Amazing polenta orange cake! It is soaked with syrup, so soft, moist, and delicious! The best sweet polenta cake I have ever had!
This polenta orange cake (also-known-as malai dulce – sweet cornmeal - in Romanian) is the end of a long quest after a sweet and delicious recipe made with polenta. I’ve made many polenta cakes over the years, searching for the one I would like, the one I imagined so many times when reading some recipes. And this is it - the best orange and polenta cake recipe! Who says polenta is only for making savory dishes?
And if you would like to check more orange dessert recipes, have a look at the Orange Drizzle Cake, the Orange Tiramisu or the Orange Popsicles.
Why is this the best recipe?
- Texture: The best there is! Soft, moist, no grittiness, although the cornmeal was not cooked before.
- Taste: Incredibly delicious; you can really taste the oranges.
- Super easy to make: Stir the ingredients, bake, make the syrup, and soak the cake with it.
- Potluck cake: Easy to transport and eat without a plate and spoon.
- I used medium cornmeal or polenta with a short cooking time; the instructions on the package indicated 10 minutes of cooking time. Choosing a cornmeal type that doesn’t need to be cooked for a long time helps against the grittiness you will experience if you use coarse cornmeal.
- Not corn flour, which is completely fine and smooth.
- For the same reason, I chose a fine/ soft semolina kind.
- I live in Germany and there are two sorts of semolina here: the coarse/hard one that I use to make dumplings for soup and the fine/soft kind used to make semolina porridge or semolina desserts, for instance.
- It is preferable to use organic ones as you will also need the orange zest. Choose unwaxed oranges, wash them with hot water and dry them well before zesting.
- You can also bake the cake with blood oranges.
- Full-fat creamy yogurt.
- A neutral-tasting kind of oil like canola or very mild sunflower oil. Don’t use olive oil or anything else with a pungent taste.
Other ingredients: eggs, sugar, milk, baking powder, vanilla sugar, vanilla extract or vanilla essence, lemon juice, icing sugar.
Orange polenta cake:
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a casserole dish, 28x18 cm/ 11x7 inches. Grate zest of one of the whole oranges; you will need about 1 tablespoon of zest or more to taste.
- Dry ingredients: Mix the cornmeal, semolina, baking powder, and grated orange peel in a small bowl. Set aside (1).
- Eggs: Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites until stiff and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla sugar, or vanilla extract and 50 g/ 1.7 oz/ scant ¼ cup of the yogurt until pale and thick (2). Use an electric mixer or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
- Add the vegetable oil in a slow stream while beating all the time. Add the rest of the yogurt and beat for about 1 minute. Add the milk and mix shortly (3).
- Slowly add the cornmeal – semolina mixture to the wet ingredients mixing with a regular eggbeater/whisk this time (4).
- Fold in the egg whites carefully (6). Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin (7).
- Bake for about 45 minutes or until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
- In the meantime, make the syrup.
- Juice the citrus fruit until you have about 100 ml/ ½ cup juice.
- Sieve the orange juice into a small saucepan; add the sugar and the lemon juice. Heat on medium heat. When it starts to boil, remove it immediately, you should have a relatively thin syrup (8).
- Once the polenta orange cake is ready, poke holes all over with a toothpick.
- Pour the syrup all over the top of the cake and let the cake cool completely in the dish (9).
- Cut the cake into squares, remove them carefully from the baking dish, place them on a serving plate, and sprinkle with icing sugar.
- Decorate with orange slices if you wish.
Expert tips and FAQ
You might not need all the syrup to soak the polenta orange cake; I had a little leftover, but not much. Use as much as necessary and make sure to soak a bit more around the edges, should they be a little drier than the rest of the polenta dessert.
A finer type of cornmeal/polenta with a short cooking time. This is important. Otherwise, the sweet polenta cake might be too gritty. Choose a sort with 10 minutes of cooking time.
The same goes for the semolina; use a soft/fine type.
Yes, you can make the orange polenta cake one day ahead; leave it to cool in the baking dish. Once cool, cover it with a clean kitchen towel and keep it at room temperature until the next day.
Store leftovers for up to one day on the counter and 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge.
Freeze leftover pieces on a plate. Once solid, transfer to freezer bags and freeze for 2-3 months. Defrost on the counter. You can refresh the pieces shortly in the oven.
