Cornmeal Dessert Cakes


Desserts baked with cornmeal have been enjoying a new wave of popularity.

Cornmeal was introduced to Italy via Venice around 1600 through commerce with the Orient. It was thought at the time that corn was of oriental origin though the real origin, of course, is Mexico and Central America. Cornmeal is used throughout Italy to make polenta and is also traditionally added to dessert cakes and other baked goods.

I chose to write about cornmeal not because of its history in Italy, but because it is something that I grew up with here in Texas and has always been, at least in my mind, a Southern or Texas tradition.

During the last few years, desserts baked with cornmeal have been enjoying a new wave of popularity.

Breakfast Polenta Cake

  • 1 stick butter, softened.
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • Grated zest of 1/2 orange
  • Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup unblanched almonds
  • 1/4 potato starch or cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal, preferably stoneground
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 large egg whites
  • Confectioners sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325F. Generously butter an 8-inch bundt pan and set aside.

Place the butter, sugar, yolks, vanilla, orange and lemon zest in a large bowl. Beat until light and creamy and set aside.

In a food processor, combine almonds, starch, cornmeal and baking powder and process until powdery. Set aside.

In a bowl beat the egg whites with 1/4 teaspoon sugar until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold the dry ingredients along with 1/2 of the egg whites into the butter mixture. Fold in the rest of the whites until incorporated. Gently scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes.

Cool the cake briefly and sprinkle confectioner's sugar over it. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature.

Cornmeal Butter Cake

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup plain lowfat yogurt
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • Fresh berries and whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9- or 10-inch pan with parchment or wax paper. Butter the paper and sides of pan and sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the cornmeal over the bottom and sides. Sift the remaining cornmeal with the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until light. Gradually add the sugar and beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the yogurt, lemon zest, juice and extract. Fold in the dry ingredients a little at a time. Blend well, but do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until golden, about 50 minutes. Cool cake briefly, invert, and peel off the paper, then turn right side up.

Cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

Polenta Cake

  • 8 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 ounces chocolate, melted and cooled briefly
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon orange extract
  • 2 cups ground almonds
  • 3/4 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Confectioners sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325F. Butter a 9- or 10-inch bundt pan. Set aside.

In a bowl beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, gradually add the sugar and set aside. In a large bowl using the same beaters, beats the butter, yolks, chocolate, honey, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and extract until fluffy.

In a small bowl combine the buckwheat, almonds and baking powder. Fold half of the flour mixture into the butter. Gently fold half of the egg whites into the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining egg whites until all is just blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake about 45 minutes. Cool cake briefly, invert and then cool completely. Sprinkle with sugar and serve warm or at room temperature.

This cake is actually better if left to sit overnight before serving.

Any of these cakes can be dressed up with a warm sauce of your choice, whether it be fruit, zabaglione, or your favorite. Fresh fruit or berries and whipped cream are always a good choice too. Enjoy!

Chef Farmer.