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Before the Boise Farmers Market shuttered for the winter, I stocked up on freshly-ground polenta from Next Generation Organics.  Now, if you’ve ever worked with fresh polenta, you’ll know that it’s not like the polenta in those vacuum-sealed tubes from the grocery store that are shaped like summer sausages — it can’t sit in your pantry for long.  Fresh polenta still contains all of its oils, which will sour over time.  So it needs to be stored in the freezer, or used quickly.

I’ve been trying to cook my way through all of this polenta.  But there’s only so much savory polenta porridge I can take.  I needed to change it up, so I thought I’d take polenta into the sweet direction.

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This lemony polenta cake (using locally-grown Meyer lemons from Idaho Tropical Fruit Co) was the perfect way to brighten the gloomy winter days.  It’s dense and thick, yet has a lightness and springiness to its body.  Ricotta and four eggs put this cake on the verge of becoming a pudding — and it becomes even creamier and richer after it sits for a day.  The cake itself is barely sweet, so I drizzled a Lillet syrup on top to add a sharp, tart sweetness.

Lillet is one of my favorite aperitifs, with its delightful twang of citrus in a beautiful cradle of Bordeaux white.  But admittedly, it can be hard to find if you don’t have access to a good liquor store.  So substitute a fruity white wine if you wish, or a splash of Grand Marnier in some white wine.

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Meyer Lemon Polenta Cake with Lillet-Almond Syrup

Makes 6-8 servings (8″ cake pan) | Cook time 80 minutes (35 inactive)

  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 + 1/3 C honey
  • zest of 3 Meyer lemons
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • heaping 1 C ricotta cheese
  • 2/3 C a.p. flour
  • 1/2 C + 2 Tbsp polenta
  • handful toasted slivered or sliced almonds
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • juice of 3 Meyer lemons
  • 1/2 C Lillet
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Combine butter, 1/2 C honey, lemon zest, and vanilla extract in mixing bowl.  Use pastry cutter to incorporate.  Add egg yolks and ricotta, and mix until combined.  Fold in flour and polenta.  Set aside.
  3. Whisk egg whites to soft peaks.  Add remaining 1/3 C honey, and whisk again until soft peaks re-form.  Fold egg whites in to the polenta mixture.
  4. Butter an 8″ round cake pan.  Pour polenta mixture into pan — the batter will come close to the brim of the pan, but this cake doesn’t rise much, so don’t worry about it overflowing in your oven.  Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  The cake will likely wobble when you pull it out of the oven, but will set upon cooling.  It will not rise much.
  5. While cake is baking, toast almonds over low heat in a heavy-bottomed pan.  Set aside.  Prepare syrup by bringing sugar, lemon juice, and Lillet to boil over high heat in a small saucepan.  Reduce heat to medium to medium-high, and stir frequently to prevent boiling over.  Maintain a soft boil until syrup has reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes.  Test syrup by dipping a spoon into the syrup, letting it cool for 30 seconds — the syrup should coat the spoon like watered-down maple syrup.
  6. To serve, sprinkle almonds over cake and drizzle with syrup.

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