This is a truly perfect lemon tea cake that’s exceptionally moist, tender, delicate, and bursting with lemon flavor. It’s topped with a sticky lemon glaze that you won’t be able to resist!
Tea cakes and loaves can sometimes be dry and flavorless. I’ve tried so many like that before, and it’s always a disappointment. I have found, though, that when using lemons, it’s much easier to make a flavorful cake with a perfectly moist and sticky texture. The delicate yet pronounced flavor of lemon, combined with a syrup that soaks into the cake after baking, is what takes this classic tea cake to a whole new level.
When I first started working with this recipe, I had 2 options in mind. The first would be making a moist cake with a strong lemon flavor and topping it with the traditional white glaze. The second would be making a drier cake, then soaking it with a lemony syrup to moisten it and give it more flavor. Eventually, I decided to combine both choices (hey, I like things done perfectly). The syrup adds a true lemon flavor to the cake since, even if you add lots of lemon to the batter, the heat from the oven will mute it. The syrup also moistens the cake wonderfully and will help it to keep longer. Then there’s the lemon glaze that adds another sticky texture with a delicate lemon flavor.
How to make lemon cake
There are 3 components to this cake:
1. Lemon cake batter
2. Lemon syrup, made by heating together sugar, lemon juice, and water. Once the cake is out of the oven, poke holes in it and drizzle the syrup over. The cake soaks up the syrup, making it moist and adding a refreshing lemon flavor.
3. Lemon glaze. This will form a sticky, hard crust that I absolutely adore on classic lemon cakes. However, since the cake will already be flavorful and amazing without it, this step is OPTIONAL.
For this cake, I use the creaming method. Simply mix together butter and sugar until creamy, then add eggs, dry ingredients, and liquids. Creaming the butter and sugar creates air pockets which are filled with steam during baking, creating more volume and a lighter, more delicate texture.
Pro tip: Mixing sugar with lemon zest is my little trick for bringing out lemon flavor in baked goods. When grating the zest, make sure you grate only the yellow part, and not the bitter white pith beneath it. Then, toss with the sugar. While tossing, the lemon zest will release its natural oils, which will absorb quickly into the sugar. This way, the lemon flavor will evenly distribute throughout the batter.
Liquids and substitutions
I like using buttermilk for this cake since it makes it tender with a slight tang. When I don’t have buttermilk on hand, though, I use whole milk or even heavy cream for a richer flavor. If you make this substitution, omit the baking soda and increase the baking powder to 1 teaspoon instead of 1/2.
Replacing the buttermilk with sour cream is another option (the baking soda and powder will remain the same as the original recipe).
You can also make a buttermilk substitution at home. Take a measuring cup and pour in 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or fresh lemon juice. Add milk until it reaches one cup. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes. It will look curdled and that’s fine.
Moist and tender lemon cake soaked with a sweet, lemony syrup and topped with an amazing lemon glaze.
- 1 1/2 cups (200g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) buttermilk (see above post for substitutions)
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (175 g/6.2 oz) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick/113g) butter, softened
- 2 large eggs , room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (1-2 lemons)
- 2 teaspoons water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 cup powdered sugar , sifted
For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F/180C. Grease an 8½ x 4¼-inch loaf pan.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, mix together buttermilk and lemon juice. Set bowls aside.
In another small bowl, toss together sugar and lemon zest until combined. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar mixture on medium speed for 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Occasionally scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract. On low speed, beat in the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk mixture in 2 additions, starting and ending with the flour. Do not over mix.
Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 40-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. If the top is browning too fast while baking, cover pan loosely with aluminum foil.
For the syrup: While cake is in the oven, prepare the syrup. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, lemon juice, and water. Cook on medium-low heat until sugar dissolves and syrup forms. Set aside to cool.
When the cake is done, allow to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and set on a wire rack. Place a tray or pan underneath the wire rack. Poke cake with a toothpick, then brush top and sides with syrup. Allow cake to cool to room temperature.
For the glaze: In a small bowl, combine sugar, lemon juice, and milk, and whisk until smooth. Add more lemon juice or sugar as necessary until you get a thick yet pourable consistency. Pour over top of cake and let drizzle down the sides. Allow glaze to set, 15-30 minutes.
Store cake in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3-4 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Cake can be frozen without the syrup or glaze for up to 2 months. Once thawed, heat the syrup and drizzle hot over the cake, then proceed with the rest of the recipe and make the glaze.
Elisa @ Insalata di SillabeSeptember 8, 2014 at 9:32 am
I simply go crazy for anything lemon-y and I have a true passion for tea cakes, so you can imagine how excited I am about this recipe! I love everything about it, especially that beautiful looking glaze. I’m sure it will add that extra something that will make this cake truly special!
ShiranSeptember 8, 2014 at 10:13 am
I’m excited that you like it Elisa! Can’t wait for you to try it 🙂 I always like to make the glaze, it’s not just pretty but also tasty!
