Vanilla & Brown Sugar Breakfast Polenta


Growing up in an Italian family, it goes without saying that this was not the first time I had polenta. This was, however, the first time that I had it in a sweetened form. When I think about polenta I am immediately transported to my grandma’s dining room, her house crowded with people, and catching a chill from the draft created each time a new person comes into the house. People are buzzing, and whiffs of sauce that has simmered all day and sausage that is frying dance through the air. It’s Thanksgiving Eve, and it’s one of the most celebrated dinners in our family, perhaps even more so than Thanksgiving Day dinner. You see, all of my grandfather’s siblings and their resulting families settled in the Chicago area while he stayed in Pittsburgh and married my grandma (aw). It became a tradition when my mom was still very little that our Chicago relatives came to visit for Thanksgiving. When I was young the house was full of people and everyone came for a full week (or longer) and for us kids it was truly like Christmas. Over the years, as members of the older generation passed and kids grew up, got jobs and families of their own, less and less made the trip, but there are still a few that come every year even if only for a few days. And to welcome the weary travelers when they get in on Wednesday, my grandma always prepares a large meal that includes a huge pot of polenta. You can choose to have it with marinara sauce and meatballs, or with crispy sausage and bacon. (I’m a sucker for the sausage and bacon, myself.) Needless to say, I am a big polenta fan and became an even bigger fan after tasting this sweetly satisfying breakfast dish.


And what’s not to love about sweetened polenta that has been splashed with cream and sprinkled with brown sugar that melts into deliciously sweet puddles as soon as it hits the surface? Nothing. There is nothing not to love. A hearty and satisfying meal that you can literally stir together in less than 20 minutes. House guests will be wowed and no one will be starving an hour later. I seem to have come down with some sort of summer bug and this breakfast was just what the doctor ordered. Hearty and warm like oatmeal, but exponentially tastier and more filling. And most important – quick!

If you aren’t feeding a crowd and have leftover polenta, line a loaf pan with plastic wrap and transfer the leftover polenta to the pan, cover it with the plastic wrap and pop it in the refrigerator to set. Stuffed French “toast”, anyone? Keep on the lookout – I’m going to have a killer recipe for you in another couple of days for those leftovers. In the meantime, grab a bowl, a splash of cream, some brown sugar and cinnamon, dig in and enjoy!


More warm breakfast ideas:
Baked Oatmeal
Classic French Toast
Buttermilk Pancakes
Omelet for Two
Slow-Cooked Maple-Hazelnut Oatmeal

Vanilla & Brown Sugar Breakfast Polenta

Yield: 6-8 servings

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes


1 cup cornmeal
3 cups cold water
2 cups whole milk
¾ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heavy cream (optional)
Cinnamon (optional)


1. In a medium saucepan combine 2 cups cold water and the 2 cups of whole milk and bring to a low boil over medium heat. While waiting for it to boil, combine the 1 cup polenta and 1 cup cold water in a small bowl. Stir to combine.

2. When the milk and water mixture begins to boil add the salt and stir. Slowly add the polenta and water mixture, using a whisk to stir out any possible lumps.

3. Once all of the polenta is added, turn the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the polenta has thickened. Depending on the coarseness of the meal, it may take 10-40 minutes. I used an "instant" polenta with a fine grain purchased at a local Italian grocery and it took between 10-15 minutes to thicken.

4. Once thickened, add the brown sugar and vanilla extract and stir to combine. Sprinkle in some cinnamon if you wish.

5. Ladle polenta into small bowls and top with a splash of cream and an extra sprinkling of brown sugar and cinnamon, if you'd like. You can also top with fresh fruit.

6. If you have leftover polenta, line a loaf pan with plastic wrap and fill with the leftover polenta, cover with the plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. I have something special lined up that you'll see within the next few days!

(Adapted from Joy the Baker)


38 Responses to “Vanilla & Brown Sugar Breakfast Polenta”

  1. Mathilde's Cuisine on July 23, 2009 at 7:00 am

    An interesting recipe for a breakfast before a busy day walking all around a city! it gives you the strenght you need for the day!


  2. shelly on July 23, 2009 at 8:07 am

    How cool, would have never thought to do this with polenta. I would guess it is a lot like grits…great tip!


  3. sherri on July 23, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Polenta was a regular on the menu in my Italian Home growing up and I’ve never seen a sweet version. I’ll have to give this one a try.


  4. Jessie on July 23, 2009 at 9:16 am

    what a great way of taking polenta and turning it into a wonderful sweet breakfast treat!


  5. Chris on July 23, 2009 at 9:52 am



  6. Michele on July 23, 2009 at 10:51 am

    I love your story! That polenta looks great! I never ate it that way but my grandmother used to make me farina like that. I think it’s very similar. I could go for some of that right now. It’s freeezing this morning in my office!


  7. Maria on July 23, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    What a great way to enjoy polenta!


  8. KrisKishere on July 23, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Oh wow!! I can’t wait to try it!


  9. Diana on July 23, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Love the story! Great use for polenta, will have to try this.


  10. Bridget {Bake at 350} on July 23, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Years and years (and YEARS!) ago, when I was in flight attendant training in Atlanta, I cringed when girls ordered grits for breakfast. I’d never heard of such a thing.

