Lemon custard polenta cupcakes.
Text and Photo © CM Cordeiro 2012

Polenta is etymologically Latin for the hulled and crushed grain of barley meal. It is today the English borrowing of the Italian word to refer to coarse ground cornmeal had been eaten as porridge or gruel since the times of the Roman Empire, before it was generally introduced in Europe in the 16th century. Because of its accessibility and easy preparation, polenta had mostly been conceived as peasant food through history and up until the 1940s to 1950s, it was still considered “poor man’s fodder” even in Sweden, prepared through boiling in water and eaten with a little salt, anchovies or herring.

Still inexpensive and as versatile today as it was as raw produce during the times of the Roman Empire.

The versatility of polenta makes it open to a variety of ways of cooking, from boiling and frying to steaming and baking. Polenta gruel for example, is easy to prepare in under twenty minutes with a touch of butter and a pinch of salt. For that extra creamy decadence, I often add a tablespoon or two of full whipping cream to the bowl of yellow-gold porridge. Still, polenta gruel doesn’t quite beat polenta cake or in this post – lemon polenta cupcake topped with lemon custard!

The recipe that I used here has its groundings and influence from Spain and Italy. For about a dozen cupcakes, here’s what you’ll need:

140g unsalted butter, softened and at room temperature
140g castor sugar (adjust according to taste)
grated zest ½ lemon
100g polenta
3 eggs
125g almond meal / flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk
175C oven

I began with creaming the butter and sugar till the mixture turned a pale yellow. The eggs were beaten in one at a time to this mixture. Then in went the polenta, the lemon zest, vanilla extract and milk. Once combined the flour was folded in with the baking powder. The batter was then divided equally into small paper cupcake holders that were placed in a standard dozen cupcake mould baking tray to hold their shape.

It takes about twenty minutes to bake or until the top sets to a golden brown and the center comes out clean when toothpick tested.

Extra custard to the cupcakes – heaven for the afternoon!

For the lemon custard, you’ll need:

100 g castor sugar
pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
180ml milk
80ml lemon juice
30g butter
30g cornstarch (optional)

I began with warming the milk on the stove till just before boiling, the sugar then goes into the milk. Once combined, the egg yolks were tempered into the sweetened milk mixture. Last goes in the salt, butter and while recipes might call for cornstarch to thicken the mixture, what I usually do is either to add an extra egg or simply reduce the custard to a thicker consistency.

An extra jar of lemon custard in the fridge is always appreciated at home, much like how a bottle of homemade kaya in the SE-Asian refrigerator that manages to warm both heart and stomach.

And lemon custard on top of the polenta cupcakes is a perfect variation to that weekend afternoon tea.

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