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Polenta with Maple Syrup and Cinnamon

Polenta with Maple Syrup and Cinnamon
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This dish, born of a cold winter’s morning and a mostly empty cupboard, is a family favorite: creamy breakfast polenta with maple syrup and cinnamon.

I grew up eating polenta. My grandparents were from country towns outside of Genoa and our family ate pots of humble cornmeal mush long before it was a fashionable staple of “Northern Italian” restaurants. The next day, we’d slice it up, pan-fry it, and serve it with maple syrup.

On a recent morning, I didn’t have any pre-made polenta to serve, but I did have some “artisan” quick-cook polenta—funny, as instant polenta is considered kind of déclassé among foodies, though I’ve dropped that game since my son was born—purchased at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. So I made it fresh, using scalded milk as the liquid instead of the usual water or stock. I stirred in some maple syrup, then poured more over the top, along with a bit of milk and a dash of cinnamon. It was fast, delicious, and totally comforting—a great way to get the day started quickly and well.

Note: Food/garden writer (and former Yankee editor) Leslie Land reminded me of how similar breakfast polenta is to Hasty Pudding, a traditional British mush made with oats or other cereal grains, which morphed into a cornmeal dish here in New England. Like my polenta, it was often made with milk and sweetened with either molasses or, later, maple syrup.

Breakfast Polenta with Maple and Cinnamon

Total time: 10 minutes; hands-on time: 10 minutes
In addition to the syrup and cinnamon, you can add just about any topping here: dried fruit, banana, nuts, cream, fruit butter. Consider the polenta a blank canvas and have fun.

    • 3 cups milk, plus more for serving
    • 1 cup quick-cook or instant polenta (look for it in the International aisle of the market)
    • 3 tablespoons maple syrup, plus more for serving
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher


  • Ground cinnamon

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring milk just to the simmering point. Add polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Add maple syrup and salt and continue to whisk until polenta thickens noticeably, 1 to 3 minutes. Serve with maple syrup, a little milk, and a dash of cinnamon. Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Updated Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

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