Love Is Complicated; Polenta Cake Is Not

August  1, 2017

I'll admit that the name "amor polenta" (love + cornmeal) made me want to bake this cake before I had ever tasted it. It's a simple cake, perfect to have with an espresso or caffe latte for a traditional Italian breakfast, or with a glass of wine for a snack. The origin of its unusual name has long been forgotten, but it is fitting for someone like me, who has a love for all things polenta, especially in baked goods.

Photo by Emiko Davies

Known in its area of origin (northern Lombardy) as dolce varese, this ancient country cake is made with a trinity of "flours" that makes it both rustic and delicate at the same time. There's the fine ground polenta, some regular wheat flour, and finely ground almond meal (or hazelnut meal, which adds depth and a nuttier flavor). Some recipes even call for potato starch in place of the wheat flour, which gives it a lightness, and is a good option for anyone who needs to keep this cake gluten-free.

Photo by Emiko Davies

There are many things to love about Polenta in a cake: its remarkable way of soaking up the other flavors around it, its deep golden color, and most of all, its crumb—that al dente bite. You could describe it as a grittiness that gives the cake its unique texture.

I love this recipe so much; I've made it in every cake tin I own
Photo by Emiko Davies

In Italy, you'll always see this cake cooked in a half-cylindrical ridged tin, which is what makes it instantly recognizable as amor polenta. Without one of these special tins, you can use a regular loaf pan, or any sized pan, really. I love this recipe so much that over the years, I've made it in every cake tin I own, from round (maybe with some poached and quartered fruit pushed into the top) to muffins (with a bit of added lemon zest). I suppose you could say, then, that it is no longer amor polenta at all, but simply an amor polenta–inspired cake—which needn’t be a bad thing, when it's all for love.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Honeybee
  • Jessica
  • susan
  • Katherine
  • Emiko
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


Honeybee March 12, 2024
just made this with fine polenta, refined almond flour and g-f option of potato starch for half the flour weight as instructed. Also about ¾ tsp vanilla bean paste. Used my smaller metal loaf pan, based on the photos. I used my stand mixer to get the butter/sugar/egg mixture very light and then beat in the dry ingredients just until incorporated. It poured/scraped well into the pan, which I also lined with a parchment sling. Baked up beautifully in about 40 minutes. Tried it this morning and it's delicious - a little crumbly like cornmeal cakes often are but rich and delicious. A keeper to bake for my g-f friends! thanks, Emiko!
Jessica August 6, 2017
This looks delicious and I'm going to make it tonight! Thinking I might throw in a little lemon zest and cardamom. Can I sub vanilla extract for the vanilla pod? If so, how much?
Emiko August 9, 2017
Of course! I would use about a teaspoon or the same as what you normally do in a loaf pan-sized cake.
susan August 3, 2017
I really really want the pan pictured. I have tried everywhere to find it. Any ideas? Thank you.
Emiko August 3, 2017
It's also called a rehrucken pan, you might have better luck looking that up! :)
Katherine August 1, 2017
Do you think you could sub in non-dairy butter or something else to make this vegan?
Emiko August 3, 2017
I've often made this with olive oil in place of the butter with great success, but you'll have to find an egg substitute -- I haven't tried that version yet!
Katherine August 3, 2017
Olive oil is perfect! I'm going to try with aquafaba as a substitute for eggs and will let you know if I am crazy or not. I LOVE polenta cake and this recipe looks too good.
krista B. August 6, 2017
Katherine- please let us know how this turns out! I have an egg free son and we are always looking for subs for him!
Kiran June 2, 2020
I made this with Flax meal instead of eggs (allergy) and everything else as written. Great success.