real life test kitchen: the perfect lemon cake

The other the day one of our favorite local bakers, the Able Baker, was serving out samples of a lemon cake. I had one little sliver and became obsessed. It was so moist and deliciously lemony, I needed more. I needed a whole cake. I needed to make it myself. I drilled Julie, the Able Baker herself and she said her recipe include buttermilk, and a lemon glaze. The secret, she said, is to poke holes in the cake before you pour the glaze on, so it goes deep into the cake.

I went home and seplaceed and seplaceed for a recipe that sounded similar. I pulled out all of my cookbooks and looked through the indexes. I finally found one that sounded like what I was hunting for, in The Essential New York Times Cook Book. The author Amanda Hesser writes “imagine the taste of a lemon cake, then multiply that by three, and you’ll have a faint idea of the piercing resonance in this cake.”

This recipe makes a lot of cake. I thought about cutting it in half, but then decided to make the whole thing and share with neighbors (who were very grateful that I did). I used loaf pans, but I think a Bundt pan would work nicely, perhaps one that was a little smaller and you could make two. I mostly stuck to NYTimes recipe, but I added in Julie’s hole technique. My cake stuck a little to the pan, so I recommend be extra diligent with flouring to prevent sticking. Here’s my version of the recipe the below.

Triple Hit Lemon Cake
3 cups of flour
1/2 tsp of baking powder
1/2 tsp of baking soda
1 tsp of salt
2 sticks of soft butter
2 1/2 cups of sugar (1/2 cup is for the syrup)
2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, sifted (for glaze)
4 eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup lemon zest
3/4 cup lemon juice + about 3 tbls
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temp
1 tsp of vanilla

1. Take butter, eggs and buttermilk out of the fridge to warm up to room temp.
2. Heat oven to 350. Grease and flour two loaf pans or one Bundt pan (I used one 9″ x 5″ x 3″ loaf pan and one smaller one). Line bottom with parchment paper. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.
3. Beat butter and 2 cups of the sugar in mixer with a paddle attachment, for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add in eggs, one at a time, then lemon zest.
4. Combine 1/4 cup of the lemon juice, the buttermilk and vanilla in a bowl. Add the flour mixture to the butter batter, alternately adding in the buttermilk mixture, ending with the flour.
5. Pour batter into pan(s). Bake for about 45 minutes until tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool for about ten minutes, then invert it onto a rack over a tray.
6. Meanwhile make syrup by combining 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of lemon juice in a pan until it is a smooth liquid. Let it cool.
7. Poke holes with toothpick or chopstick into the cake. Pour the syrup over, letting some drip down into the cake. Allow to cool completely
8. Make the glaze by whisking about 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar with a few tablespoons of lemon juice.
9. Spoon the glaze over the cake allowing some to drip down the sides.
10. Enjoy!

From our partners

I bake this cake yesterday! But I omitted the syrup, because I don´t like extremely sugary food.
The cake was beautifully moist, sweet, slightly acid from the lemon juice (I used lemons from my mom’s garden) and simply perfect. Since I live in Argentina and we don´t have buttermilk here, I used skim milk and two extra tablespoons of lemon juice, that did the trick. And mine also stuck to the pan, just a little, but enough to make me suffer :)
Did you notice that it tasted just like lemon pie?


When my son tried a sample of The Able Baker’s cake, we had to order a slice! It was heavenly.