Honey Citrus Polenta Cake

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Honey Citrus Polenta Cake is an easy treat whose simple elegance makes it perfect for any occasion. Warm citrus and honey syrup keeps the cake moist, and the blend of polenta and almond flour give this tender cake a pleasant crumbly texture.

a slice of cake on a white plate with strawberries

If you love citrus desserts, this honey-sweetened citrus polenta cake is for you. Not only does this recipe feature the kind of orange and lemon flavors that will light up a room, but including a little citrus zest along with the juice lifts the flavors to a whole new level. 

The last step in this recipe is what transforms the cake from fabulous to out-of-this-world amazing. When the citrus syrup is drizzled onto the cake it soaks through the dense cake-y texture, so that each bite is filled with sweet syrupy honey and citrus goodness.

Need another reason to fall in love with this cake? The crumbliness of polenta is perfect for absorbing that extra layer of syrup, so this treat is even more moist the day after it’s baked. 

What Is Polenta?

Polenta is a coarse type of cornmeal made from ground yellow corn. Polenta creates a pleasant, crumbly texture in baked goods – the kind of texture that is perfect for picking up loose crumbs with the back of a fork. 

stirring polenta mixture in a silver mixing bowl
spreading cake mixture in a cake pan

How to Make Polenta Cake

  1. Prep the cake pan. Line the pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. 
  2. Cream the butter and sugar. Mix until light and fluffy, then add the almond flour and beat until just combined. 
  3. Add the wet ingredients. Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla, orange juice, and zest.
  4. Combine remaining dry ingredients. Whisk together the polenta, baking powder, and ground cardamom. Add these to the batter and combine.
  5. Bake the cake. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, and then reduce the heat to 320 degrees F (160 degrees C) and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes. 
  6. Make the syrup. Boil the lemon and orange juices in a stainless steel saucepan. Add the honey, and then continue to boil for 4 to 5 minutes.
  7. Finish with syrup. Poke holes in the top of the warm cake with a bamboo skewer. Spoon the hot citrus syrup over the top and allow to cool in the pan
  8. Remove the cake and serve. Invert the pan over a plate, cutting board, or other hard surface to remove the cake. Slice, serve, and enjoy!
making honey sauce in a small saucepan

Ingredients

For the Cake:

  • Butter, Sugar – Use soft unsalted butter for easy creaming, and to control the salt content. 
  • Almond Flour – Baking with gluten-free almond flour adds more moisture to baked goods when compared to all-purpose flour. The ground almonds in the flour also make items like tea cakes, muffins, and cookies a touch denser. 
  • Large Eggs – Eggs add moisture and richness. Always use large eggs when baking, and bring them to room temperature before using.
  • Pure Vanilla Extract – A touch of vanilla with the citrus creates the dreamiest cake flavor.
  • Navel Orange – Orange juice is sweet, but orange zest is even sweeter. Using both the orange zest and the juice really lifts the beautifully bright citrus flavors in the cake.
  • Polenta – Polenta gives the cake a golden color. Avoid instant polenta when baking; it has less texture and flavor.
  • Baking Powder – Lightens the texture of baked goods.
  • Ground Cardamom – Fragrant cardamon loves being paired with citrus desserts. To get the most out of the cardamon spice in this recipe, buy whole cardamom pods and grind the seeds down yourself. This step takes a bit more time, but the flavor is more vibrant than pre-ground cardamom. 

For the Syrup:

  • Lemons, Navel Oranges – Mixing lemon juice with orange juice gives the cake topping syrup the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness.
  • Honey – To naturally sweeten the syrup. Any type of honey (clover, wildflower, etc.) will work. 
ingredients for honey citrus polenta cake on a white countertop

Storage tips

Store this cake in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Because the cake is topped with syrup, storing at room temperature is not recommended. 

How to serve it

This cake is a satisfying treat on its own with a warm cup of tea or coffee, but you can also serve it with a fresh fruit garnish, a bowl of ice cream, or a dollop of whipped cream.

Tips

  • Grate the orange before juicing. Grating a whole orange is much easier than trying to use a zester on a sliced navel orange.
  • Watch out for the orange pith. Citrus pith can be pretty bitter when compared to the sweet zest. Once you see the white part of the pith, move your grater to a new portion of the orange.

Variations

  • Try different citrus – Kumquats, Mandarin oranges, tangerines, blood oranges, and Meyer lemons can be used for the syrup or the cake.
  • Add powdered sugar – A dusting of powdered sugar creates an elegant presentation.
poking holes in a baked cake
pouring honey mixture over baked cake

FAQs

Are polenta cakes gluten-free?

This cake recipe is gluten-free thanks to the mix of almond flour and polenta. Polenta is made from corn, so it is a naturally gluten-free food.

Is cornmeal the same as polenta?

Knowing the difference between cornmeal and polenta can be a little confusing. After all, both are made from ground corn, but there are two significant differences between the two. Polenta is coarser than cornmeal, and it’s also made from a very specific type of heirloom corn called eight-row flint, or otto file, as it’s known in Italy.

a slice of polenta cake on a white plate with strawberries

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5 from 5 votes

Honey Citrus Polenta Cake Recipe

Honey Citrus Polenta Cake is an easy treat whose simple elegance makes it perfect for any occasion. Warm citrus and honey syrup keeps the cake moist, and the blend of polenta and almond flour give this tender cake a pleasant crumbly texture.
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 55 minutes
Total: 1 hour 25 minutes
Servings: 10

Equipment

  • 8-inch Cake Pan
  • Parchment Paper
  • Stand Mixer
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Saucepan

Ingredients 

For the Cake:

