This cake gives you a huge payoff for very little effort. It’s a beauty – golden cake, inlaid with caramelized pear slices, served with rustic charm right in the skillet in which it’s baked.

It tastes heavenly – tender but textured with cornmeal (polenta), studded with sweet chunks of pear, and wafting of honey, vanilla and lemon. And it’s better for you than a typical cake, as it’s made with whole grains, healthful oil and a modest amount of sweetener. All that, and it is as easy to make as a batch of muffins: Whisk the dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls, then stir them together, add the chopped pear and pour the batter into the oiled skillet. Arrange pear slices on top, sprinkle with sugar and bake. That’s it.

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Polenta Honey Cake With Pears

15 minutes active time; 45 minutes total time

10 servings


One factor worth some extra attention is using pears that are perfectly ripe. You want the pears to yield to pressure when you push down with your thumb at the neck near the stem. I rarely find them that way at the market, so I buy them firm and put them in a paper bag on my kitchen counter for a few days to soften.

Once the pears get to the right tenderness, they will keep in the refrigerator several days more. So it’s best to plan a few days ahead before making this to ensure the pears you use are at their sweet, juicy best. That gives you time to put it on the menu for the weekend. If you have guests, the delight on the faces of those you share it with will surely multiply the rewards of baking it.

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

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.


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.


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, 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.

Nutrition information per serving (1 slice, based on 10) | Calories: 263; Total Fat: 13 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 43 mg; Sodium: 130 mg; Carbohydrates: 36 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 19 g; Protein: 4 g

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