Kid-friendly EGG-FREE Totally Tuscan Cranberry Polenta Cakes Recipe - Sticky Fingers Cooking
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Recipe: EGG-FREE Totally Tuscan Cranberry Polenta Cakes

Recipe: EGG-FREE Totally Tuscan Cranberry Polenta Cakes

EGG-FREE Totally Tuscan Cranberry Polenta Cakes

by Erin Fletter
Photo by lia Nesolenyi/
prep time
25 minutes
cook time
20 minutes
4-6 servings

Fun Food Story

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EGG-FREE Totally Tuscan Cranberry Polenta Cakes

Polenta! We have Chef Lucy in Chicago to thank for this recipe. The inspiration comes from a fabulous Tuscan cookbook, and Lucy sent it to us with rave reviews, along with a strong suggestion to pair it with an orange yogurt glaze. Well, Lucy, as you can see, we took your advice to heart, and the results are delectable. Thank you! This recipe is good at any time of the year, and it's also great at Thanksgiving!

Tuscany and other regions of Italy are well known for polenta, but it wasn't until corn was imported from the Americas that Italians started making polenta from cornmeal. We love the gritty texture given by the cornmeal and how the nutty taste bumps up against the tart orange peel and cranberries. Also, since the cranberries are added whole, they melt a bit into the cake batter and pop! when you bite into them. This recipe is egg-free, and we have another version that uses eggs!

Happy & Healthy Cooking,

Chef Erin, Food-Geek-in-Chief

Fun-Da-Mentals Kitchen Skills

  • fold :

    to gently and slowly mix a light ingredient into a heavier ingredient so as not to lose air and to keep the mixture tender, such as incorporating whipped egg whites into a cake batter or folding blueberries into pancake batter; folding is a gentler action than mixing or whisking.

  • mix :

    to thoroughly combine two or more ingredients until uniform in texture.

  • zest :

    to scrape off the outer colored part of a citrus fruit's rind (skin or peel) using a metal tool with small sharp blades, such as a zester, microplane, or the small holes of a grater (avoid the "pith," the white, spongy lining of the rind that can be bitter).

Equipment Checklist

  • Oven
  • Muffin pan
  • Zester (or grater with small zesting plate/side)
  • Cutting board + kid-safe knife
  • Citrus juicer (optional)
  • Small mixing bowl
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Dry measuring cups
  • Whisk
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons


EGG-FREE Totally Tuscan Cranberry Polenta Cakes

  • 1 orange, zested
  • 3/4 C orange juice (from 3 to 4 oranges)
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract **(for GLUTEN ALLERGY use certified gluten-free pure vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla flavor—check label)**
  • 1/4 C olive oil + more to grease pan
  • 1 C all-purpose flour **(GLUTEN ALLERGY sub gluten-free/nut-free all-purpose flour)**
  • 1/2 C fine yellow cornmeal
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 C fresh or frozen cranberries

Food Allergen Substitutions

EGG-FREE Totally Tuscan Cranberry Polenta Cakes

Gluten/Wheat: Substitute gluten-free/nut-free all-purpose flour. Use certified gluten-free pure vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla flavor. 


EGG-FREE Totally Tuscan Cranberry Polenta Cakes

preheat + wash + zest + squeeze

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Wash 4 to 5 oranges well. Then zest 1 orange until the whole orange is zested (only the orange part—the white part, the pith, is bitter!). Next, cut all the oranges into quarters and squeeze all their juice into a bowl. (They will be using 3/4 C orange juice for the cakes, but save 2 T for the Orange Honey Yogurt Glaze and the juice of 1/2 an orange for the Orange Italian Bubbles.)

measure + add + whisk

Measure 3/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and add to a large mixing bowl. Next, measure 3/4 cup of the orange juice and add to the sugar mixture. Whisk until well combined.

measure + add + mix

Measure 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the mixing bowl. Mix until well combined.

add + fold + scoop + bake

Add 1 cup cranberries and the orange zest and gently fold into the batter. Scoop about 1/4 cup of batter into each well of a greased muffin pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until cake centers are cooked through! Let cool slightly, then frost with Outrageous Orange Honey Yogurt Glaze (see recipe).

Surprise Ingredient: Cranberry!

