Citrusy Breakfast Polenta Cake

updated May 4, 2023
Citrusy Polenta Pancake Casserole
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Credit: Laura Volo

Cross cornbread with your favorite buttermilk pancakes, add an array of in-season citrus fruits, bake it in your trusty 9×13-inch pan, and you’ve got a stunning polenta cake that will happily feed your whole crew — even on the busiest Saturday morning.

Separated Eggs Are the Trick to a Lighter Pancake

Taking a page from the playbook of my favorite classic pancake recipe, this version, mixed with coarse cornmeal, goes for the divide-and-conquer approach to adding the eggs. Separating the eggs is a worthwhile step, not to be mistaken for fussiness. Folding in the whipped egg whites right before baking gives this cake considerable lift — a nice contrast to the coarseness of the cornmeal crumb. It’s the small step that makes for a pancake that delivers just the right balance of texture; it’s dense without being too heavy, while still light and tender.

An Optional Make-Ahead Moment

If you want to get a leg up on the prep for this cake, you can prepare the batter through step two and refrigerate it overnight. While this is entirely optional, this overnight soak helps soften the polenta a bit, making for a slightly creamier cake. This is based on one of our favorite pancake tips, where you let the batter stand overnight to fully hydrate the flour.

Credit: Laura Volo

The Sweet, Citrusy Surprise Inside

The pretty arrangement of quick-brulêed citrus that covers the top of the polenta pancake will certainly impress everyone around the table, but there’s an even more delightful surprise hiding under the surface. Small pockets of lemon curd are swirled into the batter just before baking to deliver a sweet and tangy surprise. It’s like finding that big chunk of fruit in strawberry ice cream, or the really good chunk of chocolate in a cookie.

Citrusy Polenta Pancake Casserole

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info


  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • Cooking spray or butter, for coating the baking dish
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup lemon curd
  • 2 lemons , peeled, sliced into wheels, and seeded
  • 1 navel orange, peeled, sliced into wheels, and seeded
  • 1 Cara Cara orange, peeled, sliced into wheels, and seeded
  • 1 grapefruit , peeled, sliced into wheels, and seeded
  • 2 tablespoons coarse sugar


  1. Combine the sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until it's well-combined and fragrant.

  2. Whisk 1 cup of the flour, cornmeal, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the lemon-sugar, egg yolks, buttermilk, milk, and melted butter. Stir until just combined. Do not over-mix.

  3. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Coat a broiler-safe 9x13-inch baking dish with butter or cooking spray.

  4. Whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl. Whisk the egg whites in a medium bowl until frothy and almost doubled in volume. Stir the flour mixture into the cornmeal batter until just combined. Fold in the egg whites.

  5. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Top the batter with dollops of lemon curd, then use a spoon or knife to swirl them through the batter.

  6. Bake until the casserole is lightly browned on the top and sides, starts to pull away from the sides of the dish, and the top springs back gently when touched, about 35 minutes.

  7. Remove from the oven. Increase the oven temperature to broil. Layer the citrus slices over the center of the casserole, then sprinkle with the coarse sugar. Broil until the sugar is lightly caramelized, about 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.