What is Lemon Cake?
Lemon cake is a dense and flavorful cake. It’s origins are unknown, but it’s popularity is widespread. Lemon is used to flavor to a variety of cakes, including bundt, angel food, or white cakes. However, lemon cake commonly refers to loaf cake with a tighter grain and more elastic crumb, much like a pound cake.
A favorite for tea time and coffee shops, it is a shortened cake with fat as an essential ingredient and baking powder as the leavening agent.1 The cake is usually topped with a glaze, syrup or light frosting.
The exact origin of lemon cake is unknown. It is probably derived from the pound cake, which was first baked in England around 1700. A pound of each ingredient was used to make a simple, heavy cake to feed large groups of people.
Cakes have a long history dating back to ancient Greece and Rome, where flat heavy “cakes” were sacrificed to gods. Cake was interchangeable with bread until the middle ages, when they started being used for special occasions. Cakes were seen as a symbol of wealth and were much heavier than the are today. However, the industrial revolution and the introduction of chemical leavening agents such as baking soda and baking powder made them lighter and simpler to bake. The mass production of ingredients also helped lower costs. Cakes quickly became a common and favorite dessert.
A lemon cake can be made with either lemon zest or juice, sometimes both. When making the cake, have all ingredients at room temperature before starting. The creaming method of mixing is commonly used when baking lemon cake. Butter and sugar are creamed with the lemon, then eggs are added and lastly dry ingredients are sifted in. All ingredients can be mixed together at the same time, but the the cake will not be as fluffy. Either way, mix until the batter is smooth and runny. For a more stable batter, increase its viscosity and make sure bubbles are the same size.
An easy glaze is made from confectioners sugar and lemon juice. Poke holes in the top of the cake after it is baked for the glaze or icing to seep into the center and throughout.
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
- 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
- 3 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
- 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Grease and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. You may also line the bottom with parchment paper, if desired.
- Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.
- Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan; spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cakes to cool completely.
- For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.
1. Manay, N. Shakuntala., and M. Shadaksharaswamy. Foods: Facts and Principles. New Delhi: New Age International, 1995.