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Photo by Olivier Le Queinec/ (Cranberry Bog)

Hi! I'm Cranberry!

“I love being me because I'm very popular during Fall holiday feasts. Yes, I can be sour, but sugar sweetens me right up, and cranberry sauce is a tart and tasty culinary partner when added to turkey (and leftover turkey sandwiches!). I also like hanging out with my orange friends to make delicious scones or muffins."


  • The cranberry is indigenous to North America. The Narragansett people, an Algonquian tribe who called the berries "sasemineash," may have introduced them to Massachusetts Bay colonists in the early 1600s. 
  • The Native Americans created what you could call the first energy bar, "Pemmican," made from a mixture of pounded cranberry, ground deer meat, and fat tallow. They also used cranberries to make a dye.
  • Several 17th-century books from New England reference cranberry recipes. A couple of the books describe cranberry sauce, and a cook's guide mentions cranberry juice. 
  • Many years ago, American ships carried cranberries to prevent scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, for the same reason English sailors added limes to their diets.
  • Eighty percent of cranberries grown worldwide are harvested today in the United States and Canada. 
  • Cranberries are primarily grown in five states: Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. 
  • About 80 million pounds, or 20 percent of the cranberries harvested per year, are gobbled up during Thanksgiving week! 
  • There are approximately 4,000 cranberries in one gallon of cranberry juice! 
  • The word "cranberry" is from the mid-17th century (by a North American Puritan), from the German "kranbeere" (crane-berry).


  • The cranberry plant is an evergreen shrub or trailing vine from the Ericaceae (heath or heather) family that includes the blueberry, huckleberry, rhododendron, azaleas, and heathers. The berries are part of the genus Vaccinium. 
  • Contrary to common belief, cranberries do not grow in water. Instead, they are grown on constructed beds surrounded by dykes, evenly layered with sand, and close to a water source. The cranberry farmers flood these "bogs" in Fall so that the cranberries can float to the surface when they are ready to harvest and in Winter to protect the plants from the cold temperature. 
  • Cranberries are small, light, airy, round, and red. Each cranberry has four air pockets in the middle that allow it to float.
  • Cranberries are sometimes called "bounceberries" because the tiny air pockets make them bounce and float in the bogs when they are ripe! 

How to Pick, Buy, & Eat

  • When selecting fresh cranberries from the grocery store, where they usually come in a bag, look for firm, plump berries that are red to dark red. Avoid ones that look shriveled, feel soft, or have blemishes. 
  • You can buy fresh cranberries from September through January, and you can freeze fresh cranberries until ready to use. Frozen, canned, and dried cranberries are available year-round at the grocery store.
  • Store cranberries in their sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for one to two months, check the berries' condition now and then, and remove any that appear to be decaying. They can last about one year in an airtight container if you freeze them.
  • Cranberries are both sour and bitter. They taste astringent! This is due to tannins, the same compound found in red wines. So fresh cranberries are usually sweetened and juiced, cooked, or dried before eating.
  • Make an easy cranberry sauce by heating a bag of fresh or frozen cranberries with 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons of orange juice, 1 tablespoon of water, and some orange zest. Simmer the sauce over low heat until the cranberries pop for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Fresh cranberry salsa is delicious. Mince cranberries in a food processor and combine with lime juice, fresh ginger, minced jalapeno, cilantro, sugar, and chopped green onions. Serve with chips!
  • You can add cranberries to smoothies and bake them into puddings, cakes, and pies. You can also make jam, relish, and sherbet with them. 
  • Cranberries are especially delicious paired with pork, almond, orange, peach, cinnamon, ginger, chocolate, apple, mango, pint, and pear.  


  • Cranberries are a moderate source of vitamin C. Vitamin C protects our blood vessels and heart and helps us maintain healthy immunity during cold and flu season. In addition, the body uses vitamin C to absorb iron, another essential nutrient.
  • They also have a moderate amount of manganese. It is a mineral and essential trace element involved with the metabolism of carbohydrates and glucose. Manganese also helps bone formation and works with vitamin K in blood clotting.   
  • Cranberries contain A-type proanthocyanidins (plant compounds) that help keep bacteria from binding to cell walls. These compounds are why cranberry juice is associated with preventing urinary tract infections.


