Friday, October 12, 2012

Amor Polenta

Up until the beginning of the Twentieth century, polenta was a staple of northern Italian peasants, to such an extent that the inhabitants of regions like Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto often suffered from pellagra, a disease caused by the lack of Vitamin B3 in corn. So much so, that polentone (literally polenta eater) became a derogatory term for southern Italians to call their northern counterparts.

Polenta is still a well-loved comfort food and a favored accompaniment, in its unadultered form or studded with lovely melted pockets of cheese, for winter dishes such as slow cooked meats, sausage, stews and mushrooms. In Veneto, white polenta often makes its appearance, creamy or grilled, alongside fish (usually baccalà, dried salted cod).

Funnily enough cornmeal is not a common ingredient in other traditional recipes. Sure, I have seen random cookies, loaves of bread and even pasta for the gluten intolerant, but there is no  Mediterranean version of corn muffins or cheesy corn studded cornbread.

There is however one exception: Amor Polenta, a corn and almond meal-based pound cake that was created in the Lombard city of Varese and that is as a consequence also known by the name of Dolce di Varese. It is a simple cake (and very quick to mix up), to be enjoyed with a cup of afternoon tea, for merenda (the mid-afternoon snack of all Italian children), for breakfast or as an unpretentious dessert. It tastes like home. Yet, despite its modesty, the cornmeal adds a delicate crackle when you bite into it and the hint of rum is warming and unexpected.

It is normally made in a traditional rounded and ridged loaf pan but I don't make it often enough to justify buying one. I am not excited by the obvious alternative, a loaf pan, because I feel this utterly simple cake deserves a little extra decoration, so I use my kugelhopf tin filled halfway. Ingredients are in grams but you can use the converter link at the top of the blog.

My son couldn't even wait for it to cool down enough to dust it with confectioner's sugar

The perfect merenda

Need to make sure I don't leave a single crumb
Ingredients (from Giallo Zafferano)
100gr butter (softened)
100gr cornmeal/polenta
80gr all purpose flour
1/2 sachet baking powder (8gr)
70gr almond meal
120gr sugar
2 eggs
1- 11/2 tbsp rum
a pinch of salt (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract*
Preheat oven to 180°C/360° F. Grease a loaf pan or tin.
In a bowl, mix the butter, sugar and eggs. I was a little worry when I saw my mixture was full of lumps from the butter but don't worry , the batter will be fine once you add in the other dry ingredients. Add in flour, cornmeal, almond meal, baking powder, salt (this is my personal addition, Italian cakes do not usually have salt in them) and rum*** and mix just until creamy.
Transfer the batter to the greased tin and bake for up to 40 minutes. If a toothpick comes out clean it is ready. 
Let cool a few minutes before unmolding. When the cake is completely cooled, dust lightly with icing sugar. 
*This is an addition for those of you not baking in Italy; here baking powder is usually vanilla flavored.
**Salt is not normally used for batters in Italy, but I usaully add a pinch.
***The original recipe suggested using a small glass of rum. I imagine they meant a liquor glass, but they do tend to vary quite a lot in size. I used 1/8 of a cup and it turned out a little strong, so I reduced the amount in the list of ingredients.


  1. Oh I've seen these at bakeries but didn't realise that they were polenta cakes! And that's so interesting about the 'polenta eaters'! :P

  2. Polenta cake is my Dad's all time favourite. I love it, although you do have to be prepared for the slightly crumbly texture, it's definitely not sponge! Yours looks lovely and that tin is gorgeous :-)

    1. Yes, definitely not a sponge. The texture is what I really like about it.

  3. I love amor polenta... This is probably why I consider corn bread to be more of a dessert than a bread or a side....

  4. This sounds so so delicious! I love the texture of polenta, in a savory form and I 'd love it in a sweet cake as well!

  5. wooow!! I love polenta!! I would love this cake. I wonder though...what if I baked this without the almond meal?

    1. I think it would be fine. I actually had a bag of almond meal to finish and it wasn't as much as I needed so I ended up adding in some rice flour that needed finishing instead.

  6. Oh I love polenta cakes but haven't quite found the right one. This one looks perfect! And I love the addition of ground almonds (and rum). I'll be making this. Maybe toss in a handful of blueberries or is that not done? Your cake is stunningly perfect!

    1. Why not? It would certainly taste delicious!

  7. I have made a cake similar, but want to try your Amor Polenta! Can't wait!


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