Lemon Olive Oil Cornmeal Cake~ An Adaptation of an Adaptation

Minnesota Mom Lemon Polenta Cake

For one of my bridal shower gifts 10 years ago, I was given the cookbook How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson.  I loved that cookbook from the first time I flipped through it’s pages.  Over the first few years of our marriage I cooked and baked new things on an almost daily basis, and simple cakes from that book were always a hit.

I haven’t been able to find my copy since moving (I am hoping it’s in the box that is hiding out in my sisters car trunk) but I remember there being a recipe for a lemon rosemary olive oil cornmeal cake.  (I actually might be making that up but I’m pretty sure there was something like that.)

Anyways, an olive oil cornmeal cake has always intrigued me and when I found myself out of vegetable oil and heavy on the lemons, it occurred to me that I should find a recipe and give it a whirl.  I’ve never met a lemon dessert I didn’t like (except cake-y lemon bars- lemon bars *must* have lemon curd) so I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be a total flop.

As I’m searching Google for a recipe I keep coming back to an adaptation of a recipe by Molly Wizenberg from a book I actually read (and didn’t like*).  It was a simple recipe, heavy on the lemons with lots of variables so I felt comfortable making a few substitutions. Her recipe calls for yogurt, I only had sour cream.  Her recipe didn’t call for cornmeal but did say you could use almond flour.  I figured if I substituted part of the all-purpose flour with cornmeal I would probably be OK.

I was feeling pretty brave- I have no problem substituting ingredients when cooking but baking is a different story.  Baking is chemistry and scariness to me (even if I’m a fairly good baker).  I follow recipes to a T.  Except for today.

I tied on my strawberry apron with the polka dot crinoline and then wrapped my pink taffeta and velvet apron around my littlest helper and off we went.  It was a gloomy day here in Minnesota and although the breeze through my windows was amazing, I was happy to be busy in the kitchen.  We had a few hours to kill before heading downtown to grab lunch at the food trucks so this was the perfect way to keep J occupied.


Lemon Olive Oil Cornmeal Cake
~ Adapted from an Adaptation of a recipe by Molly Wizenberg found in A HomeMade Life

1 cup all purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of sea salt
zest from 2-3 lemons (I always go for more and it is very subtle in the cake)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup olive oil (the more flavorful the better)

Soaking Syrup
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1- 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 inch round cakepan pan with olive oil, and flour the bottom of the pan.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Add the lemon zest and mix well.

3. In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, eggs and olive oil. Whisk well to combine. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk again to combine

4. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. I started checking my cake at 25 minutes and it was still really jiggly and wet in the center.  I checked every 3-5 minutes until it was baked through which was closer to 40 minutes.

5. While the cake is baking, prepare the soaking syrup and the glaze.  The soaking syrup should be very thin, the glaze you can make as thick as you’d like by adding more powdered sugar to the lemon juice.

6. Cool the cake for 15 minutes and then prick the cake with a fork, give the soaking syrup ingredients a final stir and then drizzle the syrup all over the cake.

7. If you can stand the wait (I couldn’t) let the cake cool for another 30 minutes and then drizzle the glaze over the top. I couldn’t wait to put this in my mouth so the cake had only cooled maybe 30 minutes total and a lot of the glaze ended up running to the edges (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) a thicker glaze on a completely cooled cake would probably stay more even.


I had an idea of what to expect but I wasn’t quite sure- it’s fairly dense, it’s got that cornbread-y texture but it’s so packed with lemon flavor I was having a tough time reminding myself I wasn’t eating a lemon loaf cake.  Actually, this was more satisfying that a lemon loaf cake because it wasn’t all about the sweet and it had that hearty texture that didn’t make me feel like I was stuffing my face with cake.  Which I was.  Because it’s pretty good and we plowed through half of it before dinner.

Not bad for a gloomy September morning!

*I will say- for as much as I disliked this book, every recipe I’ve tried has been a winner.



Copyright @ Minnesota Mom 2012