What is Polenta?

Photo by Bartosz Luczak for Shutterstock
  • Polenta is a very old dish of Italian origin made from flour obtained from different cereal grains, corn being the most commonly used today. Corn was imported to Europe from America in the 16th century and gave polenta its typical yellow color. However, before the introduction of corn, polenta was darker, made chiefly with spelt or rye and then with buckwheat grain imported from Asia.
  • How is corn polenta made? First, corn is dried and ground, then it is boiled in water or broth to create a warm, creamy mixture like porridge. When cooked this way, it has a mild, nutty corn flavor. Look for stone-ground cornmeal when possible; this process keeps more of the grain intact, retaining more nutrients.
  • You can try jazzing up your polenta by adding butter, cheese, herbs, and vegetables. Or, you can cool the boiled polenta in a loaf shape that can be baked, grilled, or fried. You can also stir it into a batter to make a cake! Once considered peasant food, polenta has made its way into gourmet menus and cookbooks.

Let's Learn About Italy!

Photo by Marina Andrejchenko/
  • Italy became a unified country in 1861, only 150 years ago. It is sometimes called "bel paese" or "beautiful country."  
  • Italians invented the piano and the thermometer! 
  • In ancient Roman mythology, two twin brothers named Romulus and Remus founded Rome, Italy's capital city. The myth says the twins were abandoned and then discovered by a she-wolf before being found and raised by a shepherd and his wife. Eventually (and after many exciting adventures), they found themselves at the location of Palatine Hill, where Romulus built "Roma." The Italian wolf became Italy's unofficial national animal. 
  • In the 1930s and 40s, Mussolini, Italy's prime minister, and dictator tried to eliminate all foreign words from the Italian language. How did he do that? He just changed them! For example, in soccer, "goal" became "meta." Disney character names changed, too: Donald Duck became "Paperino;" Mickey Mouse became "Topolino;" and Goofy became "Pippo." Although they're not banned anymore, these words and names have stuck. So now if you go to the Italian Disneyland, called Gardaland Park, you will see Topolino and Pippo! 
  • About 60 million people call Italy home, and it is 116,350 square miles, slightly larger than the US state of Arizona. If you compare that to the United Kingdom, 67 million people live there, and it is about 94,350 square miles. So, the UK is smaller than Italy but has a bigger population! 
  • The Italian flag is green, white, and red. These colors represent hope, faith, and charity.
  • The average Italian eats close to 55 pounds of pasta annually. If you think about how light pasta is, that is a considerable amount! There are more than 500 different types of pasta eaten in Italy today. 

What's It Like to Be a Kid in Italy?

  • Kids begin school at 6 years old. They grow up speaking Italian, but they learn English in school, so many become bilingual in Italian and English.
  • The most popular sport for kids is football (soccer). The Italian word for soccer is "calcio," the same word they use for "kick." A favorite of younger kids is "Rody, the bouncing horse," a plastic horse that a small child can hop onto and bounce around the room. Rody was invented in Italy in 1984.  
  • The family ("la famiglia") is a central characteristic of Italian life. Children have great respect for their older relatives. It is traditional to name the first male child after the grandfather and the first female child after the grandmother.
  • If kids live close to school, they can go home and have lunch with their families! Lunch at school might be pasta, meat with vegetables, a sandwich, or a salad with lots of ingredients. Families typically eat dinner later (7 to 8 pm), so kids end up staying up later, too!
  • Between lunch and dinner, kids often enjoy "merenda," which is an afternoon snack that translates to "something that is deserved." It is really a mini-meal that can include both savory and sweet foods. Examples of savory foods are a salami or mortadella sandwich, a slice of rustic bread rubbed with a cut, raw tomato, or "pizza bianca" (white pizza without tomato sauce). Types of sweet foods eaten during merenda are "gelato" (a lower-fat type of ice cream), any kind of cake, or biscotti dipped in warm milk.

That's Berry Funny

What’s the difference between a pirate and a cranberry farmer? 

A pirate buries his treasure, but a cranberry farmer treasures his berries.

That's Berry Funny

Why do oranges wear suntan lotion? 

Because they peel.

That's Berry Funny

Why did the cranberries turn red? 

Because they saw the turkey dressing!

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