Pinza Veneta, sweet cornmeal cake is not a pizza, although they both are hearty, satisfying, and wholly Italian. Traditionally and currently, Pinza Veneta is a sweet cake enjoyed during Epiphany in Venice and the surrounding countryside islands. Legend says that this cake, made with yellow (polenta) and white (wheat) flours, ushered in the new year. A variety of yummy additions find their way into the Pinza Veneta: raisins, fennel seeds, orange, figs, dates, apples, pine nuts, and grappa. Venetians would cook Pinza Veneta over an open fire to usher out the winter and welcome in the spring.Jump to Recipe
I cannot tell you how delicious this cake is. Each pairing adds a unique flavor profile, the grappa-soaked raisins, the hints of fennel and orange, and the earthy taste of the cornmeal polenta. Like many celebratory cakes and treats, Pinza Veneta requires some time to gather and prepare the ingredients, but is so worth the time. The following recipe makes one large sheet cake with 20+ servings. You don’t have to wait for January to serve your Pinza Veneta for a gathering of friends or to snack on with your morning coffee.
Mostly naturally vegan
Although many variations of this cake exist, the basic ingredients include raisins, white, and cornmeal flours. Many versions use eggs and butter, but some Venetian home cooks use oil and omit the eggs altogether. I believe the no-egg-or-butter choice comes from the history of this cake being a “poor” sweet – not because of the current trend toward veganism. The give you this vegan version because I find it beyond exquisite and mouthwatering.
Since the recipe calls for dates, raisins, and figs, it requires very little added sugar. I used just 3/4 cup granulated sugar which adds up to about 1 tsp. of sugar per piece of cake. Not too bad!
Zante and her Raisins
Once upon a time, Venice possessed the Ionian islands of Corfu, Paxos, Lefkada, Ithaca, Cephalonia, Cythera, and Zante. In 1864, the Ionian Islands became part of the Greek state. The Venetian influence remains in many aspects, especially the food. For the purposes of this recipe and story, we center on the raisin, the Zante raisin, to be exact. The “little grape” or “uva secca”, grew so well on the Zante soil, Venice shipped them in large numbers to England and other ports around Europe. Perhaps this explains why raisins show up in so many Venetian sweets, such as the Pinza, the Nicolotta, and the Zaleto.
Pinza Veneta – Sweet Cornmeal Cake from Venice, Italy (Vegan)
- 150 grams polenta flour (1 cup)
- 300 grams almond milk (1 ½ cups)
- 1 cup water
- 110 grams sugar (¾ cup)
- 1 Juice of one orange (½ cup)
- zest of one orange
- 200 grams raisins
- ½ cup grappa or sweet white wine
- 1 pkg Paneangeli Lieveto (or 2 tsp. baking powder) put a photo in instructions
- 5 dates, chopped
- 5 dried figs, chopped
- ¼ cup Italian pine nuts
- 2 Tbsp fennel seeds, toasted
- ½ cup sunflower oil (or any neutral oil)
- 300 grams all-purpose flour
- Preheat oven to 360 °F
- Put toasted fennel seeds and raisins in a bowl and add the grappa. Set aside to soften and flavor the fennel seeds and raisins.
- In a medium pot over the stove, bring the almond milk and 1 cup of water to a boil. Add the polenta a bit at a time and whisk it in. Turn down the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes, stirring continuously. Remove from heat and pour cooked polenta into a large bowl to cool.
- To the cooked polenta, add the sugar, orange juice, and zest. Stir to combine. Then stir in the baking soda or (Paneangeli Lievito)
- Stir in the raisins, fennel with the grappa. Add dates, figs, pine nuts and oil. Mix well.
- Adding one half at a time, stir in the all-purpose flour, careful not to overmix. The batter should be fairly stiff – thicker than pancake batter, but not as stiff as bread dough.
- Smooth batter into a parchment-lined 9" x 11" baking dish.
- Bake for 60 minutes or until golden brown and pulling away at the edges.
- Cool for 30 minutes before serving. This cake will keep in the fridge for up to one week. Pinza Veneta is best reheated a bit after taken from the fridge. Buon appetito!