Jess @ whatjessicabakednextSeptember 9, 2014 at 1:29 pm
This lemon really does look perfect! Love lemon cakes- my favourite, remind me of the summer! 😀
TashSeptember 10, 2014 at 3:01 am
That lemon drizzle… <3
I am so with you on the buttermilk. It is truly the *secret* ingredient of a perfect cake!
The photography is amazing as per usual! P.S. I am so loving the peach crumble right now as well! I wish I could set aside time in my life purely to make your recipes!!
ShiranSeptember 11, 2014 at 4:39 am
Thank you Tash! 🙂 That’s so sweet of you!
pallaviDecember 19, 2014 at 9:56 am
hi Shiran, fab recipe and the cake loos just like the starbucks one my hubby craves for.. can you please tell me what should the milk temp be if you are making instant buttermilk? can i use cold milk for this?
ShiranDecember 19, 2014 at 4:38 pm
Hi! Usually for best results in baking, it’s best to use ingredients at room temperature, but, I’ve had good results with using cold milk/buttermilk, so if you don’t want to wait until it reaches room temperature, you can definitely use it cold. Hope this helps!
ParveenMarch 13, 2016 at 7:31 am
Tried this recipe for lemon tea cake and my family loved it! Thanks for sharing your recipe.
ShiranMarch 13, 2016 at 9:49 am
I’m so glad to hear that, Parveen! Thank you so much for your comment!
TanishaMarch 16, 2016 at 1:11 am
Hello! I am in love with your recipes and the pics are outstanding. Thanks a lot for all 🙂
I have a query! Any idea about the weight of the loaf this recipe will yield? Also, the carrot cake loaf. Thanks a lot.
ShiranMarch 18, 2016 at 5:05 pm
Hi Tanisha! Thank you so much for your sweet words 🙂 Unfortunately, I don’t know the weight of the cakes as I never weigh them. Sorry I couldn’t help!
TanishaMarch 20, 2016 at 3:46 am
Hey! Thanks so much for you reply. No worries at all 🙂
Another query…. Could we use oil in this cake like your carrot cake?? I tried both your lemon and carrot cake. Both outstanding taste wise but I Loved the super moist texture n crumb of carrot cake more.
ShiranMarch 22, 2016 at 6:57 am
So glad to hear that! Thank you 🙂 I like the butter version because it’s more cake-y, but yes, you can definitely try that with oil. You won’t need the mixer for that. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt..) in one bowl and wet ingredients (eggs, oil, buttermilk, lemon juice..) in another bowl, and combine the two together by folding with a spatula. Use 1/2 cup oil instead of 1/2 cup butter.
TanishaMarch 22, 2016 at 8:59 am
Thanks a ton for your prompt replies :))
DeborahApril 4, 2016 at 8:51 am
I made this cake yesterday I was looking for a recipe that only required 2 eggs and was moist, simple and I went through several but your recipe caught my eyes and it delivered. I just had two small slice with my lady grey tea…. I am by no means a great baker but I am learning.ni tried to give 5 stars but it only let me leave four. The icing I just added lemon zest and vanilla bourbon extract..
ShiranApril 5, 2016 at 5:54 am
Thank you for your comment, Deborah! I’m glad you like it 🙂
ImaniMay 5, 2017 at 8:30 am
Amazing recipes. Can I use this recipe for a 9inch cake or can I use the lemon cupcake recipe and double the recipe, for a 9inch cake? Thankyou
ShiranMay 14, 2017 at 5:47 am
You can use this recipe for a 9-incn cake by multiplying the ingredients by 1.5, but the baking time will be different.
Mignimah DibiJuly 11, 2018 at 3:31 pm
Can I skip the buttermilk and milk, would it still be good
ShiranJuly 12, 2018 at 9:11 am
Hi Mignimah, the buttermilk can’t be left out, it will change the texture and flavor of the cake.
SamanthaNovember 10, 2018 at 11:53 am
Can I do this with orange juice/orange zest or lime juice/lime zest instead of lemon?
ShiranNovember 11, 2018 at 8:40 am
You can just keep in mind that the flavor of the orange will be much milder than lemon. I usually add a lot of orange juice to my orange cakes.
CaitlynneMay 28, 2020 at 9:26 pm
I made both your orange and lemon cakes and although I made some mistakes with both, my family and I enjoyed them. I’m not good at baking but you give excellent instructions and advice and it has helped me a lot. Thank you!
I have a question – if I am in a hurry and need to whip up a lemon cake, can I use your Orange Cake recipe and instead replace it with lemons?
ShiranJune 3, 2020 at 6:21 am
Hi Caitlynne. I don’t recommend it because orange has a much more mild flavor than lemon so the quantities of zest and juice would be different.
MahaDecember 8, 2020 at 1:40 pm
I made this today and it was amazing! Thank you for sharing your yummy recipes! They turn out great each time 🙂