    I LOVE polenta now and never thought of it for breakfast or SWEET! Brilliant!


  11. Kerstin on July 23, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    What a unique idea – it looks delicious! Loved the family story too 🙂


  12. Tracey on July 23, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    I’ve never had sweet polenta but this sounds delicious!


  13. elly on July 24, 2009 at 8:09 am

    I’ve never seen polenta in sweet form. I’ll definitely have to give it a try. You can’t really go wrong with cinnamon and brown sugar.


  14. Kate on July 25, 2009 at 2:26 am

    Thank you thank you thank you.
    Found a link to you at
    I immediately rushed to the kitchen to make this dish.
    It perfectly replicated a dish my Mum used to make. Check out my blog for more info
    Thank you thank you thank you


  15. Lauren on July 25, 2009 at 5:26 am

    Wow good timing, I have just bought a kg bag of fine grained polenta (for 1 recipe) and need some good ideas of what to do with the other 90%!!

    This sounds like it has Sunday breakfast written all over it! Thanks for the recipe.


  16. Danielle on July 25, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever used polenta. Maybe its time I try. anything with brown sugar, vanilla and blueberries has to be good 🙂


  17. Marcia on July 31, 2009 at 8:24 am

    This is exactly how we ate our Farina (Cream of Wheat) for breakfast as a child! I feel a wave of nostalgia coming on……


  18. AmyJo on August 21, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Also, from a northern Italian family grew up with Polenta. While Grandma always first served it w/ some sort of red sauce, she always saved enough in a pyrex loaf pan and pan-fried it in the morning for breakfast with butter and jam or syrup- still LOVE it. It is truly the only reason I ever make it- so I can have leftovers 🙂


  19. Sophia on August 22, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    I just made it and it is delicious!

    When I was a child my grandmother used to make me something like that but with white sugar, as she hasn’t brown, and without cinnamon and vanilla but with fresh butter from her cows!
    I think this recipe is a very nice alternative to avoid butter because cinnamon and vanilla gives it taste, as butter used to give in my grandmother’s recipe!


  20. Kate on September 8, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    I clicked through from TasteStopping for this BEAUTIFUL dish (are those other sites crazy?!) and it looks wonderful. I remember seeing an episode of Mario Batali’s travels, years, ago, and he showed how Italians make breakfast polenta, and I thought at the time, hmmm, that sounds good and then forgot about it. Your post reminded me. I shall make this very soon.


  21. Tiffiny Felix on September 9, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    I saw this on Tastestopping (isn’t it a great idea!?) I love polenta, and eat it all kinds of ways. This looks so yummy! 🙂


  22. Pingback: Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream | Brown Eyed Baker

  23. Pingback: Breakfast Polenta with Peach Compote | delvious

  24. Pingback: Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream | foodielicious

  25. Pingback: 17 Mouth-Watering Food Photography Examples | PhotographyMojo

  26. Noel on May 16, 2011 at 11:05 am

    I’ve never had polenta, sweet or unsweet, but this version seems very similar to cream of wheat, which my family makes sweetened with sugar and cinnamon and it’s very good. This looks even better! I’ll have to visit my local Italian market and give it a try :].


  27. Ally on November 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    This looks like a total hug. I love how you served it in a mug!


  28. LolaVonSkilet on May 21, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Just made this for breakfast with sliced bananas on top. My kids LOVED it and they have always hated savory polenta. Thanks!


  29. windyridge on May 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    noticed recipe calls for “cornmeal” and not polenta ….
    should I use cornmeal (which I see is ground slightly) or polenta ? Or, is there not a noticeable taste difference … Many thanks!


    • Michelle on May 23rd, 2013 at 11:31 pm

      Cornmeal is used to make polenta (polenta is sometimes sold already made and packaged, which is what you’re probably thinking of)… you need to use cornmeal as directed in this recipe.


  30. Pingback: Blueberry Crumb Bars | Goblogle

  31. Nicole on August 29, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Great recipe! I don’t add any water because we only have 1% milk at home, so I just use all milk instead. I microwave the milk to heat it to cut back time and reduce stirring since I’m lazy in the morning. Anyways, this is my favorite breakfast now. Thank you!


  32. bubba on September 5, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Those of us who aren’t lucky enough to be Italian call this cornmeal mush. It’s eaten as a hot cereal or allowed to cool and solidify in a loaf pan and then sliced and fried. Fried mush is served with maple syrup.


  33. Pingback: Oatmeal Recipes Worth Getting Up For - 3 guilty pleasures

  34. Pingback: Vanilla & Brown Sugar Breakfast Polenta | Brown Eyed Baker » - News aus dem Web

  35. Pingback: Elegant Cakes – Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

  36. Barbara on February 19, 2016 at 11:52 am

    After seeing a play based upon Jane Austin’s Sense & Sensibility, I posed a similar polenta based recipe that includes some crystalized ginger and pepitas. Check out my post at


  37. Pingback: Craving Polenta – Food Inspired Life

Leave a Comment

(Your comment may need to be approved before it will appear on the site. Thanks for your patience! If it is your first time commenting you may want to review the Comment Guidelines.)