Baking & Desserts
jan 9, 2021

Lemon Tea Cake

Sunshine and lemons, that’s winter in California! We use lemons liberally in our cooking and baking all year round. In wintertime, they shoulder a weightier responsibility as we rely on their happy flavor and vitamin-C boosting nutrients to pull us through the grey.
If you find yourself with a surplus of the season’s bright beauties, read on for our Lemon Tea Cake recipe, or maybe make these delicious Lemon Puddings or Preserve your lemons (a quick weekend project that will pay dividends for months to come). Better yet, you could attend our upcoming class, 11 Ways with Lemons, wherein chef Deirdre will share many more ways to put your lemons to good use.
About that Lemon Tea Cake. It started as a mash-up of one from the indomitable Maida Heatter and another from the beloved Barefoot Contessa. Over the years, we’ve tweaked the details to suit our own taste. Though we do strive to share as many important details in our recipes as we can, lingering thoughts always remain, like these:
  • Have we lectured you yet about getting a kitchen scale? If you are a baker, really, it’s a new year, and IT’S TIME. This recipe is written in grams, with volume measurements ("grudgingly", says Jen) included. Weighing ingredients when you bake will yield more consistent results, and you’ll have fewer dishes to wash. We’ve been using the Oxo brand, 11-pound scale with the pull-out reader for decades.
  • And what about a Microplane? If you have yet to procure one of these zesting wonders, what are you waiting for? They allow you to get the zest off of your citrus without any of the white, bitter pith, plus they’re great for grating nutmeg & ginger and the most beautiful shower of chocolate shavings when you need some on your special cappuccino. Just do it.
  • This cake will really not be the same without its syrup and glaze. They impart necessary moisture and lemony tang.
  • We always double this recipe and make 2 loaf cakes (one to keep; one to share) or 1 big bundt cake, or a loaf cake and 15 or 20 mini cupcakes, which dome very slightly and prettily and make extravagant snacks.
  • Ideally, bake and syrup the cake on the day before you plan to glaze and serve (or gift) it. It improves with time. It also freezes well— tightly wrapped in plastic, then foil—for up to 6 months.
Happy baking, and don’t forget you can always reach out to us with your questions and comments! