Polenta Honey Cake With Pears

This cake delivers a huge payoff for very little effort: stunning, golden and inlaid with caramelized pear slices. Served with rustic charm right out of the skillet in which it’s baked, each slice is heavenly — tender yet textured thanks to cornmeal (polenta); studded with sweet chunks of pear; and wafting of honey, vanilla and lemon. And since the batter is made with whole-grain flour, healthful oil and a modest amount of sweetener, it’s better for you than a typical cake.

Be sure to use perfectly ripe pears — fruit that yields to pressure when you push down with your thumb at the neck near the stem — to make the cake. If you can find only hard pears at the market, store them in a brown paper bag on your kitchen counter for a few days to soften.

Active time: 15 mins; Total time: 45 mins

Storage Notes: Cover lightly and refrigerate for up to 3 days.


8 – 10

Tested size: 8-10 servings; makes one 10-inch cake

  • 1 cup (125 grams) whole-wheat pastry flour or white whole-wheat flour

  • 1/2 cup (80 grams) medium-ground yellow cornmeal

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt

  • 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing skillet

  • 1/2 cup (170 grams) mild honey, such as clover or orange blossom

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

  • 2 medium firm ripe pears (14 ounces/397 grams total), such as Bosc, Bartlett or Anjou

  • 2 teaspoons coarse sugar, such as demerara or turbinado


Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Brush a 10-inch cast-iron or other nonstick ovenproof skillet with oil (see NOTE).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt until combined.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, honey and eggs until well incorporated. Whisk in the vanilla and lemon zest, then add the flour mixture in three additions, stirring to incorporate after each.

Peel, halve and core one of the pears, then cut it into 1/2-inch pieces and stir it into the batter. Transfer the batter to the skillet. Halve, core and thinly slice the other pear. (You can leave the peel on if the peel is thin and tender, or you can peel the pear before slicing it.) Arrange the pear slices on top of the batter, then sprinkle with the sugar. Depending on the size of the pears, you may have a few slices left over; enjoy them as a cook’s treat.

Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, checking after 30 minutes (see NOTE), or until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake rest in the skillet for 10 minutes or until completely cool, then cut into wedges and serve.

NOTE: This cake bakes faster if made in a cast-iron skillet, so if you make it in a nonstick ovenproof skillet, it may need to go the full 45 minutes.

Recipe Source

From cookbook author and registered dietitian nutritionist Ellie Krieger.

Tested by Ann Maloney.

Email questions to the Food Section.

Email questions to the Food Section at food@washpost.com.

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