Serve the polenta orange cake with whipped cream, Greek yogurt, or crème Fraiche stirred with a bit of brown sugar. Or try it with some ice cream.
More polenta recipes:
- How to Cook Basic Polenta or Mamaliga
- Roasted Green Onions (Roasted Scallions)
- Polenta Chicken
- Romanian Polenta Souffle
- Polenta Chips
The Best Polenta Orange Cake
- Casserole dish, 28x18 cm/ 11x7 inches
- 150 g 1 cup medium cornmeal (5.5 oz), Note 2
- 50 g ¼ cup fine/soft semolina (1.8 oz)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon grated orange peel optional (Note 3)
- 3 eggs large
- 125 g ⅔ cup granulated sugar (4.5 oz)
- 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 450 g 1 ¾ cup Greek yogurt (1 lb), divided
- 100 ml scant ½ cup vegetable oil ( 3.5 fl.oz)
- 50 ml scant ¼ cup milk (1.7 fl.oz)
- icing sugar to dust
- 1 orange to decorate optional
For the orange syrup:
- the juice of 2-3 oranges about 100 ml/ 3.4 fl. oz/ scant ½ cup fresh juice
- 50 g ¼ cup sugar (1.7 oz)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Sweet polenta cake:
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a casserole dish, 28x18 cm/ 11x7 inches.
- Mix the cornmeal, semolina, baking powder, and grated orange peel in a bowl. Set aside.
- Eggs: Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites until stiff and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla sugar, or vanilla extract and 50 g/ 1.7 oz/ scant ¼ cup of the yogurt until pale and thick.
- Add the vegetable oil in a slow stream while beating all the time.
- Add the rest of the yogurt and beat for about 1 minute.
- Add the milk and mix shortly.
- Slowly add the cornmeal – semolina mixture mixing with a regular egg beater/whisk this time.
- Fold in the egg whites carefully.
- Bake: Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and bake for about 45 minutes or until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
- In the meantime, make the orange syrup. Juice the oranges until you have about 100 ml/ ½ cup juice. Sieve the juice into a small pot add the sugar and the lemon juice.
- When it starts to boil, remove it immediately, you should have a relatively thin syrup.
- Poke cake: When baked, take the cake out of the oven and prick it all over with a toothpick.
- Soak cake: Pour about ¾ of the syrup all over the cake. Add a bit more around the edges, should they be drier than the rest of the cake.
- Cool completely in the dish. Cut the cake into squares, remove carefully from the baking dish and sprinkle with icing sugar. Decorate with orange wedges if you wish.
- A digital kitchen scale will give you the most precise measure ensuring the best bake possible (Amazon affiliate link).
- Look for a sort with a short cooking time – mine needed only 10 minutes.
- From an organic, unwaxed orange.
Angie@Angie's Recipes says
So bright and beautiful...and I love how moist and tender crumb is..
Kathy @ Beyond the Chicken Coop says
I have never tried a cornmeal cake! I will need to give this recipe a try. I love the orange here!
Hi Adina - you sure get five stars for all your attempts to give us the perfect polenta cake. Seriously, I am SO impressed. Thanks for not giving up. You must be tickled. This cake is absolutely gorgeous and I loved hearing about its smooth taste with no grittiness. I have some cornmeal in the cupboard but I must check if it is the right kind that does not need to be cooked for long. Your pictures are beautiful as always, nicely done!
Cheyanne @ No Spoon Necessary says
I've never had polenta in a cake before!! This is another great post on polenta, girlfriend! LOVE the orange syrup here! Looks delicious! Cheers!
this cake looks to have an amazing texture! i think cornmeal is very underused as a dessert ingredient. 🙂
Kathryn @ Family Food on the Table says
Doesn't it feel so good to finally find the recipe you love?! Sounds like it was a lot of testing and a lot of hard work to bring us this cake - and it looks SO worth it in my opinion! Looks so light and fresh and that orange syrup? Oh yum!!! Way to stick with it - you found a winner for sure! ???
Laura Dembowski says
Cornmeal can definitely add that grit to cakes that is just unpleasant. I always use superfine and make sure there isn't too much in a recipe. The best thing I made with cornmeal was a blackberry buckle. Oh, man, was it good.
Adina, you are amazing! You should write a book about polenta! Your recipes are so creative! I love this orange cake idea as much as savoury dishes.