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lemon polenta cake

This cake is for my mom, for Mother’s Day. She has had a lifelong love affair with lemon. Hand lotion. Shower gel. Water with a slice of lemon. Lemon bars. You name it.

I have three siblings and our house was crazy growing up. When I say crazy, I mean a total circus. In fact, my brothers and sister still refer to it by that name today. My mom is the master of all trades. When I think back to all she has done for us since the day we entered this world – it’s mind boggling. Some 10,000 hand-prepared healthy lunches for the four of us. Endless hours behind the wheel, chauffeuring us all over God’s green earth. Somehow cloning herself so that she could be at simultaneous soccer games and tennis matches. She was (and still is) our biggest cheerleader both on and off the field. She successfully managed it all so effortlessly. Or so I thought.

As a young person, I  – to a certain extent – understood how amazing my mom was. But, I believe we cannot truly appreciate motherhood – in the deepest sense – until we become a mother to our own children. We cannot fully grasp what it takes: complete devotion, unconditional love, endless patience and a sense of humor.

I never could have conceived of how much I would worry once my husband and I had brought a child into the world. Just recently, I was sitting in the dark ,rocking my 2 year old before bed. All at once, I was overcome with emotion, faced with the fact that in a blink of an eye my daughter was going to be eighteen and I wouldn’t be able to protect her anymore. I try not to spend all my time being worried about something I cannot control. I try to soak in each moment – - make every second count. But, she will grow up. She will spread her wings and leave home. And she will have her own family one day.  I was sharing this story with my mom, to which she responded: “You, my dear, are 40 and I still worry about you like I did when you were 5 years old.”  And in that moment, she understood that I understood.

My mom is so many things. Smart, witty, kind-hearted and generous. She is selfless in the truest sense of the word. Growing up, we didn’t have very much. But, she, like her mom before her, made a heck of a lot out of very little. From time to time, she placed unexpected little handwritten notes in my lunchbox that read, “I love you – make it a great day!”  It’s the thousands of little things she has done for me that have molded and shaped me into the woman I am today. I am so incredibly grateful for my mom. Each and every day, I strive to emulate her example.

This post is linked to Cybele Pascal’s Allergy Friendly Fridays and Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten Free Brunches over at Maggie’s.

lemon polenta cake

A couple of  weeks ago, I hosted a little blogger get together for some local foodie friends. I made this cake for that evening as I believe anything with lemon is a hit. That night, all I had on hand was Florida Crystals sugar (which I typically never use). It rose quite beautifully and was super moist. I’ve played with the recipe for a week or two, trying desperately to recreate the cake refined sugar free and with less of it in general. I do believe that the larger crystals of maple sugar I was substituting with – although a perfectly suitable alternative to refined sugar – was wreaking a fair amount of havoc on the (risen) appearance of the cake. All was lost until I decided to grind the maple sugar in my blender – that was all it took to achieve a tall cake with a moist and tender crumb. I used de la Estancia fine ground organic gluten free cornmeal which I found at my local grocery store.

200grams/scant 1 cup of oil
50grams/1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
150 grams/3/4 cup (maple or coconut sugar) powdered sugar (I make my own) – see step #4 below
3 lemons (see note below) + their zest, preferably organic
4 eggs,
room temperature
125 grams/3/4 cup + 1.5 Tbsp organic polenta (aka cornmeal) uncooked – just the dry grits.
47 grams/1/3 c  + 1.5 Tbsp sorghum flour
42 grams/1/3 cup white rice flour
15 grams/3 Tbsp tapioca starch
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp baking powder

1.) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2.) Grease an 8×8 glass baking dish (square or round).
3.) Measure out the flours and whisk together with the salt, xanthan gum and baking powder. Set aside.
4.) Place 150 grams of sugar and one tablespoon arrowroot powder or tapioca starch in a blender or spice/coffee grinder until it forms powdered sugar.
5.) In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the oil, applesauce and sugar. Blend until light and smooth, 1 minute.
6.) Using a microplane or a zester, remove only the zest (not the white pith) from the lemons. Set the zest aside for a moment. Juice the lemons and measure out 70 grams or 1/3 cup of lemon juice. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice to the batter.
7.) Add one egg at a time, mixing for about 10 seconds between each egg.
8.) Slowly pour in the polenta until it’s mixed in, about 30 seconds.
9.) Slowly add in the flour. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Zest often gets stuck to the paddle attachment so make sure you use a spatula to get it back into the batter.
10.) Transfer batter into the baking dish. Bake for 40-45 minutes (until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean).
11.) Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting.

