Sonya’s Blood Orange and Black Sesame Polenta Cake

This Community Recipe is Sonya’s Blood Orange and Black Sesame Polenta Cake.

This is a plant-based upside-down cake with a citrus flavor polenta and sesame sponge. Orange slices and syrup create a beautiful, glistening top layer. Sonya contributed this recipe to honor the female biblical heroine Rachel in the Feeding Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves cookbook.

Food Collage

Community Recipes is a recurring feature where we share your vegan recipes on the Jewish Food Hero blog.  If you want to share a recipe in this series, pitch us your idea here. This series is all about sharing healthy plant-based and vegan recipes. We are creating a positive community around food and sharing.

A double image: a white porcelain plate with Sonya’s Blood Orange and Black Sesame Polenta Cake and Sonya Sanford standing in the street holding an orange

All about Sonya Sanford 

Sonya Sanford is a food writer and avid cook living in Portland, Oregon, USA. Sonya is the Exec Chef and Owner at Beetroot Market & Deli. She specializes in Jewish food from around the world, and cooking with seasonal and local ingredients from the farmers’ markets where she lives. Her culinary background includes food styling for various media. She has worked as a recipe tester and developer for cookbooks, as the chef of successful pop-ups, and as a teacher for cooking classes. She began her culinary career working as a personal chef in Hollywood.

Biblical Inspiration

Sonya contributed this recipe to respond to the Biblical story of Rachel, whose story is interwoven with waiting. She has to wait years to marry and then more to become a mother. 

Finally, Rachel’s years spent waiting pay off. This is an upside down cake. When fully baked, unmolded, and flipped over, the beauty of this cake reveals itself. The reward is the resulting sunny and colorful cake. The glistening top of bright and bold orange slices cover the polenta and sesame cake beneath. 

A double image: a white porcelain plate with Sonya’s Blood Orange and Black Sesame Polenta Cake and Sonya Sanford standing in the street holding an orange

Healthier cake recipe

This plant-based cake is a healthier take on dessert. Coconut milk brings the main source of fat, and polenta and sesame seeds give fiber and protein. While not sugar free, this is a fairly low-sugar cake. So, the result is a cake that isn’t too sweet, but is still full of flavor.

What is polenta?

Polenta is a grain. Corn kernels which have been dried are then ground down into cornmeal. People who are following a gluten-free eating plan can enjoy polenta.

Polenta is a complex carbohydrate and contains fiber. As a result, it is satisfying and provides longer lasting energy. Traditional recipes boil it with water to make a porridge. This can be served warm, or cooled to set and sliced. Polenta is extremely absorbent. So for porridge, add 4 to 5 times the weight of polenta in liquid!

This absorbency means you can’t just switch out polenta for another grain. So for polenta cake, use polenta!

A white porcelain plate with Sonya’s Blood Orange and Black Sesame Polenta Cake

Black sesame

Most people are familiar with sesame seeds as a flavor enhancer. Perhaps you might enjoy sprinkling them whole on top of salads and noodle dishes. Pressing turnings these seeds into the creamy paste, tahini. This nutty sauce is an essential ingredient in and condiment for many Israeli foods.

Black sesame varies in that it has a nuttier, slightly more bitter taste.

Texture of polenta cake

Unlike fine mill wheat flour, polenta cake sponge has much more bite. The texture is slightly grittier and lends itself well to dousing with flavored syrup. It has more dense crumb than a regular cake. Nevertheless, it is not overly stodgy. 

Sonya’s recipe uses part polenta and part flour, benefiting from the best of both grains.

A white porcelain plate with Sonya’s Blood Orange and Black Sesame Polenta Cake

Feeding Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves Cookbook

Sonya’s Blood Orange and Black Sesame Polenta Cake recipe features in Feeding Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves, a Jewish female community cookbook. If you like this recipe, you will find many many more in the book to enjoy.

The Feeding Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves cookbook features the short, compelling narratives of 20 female biblical heroines from the Hebrew bible, each with two healthy plant-based kosher pareve recipes inspired by the character’s experience.

This is a community cookbook by Jewish Food Hero and is the co-creation of 40 Jewish women. The twenty biblical narratives are contributed by Rabbis, Rabbinical students, Jewish teachers and emerging thought leaders. The forty-one plant-based recipes were developed by professional chefs and home cooks who are elementary school students, and great-grandmothers.

Food Collage

More community recipes

Here are two more dessert recipes you might like

benjamin and his chocolate chip cookies on baking tray

Benjamin’s Vegan Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies – this is a vegan remake of an American comfort food.

Vegan Molasses “Cookie” Date Balls are raw and naturally sweet from the minced up dates, and spicy from fresh ginger. Blackstrap molasses gives them an intense, dark sweetness and it is one of the staples I included in the Essential Kosher and Vegan Pantry List. This is a healthy remake of molasses oatmeal cookies.

Hayley's Tahini, Cashew and Apricot Cake with a Chocolate Tahini Drizzle on a pink cake stand and chequered tablecloth, Hayley holding the cake in a garden

Hayley’s Tahini Cashew and Apricot Cake with a Chocolate Tahini Drizzle. This cake is packed full of rich plant flavors, with cashew and apricot and maple. The star of the show is tahini, a smooth paste made from ground sesame seeds, which flavors both the sponge and the drizzle. Enjoy this earthy, wholesome cake with a generous drizzle of plant-based chocolate sauce. 

Perhaps you are looking for more plant-based or vegan dishes to add into your regular meal rotation. We have everything you need in our community recipes! With fantastic recipes from members of our Jewish Food Hero community. Don’t forget you can pitch us your idea to have you and your recipe featured on the blog!

A white porcelain plate with Sonya’s Blood Orange and Black Sesame Polenta Cake

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A double image: a white porcelain plate with Sonya’s Blood Orange and Black Sesame Polenta Cake and Sonya Sanford standing in the street holding an orange

Sonya’s Blood Orange and Black Sesame Polenta Cake

  • Author: Sonya Sanford
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 1012 1x
  • Category: Dessert



2 blood oranges 

⅓ cup + ½ cup (130 g) sugar, divided 

3 tablespoons water 

1 cup (180 g) fine polenta/cornmeal 

1 cup (130 g) all-purpose unbleached flour 

2 teaspoons baking powder 

1 teaspoon baking soda 

½ teaspoon kosher salt 

1 13.6 oz/400 ml can full-fat coconut milk (1 ½ cups) 

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted 

1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, plus more for sprinkling


  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F (180 C) degrees. 

  2. Grease a springform pan (8″ or 9″) with a bit of coconut oil and line with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper as well.

  3. Zest one of the blood oranges and reserve the zest. Peel the blood oranges and slice into ½-inch rounds. Evenly layer the blood orange slices on the bottom of the springform pan and sprinkle some black sesame seeds on top. 

  4. In a small saucepan, combine ⅓ cup of sugar with 3 tablespoons of water. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Pour the sugar mixture evenly over the orange slices in the cake pan.

  5. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the polenta, flour, ½ a cup of sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. 

  6. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and add the coconut milk and melted coconut oil. Using a spatula or a wooden spoon, stir together the wet and dry ingredients until just combined; be careful not to over mix.

  7. Add the black sesame seeds and reserved blood orange zest to the batter and mix until just incorporated.

  8. Pour the batter over the sliced blood oranges. Smooth out the batter with the spatula or back of a spoon. 

  9. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, around 45 minutes.

  10. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then unmold and flip the cake onto a plate/platter so that the bottom with the oranges is now facing up. 

  11. Allow to fully cool, then slice and serve.

Keywords: polenta, blood orange, upside down cake, vegan

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