I feel like lemon cake is the “little black dress” of the baking world. It’s simple, timeless, and elegant enough for any occasion. You can dress it up in so many ways – fresh fruit, glazes, icing, whipped cream, etc. The possibilities are limitless with a solid canvass like lemon cake.
One of the perks of living in Phoenix (besides 60 degree winters!) is the abundance of fresh citrus fruits grown out here. Lemons are no exception, and a friend at the gym was kind enough to share with me some lemons from the tree in his backyard. This lemon cake was made extra special by using fresh-picked lemons not from the grocery store. Call me crazy, but the freshly picked ones have a completely different flavor compared to the pile of lemons you find at the grocery store. They have a much sweeter flavor and a slightly herbal taste and smell. So making this cake with the zest and juice from these lemons is a total game-changer.
Making this cake always reminds me of my Mama, because she shares my love for anything lemon-flavored. She’s already got a running list of things I must bake for them while I’m home for the holidays! This recipe is slightly different from the one Mama uses. Although I baked this in a bundt cake pan, it’s not a lemon pound cake, just a lemon cake. I adapted Ina Garten’s recipe.
Make sure you set out your ingredients ahead of time so that everything is at room temperature. Anyone who’s ever tried to cream cold butter knows why this is important. Softening the butter in the microwave can be dicey – melted butter won’t work for most cakes. Go ahead and zest and juice your lemons, as this can be a time-consuming process. Also, don’t throw away those leftover lemon rinds – use them to clean your cutting boards or put them in the garbage disposal!
Since I had an abundance of lemons, I went ahead and juiced a few extras so I would have lemon juice on standby for other recipes. Watch out for those pesky seeds
Next, you want to go ahead and grease and flour your pan. This step is super important for a couple reasons. First of all, this prevents your cakes from sticking to the pan. Secondly, it creates a smooth finish, or “crust” for the edges of your cake. There’s nothing worse than flipping your cake pan only to find your cake won’t come out because it’s stuck to the edges.
I grease my pans by putting some regular old Crisco (or any vegetable shortening) on one hand, then using your fingers rub it all over the inside of the pan. Don’t miss any spots – spread liberally! Then, throw in a handful of flour into your pan and shake it around so that every inch is covered in both shortening and flour.
I always sift my flour and dry ingredients together (unless otherwise noted in recipe). You want to slowly add your dry ingredients to your wet ingredients. This helps to ensure everything gets evenly mixed together and helps you avoid flour going everywhere!
I like to use a bundt pan for this recipe, but you could certainly use two loaf pans instead. Once all your ingredients are mixed, pour your cake batter into your baking pan and smooth it out so everything is even.
The cake takes about 45 minutes to an hour to finish baking in the oven. You can always test it with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes out clean then your cake is ready!
2 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature)
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs (room temperature)
¼ cup lemon zest
3 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ cup buttermilk (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ cups confectioners sugar (sifted)
3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Beat room temperature butter in mixing bowl until smooth and creamy. Add in your sugar and beat until fluffy – about 5 minutes.
- Add in your eggs one at a time, beating for a few seconds after each egg.
- Add lemon zest to mixture.
- Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Mix the buttermilk and lemon juice together in a small bowl or measuring cup.
- Slowly add your dry ingredients in small batches to the butter mixture alternating with the buttermilk/lemon juice. Be sure to mix on low after adding dry ingredients so you don’t end up with flour all over your kitchen.
- Add vanilla and then mix until just combined.
- Pour cake batter into greased bundt pan (or two loaf pans) and use a spatula to evenly spread the batter. Put cake on center rack and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour.
- While cake is baking, whisk together your powdered sugar and lemon juice to form a glaze. For a thicker glaze, add more powdered sugar.
- Once the cake is done (toothpick comes out clean) let it rest for 15 minutes in the pan before flipping onto a plate. I then flip the cake onto a cooling rack which makes pouring the glaze a bit easier. While the cake is still warm, slowly drizzle over the lemon glaze. Enjoy!