Polenta began as a porridge ground from grains like buckwheat and farro before corn—a New World crop—was available in Europe. It was cheap to produce and satiating which made it a lifesaver for the Italian peasants, and this widespread use made it one of the bedrocks of Northern Italian cuisine. Today polenta generally refers to ground cornmeal—the kissing cousin of Southern grits. Adding polenta to a cake adds a savory element and a nice toothiness to the texture, and this delightful combination has made polenta cake a mainstay of Italian confections.
Chef Nick Leahy of Saltyard in Atlanta, Georgia uses influences from around the globe to create the small plates that constitute the Saltyard’s tapas-style menu. So when he decided to create a lemon cake, pulling from the Italian polenta cake tradition came naturally. His Lemon Polenta Cake is bright from the addition of fresh lemon zest and a lemon caramel glaze that he drizzles over the top of the warm cake. “I opted for ground cornmeal in this cake to keep things interesting and give it a bit more texture than your average cake,” says Leahy.
“We soak the cornmeal in buttermilk for about an hour or so to soften it, then add in plenty of lemon zest and vanilla. This cake has a nice nutty flavor, is brightened by lemon and ends on a sweet note with a touch of caramel.”
Lemon Polenta Cake
From Chef Nick Leahy of Saltyard in Atlanta, Georgia
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