascarpone to accompany it. 

What is polenta?

Originating from northern Italy, polenta was traditionally a cheap, filling dish for peasants.

These days, it’s quite amusing that polenta is now seen as rather upmarket, appearing on the tables of many a fine dining restaurant.

Polenta is made from grinding corn into flour or “meal” and is fairly coarse.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that comparisons are made between polenta and North American grits.  

Freshly cooked polenta is soft and creamy, especially if you made it with milk and butter, and has a porridge-like consistency.

It is often served with hearty casseroles or stews.

That being said, don’t limit its uses. It can be an interesting substitute for more common sides like potatoes and pasta. As polenta cools, it hardens. It also molds to whatever form it is stored in, so you can slice it up.

There are many ways to cook cold polenta, from frying to baking. You can even add toppings to it and create your gluten-free bruschetta.

However, polenta’s secret magic happens when added to cookies and cakes.

Surprisingly, the result is not grainy when added to cakes like this clementine polenta cake.

Although polenta produces a denser cake, it is still fluffy and light. Another significant positive is that polenta provides a gluten-free alternative.

Polenta vs cornmeal

Polenta and cornmeal are made by grinding corn and are, therefore, the same thing.

However, there is one difference: the thickness of the grain.

Polenta is usually a little thicker than cornmeal, so it holds its shape better when cooked (and you don’t end up with mush). However, to make this cake, it wouldn’t make a lot of difference which you use.

Oranges in cakes

Using the whole orange is common in Italian cake recipes (particularly in Sicily).

I’ve used entire oranges in muffins and cakes, and they are among my favorite recipes.

Although it can feel a little strange to use all of the oranges (yep, including the rind), I find it offers a depth of flavor you can’t achieve from a little zest.

This time, though, I didn’t want to use oranges. I wanted to go for something a little more unusual.

I often bake based on what I have in my fridge or what’s on special offer at the supermarket.

While in the planning stages of this cake, I came across a huge bag of clementines, and the fate of this cake was sealed.

Clementine cake, it was. 

Clementines are not just for Christmas. They are amazing in this clementine polenta cake and should be given more credit.

I used one whole clementine for this cake. After a quick blitz, it was ready to go right into the batter.

It worked like a dream.

Not only did it add little pockets of chewy rind to complement the soft cake, but it looked so pretty, too. However, if you want to avoid this step, use zest instead.

I wanted to use the clementine peel well and make candied clementine peel.

Clementine Cake with candy Clementine peel

Although going to the trouble of candying clementine peel might seem unnecessary, they were easier than you might imagine.

Yes, it adds a little extra time, but they totally enhance the cake, not only flavor-wise but also aesthetically. So gorgeous.

Beware, though: candied peel is sublime and highly addictive. At one point, I thought I might need to hide them away to prevent me from eating them all. 

Can I use tangerines, mandarins, or oranges instead?

Absolutely! You can substitute tangerines or mandarins for clementines.

They are the same family, and the only noticeable difference is the size (clementines are usually the baby of the bunch). You could also use regular oranges if you like.

However, the rind is a little thicker on larger oranges, and they are a little trickier to peel. 

What should I serve with this clementine polenta cake?

In all honesty, it needs nothing extra. Niente. However, I believe that if you take the time to make a cake, especially for a special occasion, why not go all out?

So, to fit in with the Italian theme, I went for a simple vanilla Mascarpone and sprinkled my candied peel on top.

I also added some blackberries to serve. 

If you don’t have mascarpone, use thick Greek yogurt or a dollop of whipped cream.

If you eat the cake warm, what could be better than a helping of orange ice cream?

Can I use regular flour instead of spelt flour?

Of course you can you use regular cake flour! I always use spelt flour in my recipes now, but I’ve made many of my recipes with both.

Although spelt can behave a little differently in bread, for cakes, nothing more complicated than a straight swap is needed.

I can guarantee that you won’t notice a difference in the texture or flavor, regardless of which flour you use.

I hope you enjoy my clementine polenta cake. It is quite small but enough for six to eight slices. 

How to Make Polenta Cake

Polenta Cake pintarest pin

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Yield: 6 to 8 slice

Polenta cake

polenta cake

Our Italian Polenta Cake is a must-try! Moist, golden, and bursting with authentic taste, it's a dessert you won't want to miss.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • I small clementine (around 100g / 3½ ounces)
  • 150g (¾ cup) white sugar
  • 170g (¾ cup) butter
  • 3 medium eggs (weighing 180g / 6¼ ounces in their shells)
  • 100g (⅚ cup) spelt flour (see note 1)
  • 60g (½ cup) ground almonds
  • 50g (½ cup) polenta
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Powdered / Icing sugar (to sprinkle)

Instructions

  1. Wash your clementine and then cut into quarters. Blitz in a food processor or blender (see note 2).
  2. Preheat the oven to 175℃ / 350℉. Line and/or grease a 6” / 18cm springform pan.
  3. Beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy.
  4. Add one egg at a time, making sure it is fully incorporated before adding the next.
  5. Combine the flour, almonds, polenta, and baking powder in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients a little at a time.
  6. Finally, add your clementine (there should be about 2 tablespoons once it has been blitzed).
  7. Dollop the batter into your prepared pan and bake in the lower part of the oven for 35-45 minutes. It is ready when a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for ten minutes before removing the outer edge of the springform. 
  9. Place on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
  10. When ready to serve, sprinkle a little icing / powdered sugar over the top of the cake.
  11. Serve with a dollop of mascarpone and some fresh fruit (if you like).

Notes

  • You can use regular flour in place of spelt. All you need to do is a straight swap using the same measurements.
  • Although giving the clementine a good blitz is better, you can still make this cake without a food processor. Just remove the peel and cut it into very tiny pieces. Then, cut up the clementine wedges. 

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 201Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 82mgSodium: 115mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 1gSugar: 23gProtein: 5g

Nutrition is automatically calculated by Nutritionix - please verify all nutrition information independently and consult with a doctor or nutritionist for any and all medical and diet advice.

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