Rustic Polenta Cake with Rhubarb

By Ann Fulton

Simply sublime and naturally gluten-free!
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Rhubarb always reminds me of my grandmother.  Late every spring, she froze rhubarb to enjoy throughout the year.  To my grandmother, the word rhubarb did not just refer to the celery-like stalk, it was the actual recipe.  Her rhubarb was just like applesauce, only red and with a perfect balance of sweet and tart.

Though I didn’t fully appreciate it as a kid, I adore it now.  We have several rhubarb plants in our yard, and I savor every stalk.  My spin on the applesauce-like recipe my grandmother made is this strawberry-rhubarb sauce.  My kids adore it straight from the bowl, and it’s delightful stirred into plain yogurt or spooned over ice cream, angel food and pound cake. There are a number of other rhubarb recipes on this blog that have become family-favorites in our house, from coconut rhubarb bars to cobbler, rhubarb streusel muffins to baked oatmeal.

This year’s addition is a simple, rustic cornmeal cake.  It’s lightly sweet and somewhat dense–think pound cake, butter cake and bakery corn muffin all mixed into one.  And while the hint of tartness provided by the rhubarb is lovely, this recipe can be prepared with a mix of strawberries and rhubarb, all strawberries, peaches, or whatever fruit calls your name.  If you’re feeling adventurous, incorporate a bit of citrus zest.  I like orange zest with rhubarb, blueberries with lime zest, and blackberries with lemon zest.  Slivered or sliced almond would compliment these flavors, too.

Since this cake is not overly sweet and has a good measure of healthy ingredients, my husband thinks it’s fair game for breakfast.  While I enjoy it for dessert or an afternoon snack with a cup of tea, I like his idea a lot, too!

Polenta Cake with Rhubarb
To achieve the best texture, I recommend blanched almond flour and fine polenta or very finely ground yellow cornmeal. Regular milk may be substituted for the coconut milk, but the subtle flavor of the coconut milk is complimentary to the other flavors in this recipe and adds good moisture.

Yields 8 servings.
  • 1 cup (120 grams/4 ounces) diced rhubarb
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  • ⅔ cup (125 grams/4.5 ounces) plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided use
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • ½ cup (120 ml/4.25 ounces) canned coconut milk (I typically use light)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (112 grams/4 ounces) blanched almond flour
  • ¾ cup (130 grams/4.5 ounces) fine polenta or cornmeal (the fine texture is important here)
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • Optional for serving: whipped cream or vanilla ice cream
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease one 9-inch round cake pan. I like to also line it with a round of parchment paper for easy removal.
  2. Dice the rhubarb. In a small bowl, toss the rhubarb with the 2 teaspoons of sugar, and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the almond flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl using a hand beater or a stand mixer, beat the butter and the 2/3 cup sugar until light yellow and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the coconut milk and the vanilla, beating well after each addition. The mixture may appear slightly curdled; this is normal.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients (I like to add half at a time), and beat to combine.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  7. Drain the diced rhubarb (the sugar will draw out a good bit of moisture), and sprinkle the rhubarb over the top of the batter.
  8. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. The cake should be golden brown and firm to the touch in them center.
  9. Transfer to a rack to cool. Enjoy plain or with whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
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    1. Ann Post author

      Thank you, Emma! I haven’t made this with a substitute for the almond flour, but my first try would probably be all-purpose (or a cup-for-cup GF sub, if needed). The almond flour does add something to the flavor and texture, but it would likely still be quite good with that swap. My second choice would be oat flour, but I don’t want to make any promises having not tried!

  1. Pingback: Rhubarb Roundup

  2. Natalie

    This looks amazing! My son can’t have eggs or nuts so I need some substitution ideas… Maybe pumpkin seed flour (I make my own) for the almond flour and flax eggs for the regular eggs?? I don’t know…. I’m dying to use rhubarb!

    1. Ann Post author

      Thank you, Natalie. I love the idea of pumpkin seed flour, although I haven’t baked with it before. You could definitely try it, and I would love to know how it works out. I might even try all-purpose flour or a gluten-free blend if needed. You could even use half pumpkin seed and half all-purpose flour. As for the eggs, I’ve used neat eggs (neat is the brand name) in a variety of baked goods with very good results. You could absolutely try flax eggs though. Good luck!

  3. Ellen

    I made this yesterday and we loved the way it tastes a lot like a bakery corn muffin but with mostly healthy ingredients. It’s a great dessert that’s not overly sweet and I’m going to making it again with strawberries on top. Thanks for a great recipe that’s a little unique.

    1. Ann

      Thanks for letting me know, Ellen, and I am so glad you liked. Strawberries are a great choice, too!