Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Candied Lemons

May 20, 2013

Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Candied Lemons | une gamine dans la cuisine

Currently: a slice of this darling cake (the very last!), lush trees,  lilac bushes blowing in a looming spring storm, and a thick-rimmed glass of iced coffee. I absolutely relish the month of May!

Rain makes its own night, long mornings with the lamp left
Lean bean grass sticks to the floor near your shoes,
last summer’s pollen rises from damp metal screens.

This is order, this clutter that fills clearings between us,
clothes clinging to chairs, your shoes in a muddy grip.

The hard rain smells like it comes from the earth.
the human light in our windows, the orange stillness
of rooms seen from outside. The place we fall to alone,
falling to sleep. Surrounded by a forest’s green assurance,
the iron gauze of sky and sea,
while night, the rain, pulls itself down through the trees.

                            ~ Anne Michaels, in The Weight of Oranges

Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Candied Lemons | une gamine dans la cuisine

This weekend I picked enough late-blooming lilacs to fill almost every room with faded purple splendor and a languid aroma of spring. I know they won't last long in their insufficient vases, but I love walking through the house, with every window open, and drinking in the fleeting spring - with all the senses. It's only natural that I would crave something lemony and fresh.

When I saw this recipe on Design sponge, it had to be made. Immediately. Who could possibly resist a cornmeal cake that's not only infused with lemon juice and zest, but is also adorned with sugared lemon slices? This cake - this recipe, is the best thing to come out of my oven. Ever.

Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Candied Lemons | une gamine dans la cuisine

I pretty much stayed close to the original recipe, I just used almond extract in place of vanilla, and reserved the candied lemon syrup for a shiny, brilliant, garnish.

The cake is almost torte-like in consistency. I'm officially hooked on the concept of baking with olive oil, it offers a subtle floral, earthiness to cookies and cakes.  And because this recipe uses olive oil instead of butter, the crumb is dewy and tender - with only a hint of cornmeal (just enough to keep things interesting). The bright flavour of lemon is Everywhere. It's olive oil's idealistic muse.

My only snag came from the candied lemons slices. I don't have a mandolin, and my knife skills are frightening. As a result my slices were slightly too thick - luckily I love lemons enough to not be bothered by a heavy rind, but everyone else ended up setting their slices aside, politely. I recommend using a mandolin, or finding someone who has mad slicing skills. But do not skip the candied lemon portion! The sugaring process produces a sticky, silky, bittersweet syrup that truly makes this cake sing.

Candied Lemons | une gamine dans la cuisine

Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Candied Lemons
makes one 9-inch cake

for the candied lemons
1 large lemon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water

for the cake
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons lemon zest  (about 2 large lemons)
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fine cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
Confectioners' sugar - for dusting (optional)

Prepare the lemons {Note: The candied lemons can be prepared one day in advance.}
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and have a medium heat-proof bowl on hand.
Using a mandolin, or a very sharp knife, carefully cut the lemon into very thin slices - depending on the size of the lemon, you should be able to get about 10-15 slices. 
Place the sugar and water into a large skillet and bring to a slow boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. When the mixture is clear and bubbling softy, arrange the lemon slices so they don't overlap. Immediately reduce the heat to med-low and simmer for 20-40 minutes, or until the rinds are translucent. Flip the slices over now and then, taking care not to splash yourself with the hot syrup. {Note: The thicker the lemon slices, the longer they will take to cook.}
Turn off the heat and use a slotted spatula, or tongs, to transfer the slices to parchment-lined cookie sheet. The slices are fragile, so be gentle. Pour the leftover lemon/sugar syrup into heatproof bowl. Allow the lemon slices and syrup to cool completely before using. If you're making them a day ahead of the cake, cover the slices and syrup - refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare the cake: Preheat the oven to 325 F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan - line the bottom with parchment paper.

In stand mixer bowl, combine the sugar and lemon zest. Use your fingertips to rub the zest into the sugar until fragrant and light yellow in colour. Set aside to marinate for a few minutes.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, and salt; Set aside.

Add the eggs to the lemon sugar mixture and, using the paddle attachment, beat on medium-high speed until thick and frothy (about 5 minutes). Add the oil, lemon juice, and almond extract - beat on medium speed for another 5 minutes, or until well combined.
Remove the paddle attachment. Use a large rubber spatula to gently fold the dry ingredients into the batter. Scrape the batter into prepared pan, using an offset spatula to spread into an even layer.

Bake 45-50 minutes, or until the center of the cake springs back when lightly touched. {Note: My cake took only 33 minutes - check for doneness around the 30 minute mark.} Remove the cake from the oven and onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before releasing the sides of the pan.

