This pretty-as-a-picture vegan polenta cake with plum topping is surprisingly easy to make, with a luscious lemon syrup. A perfect vegan teatime treat or a showstopping dinner party dessert with vegan ice cream.
First there were some plums perilously close to going mouldy in the fruit bowl. They nearly became a crumble, then I started thinking about cake. (That happens quite a lot). So here's what happened next... a pretty-as-a-picture vegan polenta cake with plums on top.
Juicy, over-ripe plums arranged in a pretty pattern over a lusciously lemony polenta and almond cake. Perfect with a cup of tea and a sit down on a Saturday afternoon, or just as good as a dinner party dessert with a scoop of dairy-free ice-cream.
This delicious dessert is surprisingly easy to make, and all the ingredients will be available in your local supermarket.
🔪 What is polenta?
Polenta is an Italian storecupboard staple, made by grinding corn into flour. Whilst we often use the terms polenta and cornmeal interchangeably, in fact it isn't actually polenta until it is cooked. Until then it is simply cornmeal. Top tip: you can often pick up a packet of 'cornmeal' much cheaper than you can 'polenta', even though it is actually the same stuff!
In its savoury form, polenta can either be cooked until creamy and thick, or else cooked until solid then sliced. (If you haven't tried polenta chips, do - they are wonderful!).
But here the polenta/cornmeal is used in a syrupy cake, rich with ground almonds and soggy with citrus. If you don't have any suitable fruit to hand, you can absolutely make this cake without a fruit topping, it will be completely delicious.
📝 What you need
Plums need to be ripe - better to use slightly over-ripe than under-ripe.
Light brown sugar I use light muscavado sugar here as it gives a lovely toffee edge to the plum topping. If you don't have any to hand, demerara or just caster sugar will be fine instead.
Plain flour slightly thickens the plum topping, but if you're making this cake gluten-free (which it is otherwise), just swap this for gluten-free flour or leave it out completely.
Dairy-free margarine Use a good-quality block margarine (rather than a tub of spread) as it has a lower water content so works much better for baking. I use Flora Plant Butter or Naturli Block which are both excellent.
Caster sugar makes lovely light cakes - beat the 'butter' and sugar for a long time until very pale and fluffy - a good 2-3 minutes in a food mixer, (which feels like ages but makes all the difference for a light and fluffy cake).
Dairy-free yoghurt works in place of eggs - I usually go for a soya yoghurt as it has the highest protein content of all the plant yoghurt options. Make sure you choose an unsweetened plain yoghurt, this cake doesn't need any more sugar or added flavours!
Ground almonds give this cake a very moist and fairly dense crumb, and a claggy nuttiness which is really delicious.
Polenta as discussed above is a ground cornmeal, with a deep yellow colour and gritty texture which makes polenta cakes so more-ish. Make sure you don't buy instant polenta, which will turn mushy instead.
Baking powder gives a good rise to your polenta cake. Check the use-by date on your baking powder before using - it does lose its potency once out of date which will leave your cakes flat!
Lemons The combination of a dense, almond sponge with lemon syrup is totally delicious. The zest is baked into the cake and the juice becomes a syrup which is drizzled over afterwards. You could also use oranges in place of lemons, though that might work better with a different fruit topping, perhaps apricots or peaches.
When making an upside-down cake like this one, you do really need either a springform or loose-bottom cake tin. Getting stay in place when you turn the cake out without either of these options will be nigh on impossible! I use this loose-bottomed tin from Lakeland* - pleasingly heavy, and nothing ever seems to stick.
You can make this cake mix in a large bowl with an electric hand whisk, (or even just a good old wooden spoon if that's all you have available!)
But a good food mixer, although quite a big investment, really does make a huge difference for very light and fluffy cakes, buttercreams, and also kneading bread or pizza dough, whisking plant cream or aquafaba, and anything else that needs a lot of power. I have this KMix by Kenwood* which is £289 and worth every penny - I've had it for over 10 years now and it is really good quality.
👩🏽🍳 Variations: same cake, different fruit
You can use all sorts of different fruit to top this lemony polenta cake - make a different variety every time! How about:
- Peaches or nectarines
- Apricots (fresh, not dried)
- Pineapple slices
- Apples (use an eating apple rather than cooking variety which will turn to mush when cooked)
- Cherries (stoned)
Use fresh fruit, and slice thinly (where necessary). Arrange the fruit in a thin layer to just cover the base of the tin, then tip the cake mix on top as per the recipe instructions.
Or you can leave out the fruit completely, and just make a plain lemon polenta cake instead!
This polenta cake freezes well, so why not make two whilst you're at it?
Or you could cut the cake into slices and freeze separately, so you defrost a single slice whenever you need a polenta cake pick-me-up!
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Vegan Polenta Cake with plums & lemon syrup
For the plum topping:
- 4 plums
- 3 tbsp light brown sugar
- 2 tbsp plain flour (or gluten-free flour if you are making this cake gluten-free)
For the polenta cake:
- 200 g dairy-free margarine
- 200 g caster sugar
- 200 ml dairy-free yoghurt plain and unsweetened
- 200 g ground almonds
- 100 g polenta
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 lemons
- pinch salt
- 3 tbsp icing sugar
- Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 325°F / Gas Mark 3. Grease a 25cm (9 inch) cake tin and line the bottom with greaseproof paper or baking parchment. Grease around the edges of the greaseproof paper, on the top (that will be touching the plums).
- Sprinkle the brown sugar for the topping into the bottom of the cake tin, making sure it covers the base fairly evenly. Sprinkle the flour on top of the sugar.
- Halve the plums and remove their stones. Slice them fairly thinly, then start arranging the slices in the bottom of the tin, overlapping slightly.
- Keep adding plum slices in the gaps until all the slices have been used.
- In a food mixer or large bowl, beat together the margarine and sugar for the cake, until pale and fluffy.
- Add the yoghurt, ground almonds, polenta, baking powder, the zest of the lemons, (keep the lemons as you will need their juice later), and a pinch of salt. Mix slowly until just combined.
- Tip the cake mix over the top of the plums.
- Spread the cake mix carefully so as not to disturb the plums, then place the cake tin onto a large baking tray in case of any small leaks. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer or knife comes out clean.
- When the cake comes out of the oven, prepare the lemon syrup. Mix the juice of the lemons with the icing sugar, then heat gently (30 seconds in the microwave or in a small saucepan) until the sugar has completely dissolved.
- Spoon the lemon syrup over the cooling cake and leave it in the tin until completely cool.
- When it is cool, place a plate over the top of the tin, flip over and carefully turn out and peel off the greaseproof paper.
- The cake can be served warm with a scoop of dairy-free ice-cream, or cold as a teatime treat.
Polenta cake recipe based on this one by Lesley Walters, plum topping and vegan-isation are my own!