Side note #1: if you’re making cupcakes, cook for 20-25 minutes in a 325 degree oven. Makes 12 cupcakes.
Side note #2: Please do yourself a favor and buy a food scale.
It will change your life. It has transformed my baking in the sense that I feel much more confident in the kitchen – because it’s more exact (food science). For example, a 1/4 cup of millet flour weighs quite differently than, say, a 1/4 arrowroot starch. See?  I owe it all to Shauna :)

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14 responses to “lemon polenta cake”

  1. Emily said:

    Anyway to make this without eggs?

  2. naomi said:

    lemon and polenta are a heavenly combination! A lovely post about your mum and being a mum. Good to remind yourself that whatever age your children are, they’re only yours for a short while, and then they go their own way. Gulp…

    x x x

  3. Jude said:

    A wonderful post for your Mum, Steph. Mark came home raving about your Lemon Polenta Cake – maybe I’ll surprise him on his birthday with it :o)

  4. atxglutenfree said:

    Love this. Looks lovely and elegant!

  5. Stephanie said:


    I’ve been pouring back through my notes, eagerly looking for notations. You see, in the ridiculous number of times I made this cake over the last few weeks I did in fact make a vegan version. For a reason unknown to man, I neglected to write down what I did. Most likely because I was unsatisfied with the results.

    Unfortunately, when you talk about replacing more than 3 eggs, it changes the foundation of the recipe. We can’t do seeds in our family, so when I made my vegan version, I used 1 egg = 3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce + 1 tsp baking powder (in lieu of flax seed + water = flax gel). However, I have not tried this using egg replacer for 4 eggs. I tried it with three and some other adjustments.

    My children have been begging me for a version of this they can eat – so I am going to work on this to see what I can come up with. Be back with you shortly, Emily!

  6. Stephanie said:

    Yes, Naomi. This cake just happens to be one of my all time favorites. It’s so lemony – but not over the top. And not too sweet either :)

    It is difficult to remind ourselves that we only have children for such a short time. I feel like my son was born yesterday – and he’s off on bike rides in the woods with my husband and reading books. Watching him (and my other 2 children) become their “own” little people is so wonderful to watch. But, I wish I could just slow it all down a bit. Why does it all have to go by so quickly?

    Gulp is right :)

  7. Stephanie said:

    Thanks Jude.

    Poor Mark. Lives 2000 miles away and I’m still managing to subject him to recipe testing – Ha!

    Oh, how fun – a lemony birthday cake!! You are such a wonderful wife :)


  8. Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten-Free Brunch said:

    [...] from Gluten-Free By Nature made a lovely Lemon Polenta Cake that is gluten-free and dairy-free. I love the sound (and look) of this [...]

  9. Maggie said:

    Yum! My son loves lemon cake and should love this. The maple sugar I buy is already in powdered form, so I can even save myself that step.

  10. Shirley @ gfe said:

    What gorgeous cake and such a sweet post, Stephanie. I could really identify with it, especially the part about suddenly being overcome with emotion like that. Sometimes it hits you out of the blue like that because every moment is precious and fleeting. Have a fabulous Mother’s Day, dear!


  11. Allergy Friendly Friday 5/6/11 | Cybele Pascal Allergen-Free Cuisine said:

    [...] Lemon Polenta Cake from gluten free by nature [...]

  12. Lisa [With Style and Grace] said:

    I’m so happy to have discovered your site! I’ve been GF for over a year now and I’m all about foods that are naturally gluten-free. I’ve already bookmarked several of your recipes, all look delicious! Thank you and I’ll certainly be back.

  13. Stephanie said:

    Welcome Lisa!

    Thanks a million for your lovely note. I am so happy to hear you like the site.

    I admit I’m curious now: I’m wondering which recipes you are going to try. Please stop back by and let me know – I’d love to hear how things turned out :)


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