Assemble the cake: Place the cake onto a serving dish. Use a pastry brush to apply a thick, even, coat of lemon syrup.{Note: If the lemon syrup has hardened, place it in the microwave and heat until soft and pourable - mine took about 20 seconds.} Apply as little, or as much, syrup as desired. Arrange the candied lemon slices on top of the cake. {Note: The lemons and syrup are super-sticky, so you won't be able to move the slices around once they're placed.} If desired, sift confectioners' sugar over the cake just before serving.

adapted from Pauline Boldt, via Design Sponge


  1. Seriously gorgeous cake! I love the addition of the cornmeal and the candied lemons are genius!

  2. The cake is beautiful and if you say it's that good, can't wait to try it. Simply gorgeous!

    I can also imagine how fragrant your house must be with all those lilacs!

  3. I could sit this gorgeous cake in front of me and eat it all up! Is that being piggy?!? I don't care if it is! ;) Beautiful, Val!

  4. I don't know that I like more, the candied lemons or the sugar syrup. Either way, this cake looks like absolute lemon heaven! Just wish we could have a chat over tea and a nice wedge of this cake :). Have a great Monday!

  5. EVER? If you say that I have to try it! It looks amazing and I love those candied lemons!

  6. Mmmm that looks and sound luscious. I have an old southern lemon chess pie recipe including cornmeal. Ultimately reminded me of that as well as many Italian treats featuring lemons and cornmeal. Simplistic bliss.

  7. Looks delicious - the first photo is definetly my favourite :)

  8. I love your idea of a May afternoon with this cake and iced coffee! Wish I could join ya! Gorgeous cake, Valerie!

  9. Those candied lemons dusted with the sugar look so beautiful, like little lemon fossils peeking through the glaze!

  10. It's so you! The candied lemons, the cake itself, and I bet the flavor is wonderful! I love the plate you used, the photos, so pretty, Valerie!

  11. Lemon cake is one of my favorites. And yours look so pretty and tempting.

  12. Valerie, how can you do this to me? "This recipe is the best thing to come out of my oven. Ever." Watch me bookmark yet another of your wonderful lemon recipes.

    I love the month of May too, and you've chosen a perfect poem.

  13. Gorgeous! Magnifique! Delicioso! Muy bueno! Your cake deserves to be called something good in any language! I would love a slice, please...as in, I'm not kidding. I am literally drooling over here. Too bad we don't live in the same city, hehehe. Have a good week ahead, Valerie!

  14. Simply stunning Valerie! I love a cake with cornmeal in it. The texture is amazing and then with lemon - that is a home run. Lovely, lovely photos!

  15. Valerie, you have such a beautiful way of describing things. I could positively taste that sticky lemon syrup, candied rind and the moist olive oil cake! I love lemon rind too. Doesn't bother me the slightest if it's cut a tad thick, as long as it's candied and deliciously tangy-but-sweet (I'm one of those people who prefers chunks of orange rind in my marmalade!). Thanks for sharing this beautiful recipe. I can't wait to try it! xx

  16. Karen @ Lemongrove Cake DiariesMay 21, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    I love all things lemon and this cake looks stunning - I will definitely be trying this recipe.

  17. Even if the slices are a little too thick, they make the cake look so pretty! I don't think I've done any olive oil baking but would love to try it out with this cake.

  18. ahhh, your cake is sooooo pretty! i want to eat all those candied lemon slices right off the cake. rind and all :)

  19. I need to try baking with olive oil! This cake sounds absolutely perfect for spring!

  20. Yes, that is one gorgeous cake. A cake that I would have a difficult time avoiding as it would beckon me with that lemon scent. Just gorgeous, Val.

  21. Best cake ever...I love reading that! I'm such a lemon cake fan- will have to bookmark this one ;-). Beautiful cake with the lemon slices on top of the lemony glaze ;-)

  22. I love the smell of lilacs. If only spring would stay a little longer. I'm just not ready for the heat and humidity. This cake looks fantastic!

  23. The cake sounds SO! GOOD! And it's gordg!! I love love love the lemon slices on top.

    I have a lilac tree in my backyard, and every vase I own is filled with lilacs! My house smells like Spring. :)

  24. Gorgeous cake! I am also obsessed these days with incorporating olive oil and cornmeal in my baking. They make for a lovely texture and bit of something unique!

  25. The best thing *ever*?! EVER?

    Hmm. I might have to make this now. I have to honest... cornmeal cake doesn't sound that exciting. BUT! You went and added those candied lemons, thus making this more than exciting. Can't wait to try it! Just need to find some cornmeal first. :)

  26. Valerie, lemon cake in any form has me swooning! I've always been a big fan of the lovely lemon and this cake with the candied lemons sounds fantastic.

  27. Valerie, I must say...your cake beats the pants off the one that inspired it! It is as romantic as the poem you shared. I love the line, "The hard rain smells like it comes from the earth." Ahh. So true. (And, believe me. We had our fill here in Indy over the weekend!) Plus, your styling and photography here is just gorg! Sheer poetry! xo


Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to read through my ramblings!
If you have a recipe comment or question, I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Baking!
♥ Valerie


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