  • 1 cup butter, softened (220 g)
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar (220 g)
  • 3 cups almond flour (300 g)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 navel orange, zest and juice
  • 1 cup polenta (150 g)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (see note)

For the Syrup:

  • 2 lemons, juice
  • 2 navel oranges, juice
  • 4 Tablespoons honey

Instructions 

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C.
  • Line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper and spray it lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
  • In a standing mixer, beat the butter and sugar on high until light and fluffy. Add the almond flour to the mixer and beat on low until just combined.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low between each egg. Add vanilla, orange juice and zest and mix on low until evenly combined. The batter will be lumpy.
  • In a seperate small bowl, whisk together the polenta, baking powder, and ground cardamom. Add these ingredients to the batter and mix on low just until no dry spots remain.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30 minutes, and then reduce the oven's heat to 320 degrees F (160 degrees C) and bake for another 25 -30 minutes or until the cake is firm and deep golden brown on top.
  • To make the syrup, squeeze the lemon and orange juices into a stainless steel saucepan, bring to a boil and add the honey, stirring to combine. Keep the liquid boiling until it has formed a thin syrup (4-5 minutes).
  • Using a bamboo skewer, poke holes into the top of the cake (still warm and in its pan) with a skewer then spoon the hot citrus syrup evenly over the top. Leave in the pan until completely cool and then invert the pan over a plate or cutting board to remove the cake.
  • Cake can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Notes

Generously adapted from Nigel Slater’s recipe in the Observer and discovered thanks to this beautiful blog post on Rachel Eats. Nigel Slater’s original recipe advises that you use 12 whole cardamom pods for this recipe. Crush them and grind the extracted black seeds for a more deeply complex cardamom flavor than you will get with the pre-ground variety. Cardamom does not retain its intense flavor for as long as some spices, so I too would recommend grinding your own, although I would argue this cake is every bit worth making even if you prefer to skip that step.

Nutrition

Serving: 10g | Calories: 786kcal | Carbohydrates: 65g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 55g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 105mg | Sodium: 169mg | Potassium: 172mg | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 37g | Vitamin A: 746IU | Vitamin C: 26mg | Calcium: 195mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Author: Jess Smith via Inquiring Chef
Cost: $6.00
Calories: 786
Keyword: cake, easy dessert recipe, gluten free, summer dessert
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About Jess Smith

Jess is the recipe creator and photographer at InquiringChef.com. She spent nearly a decade as the Chief Recipe Developer for the award-winning meal planning app Cook Smarts. Her colorful, healthyish recipes have been featured in popular online publications including Parade, Hallmark, and HuffPost.

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30 Comments

  1. We used to do date nights on Tuesday and somehow they just stopped. I think we’ll have to bring them back because that’s exactly what they were like.
    I think we have a lot in common Jess!

  2. This is beautiful! I love polenta cake and I have the perfect new jar of honey to use in this. πŸ™‚

    1. This was my first polenta cake, Karista, but I’m now completely hooked! It’s such a great texture – unlike any other cakes I’ve tried. I just found some lavender-infused honey, and I’ve already been thinking about trying it in this cake next time I make it.

  3. What an absolutely beautiful post. May you continue to have inspiring travel and comforting nights at home. xo

    1. Right back at ya, friend. And my your travels continue to bring you out towards our neck of the woods. πŸ˜‰

  4. Date night is something that doesn’t happen mid-week in our house, and we rarely go out to eat. Rather, we connect in the kitchen on a Friday or Saturday evening, drinking wine and cooking meals of varying complexity. I always miss that part of the weekend if one of us is busy or working and we can’t cook together.

    I love the looks of this cake – fragrant and sort of sticky, but also light. Am I wrong? I’ll add this to the queue of must-make recipes!

    1. Katie – I love that – there’s nothing like cooking together! YES – you described the cake perfectly. Definitely a bit sticky, but light. It keeps so nicely, so next time I need to bake a day or two in advance, this is the one I’ll use. I had a slice this afternoon and it’s still delicious.

  5. Jess,
    This is my first time visiting your page, I love your writing as well as your recipes. I too am a homebody by nature, but love to dream of travel, and am also living abroad at the moment. And it just so happens I’m sitting here drinking a cup of tea, all that’s missing from this picture is a small slice of orange honey polenta cake. I look forward to more posts!

    Warmly,
    Stella

  6. Jess this looks fantastic! I’ve never made a cake with polenta before … but man now I really want to! Love all the flavors in this. I could use a slice with some tea right about now : )

  7. I’ve always wanted to go to India. My husband and I lived in Hong Kong for one magical year and somehow, despite our many amazing trips, we never made it to Thailand nor India. So I guess I’m living vicariously through you! Gorgeous looking recipe, as always

  8. We love date nights but don’t do them nearly enough. I would definitely take this cake for a date night though!

    1. I’m glad we’ve stuck to it – now if we miss a week, I’m totally bummed. You’ve got me set on making those crackers you just posted, Cassie. I’m married to a cracker fanatic!

  9. I love that I can print the recipes and can take them home for your dad to try. He will be trying this one this weekend. Thanks

    1. I think you’ll really like it, Barbara! This one’s a keeper! And so nice with a cup of tea – my tea-loving sister would approve.

  10. What a lovely blog post. I have always wanted to visit India and this has made me want to experience it even more! this cake also looks delicious- I’ve been gluten free for a long time and the polenta cakes I’ve tasted seem to be by far the best gluten free options as they are still really moist. This citrus cake looks like a perfect recipe to make when I’m next home- I can’t wait to try it. x

    1. Katie – this was my first polenta cake, but I am completely sold. It was so nice and moist, and I love that slightly crumbly texture from the polenta. The drizzle of citrus syrup over the top of this one makes it keep beautifully. So glad to have found your site – thank you for stopping by!