Polenta Cakes Recipe


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Pan-fried polenta cakes have a soft and creamy interior, and a crispy golden brown exterior. Fried polenta is so versatile, and makes the perfect side dish or appetizer. This simple and easy recipe is the ultimate Italian comfort food.

Polenta Cakes

These polenta cakes are absolutely amazing. Their creamy interior, reminiscent of mashed potatoes, is beautifully contrasted by the crispy golden exterior. They’re lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, and have a hint of cheesy Parmesan flavor throughout. They’re so easy to make and the flavor is very versatile, making them the perfect side dish to any meal.

For breakfast, try a crispy polenta cake served alongside eggs. Looking for a quick and easy appetizer? Try them topped with mushrooms or a tangy tomato jam and goat cheese. They’re also a fantastic side dish for dinner, pairing perfectly with roasted vegetables, steak, chicken, or shrimp. 

This easy recipe that I’m sharing today is a basic version with simple ingredients like coarse yellow cornmeal and olive oil. But the beauty of this recipe is that it’s just a starting point. You can customize it to suit your taste. The possibilities are endless.


Olive Oil: A key player in our recipe, olive oil does wonders in enhancing the flavor of the polenta cakes. It also provides a beautiful golden-brown color when we pan-fry the cakes.

Water: The simplest of ingredients, water is crucial for cooking the cornmeal into a smooth mixture.

Coarse Yellow Cornmeal: The star of the show! This is what transforms into our delightful polenta cake. Its coarse texture results in a heartier, more rustic polenta cake.

Fine Sea Salt and Ground Black Pepper: These seasonings work their magic by enhancing the natural flavors of the cornmeal and cheese.

Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese (optional): This optional ingredient adds a lovely salty umami flavor to our polenta cakes, making them even more scrumptious. 

The labeled ingredients for polenta cakes.

Alternative Ingredients

While this recipe is perfect as it is, there’s always room for experimentation. You could try using chicken or vegetable broth instead of water for a different flavor profile. You could also replace Parmesan with other hard cheeses like pecorino or asiago. 

How To Make Polenta Cakes

Prepare the Baking Dish: Start by greasing a baking dish with olive oil. (See the recipe card below for the full printable instructions.)

Boil the Water: Next, fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. 

Add the Cornmeal: Gradually and carefully add the cornmeal to the boiling water. Whisk constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Continue this process until the mixture is thick and smooth.

Add Seasonings: Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the salt and black pepper. If you’re using Parmesan cheese, this is the time to add it.

Pouring cornmeal into a pot with boiling water and cooking then once cooked adding parmesan, salt and pepper.

Transfer and Chill: Pour the mixture into your prepared baking dish. Allow it to cool to room temperature before covering it with plastic wrap and placing it in the refrigerator. 

Mixing the cheese thoroughly until it melts then transferring into a prepared pan

Cut the polenta: Once the polenta is chilled and firm, transfer it onto a cutting board and cut it into your desired shape.

Removing chilled polenta from the fridge and then cutting into individual portions.

Fry and serve: Then, heat some olive oil in a large nonstick skillet. Fry the polenta cakes in batches until they are warmed through and have turned a beautiful golden brown. See the recipe card below for the full written instructions, including ingredient amounts, and helpful tips, etc.

Before and after cooking the cut up polenta cakes on a hot skillet with oil.

Pro Tips

  • Be careful when adding the cornmeal to the boiling water to avoid splattering. Add it gradually while whisking constantly for a smooth mixture. 
  • Be patient when pan frying the cakes – don’t overcrowd the pan, and give them time to turn a lovely golden-brown.

What Are Polenta Cakes Made From?

Polenta cakes are primarily made from coarse yellow cornmeal, which is cooked with water and seasoned with salt and pepper. Some recipes, like ours, also include freshly grated Parmesan cheese for an added touch of deliciousness!

An image showing the crispy cooked polenta cakes before adding any garnishes.

Is Polenta Cake The Same As Cornbread?

No, they are different. Polenta cake is smoother and denser, while cornbread is lighter and more crumbly.

Do You Use Coarse Or Fine Polenta In Cakes?

Either can be used, but coarse polenta gives a heartier, more rustic texture to the cakes.

An angled shot of fried polenta cakes garnished with parmesan.

Is Polenta The Same As Grits?

No, they are different. While both are made from corn, polenta is made from yellow corn while grits are normally made from white corn. Also, the texture of polenta is a bit chewier, while the texture of grits is a bit smoother.

What To Serve With Polenta Cakes?

Polenta cakes are incredibly versatile. They can be served for breakfast with eggs, as an appetizer with mushrooms, or as a dinner side dish with roasted vegetables or shrimp. If you omit the parmesan and pepper, they can also be used as a base for sweet toppings like honey, strawberries, or blueberries for a delectable dessert.

A close up image of a garnished polenta cake with a bite missing.

Can I Make Polenta Cakes Ahead of Time?

Yes, you certainly can! After the polenta mixture has cooled and set, cut it into cakes. Store those in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days until you’re ready to fry them.

Can I Freeze Polenta Cakes?

Freezing polenta cakes is a breeze. Just place them in a freezer-safe container with parchment paper between each layer to prevent sticking. They can be frozen for up to three months.

If you use milk or heavy cream in your polenta cakes, they won’t freeze well though. With the recipe listed below you shouldn’t have any problems.

Keep In Touch

I’d love to hear what you thought of this recipe in the comments or on Instagram! @KeyToMyLime #KeyToMyLime

Pin this recipe for later!

A Pinterest pin image with a picture of polenta cakes, with title text at the top.

Side Dish Recipes

If you like this recipe, be sure to check out all of our other sides. Some reader favorites are:

Yield: 8 servings

BEST Polenta Cakes Recipe

The best polenta cakes recipe.

Pan-fried polenta cakes have a creamy interior, and a crispy golden brown exterior. They make the perfect side dish or appetizer.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Additional Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 35 minutes


  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups coarse yellow cornmeal (polenta)
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus extra for garnish, optional)


  1. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
  2. In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Gradually add the cornmeal *(see notes), whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook and whisk until it turns into a thick smooth mixture.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the salt, black pepper, and Parmesan cheese.
  4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish, and allow to cool to room temperature before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating for 2 hours or overnight.
  5. Carefully flip the chilled polenta out onto a cutting board and cut into your desired shape. 
  6. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook the polenta cakes in batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cook each cake for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until the polenta has been warmed through, and golden brown and crispy. Add more olive oil to the skillet as needed for the remaining batches.


*Be very careful when stirring the cornmeal into the boiling water. It can easily splatter, and it’s VERY hot if it splashes your arms. Add only a little bit at a time.

Nutrition Information:

Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 178Total Fat: 3.5gCarbohydrates: 31.8gFiber: 1.5gSugar: 0.6gProtein: 4g

Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.


Tag @KeyToMyLime on Instagram so we can see your delicious meal!

Polenta cakes are a delicious and easy-to-make dish that can be customized to your liking. Whether you prefer it sweet or savory, for breakfast or dinner, polenta cakes are sure to become a favorite in your household. So go ahead, give it a try and enjoy the delightful world of polenta cakes!

The best polenta cakes recipe.

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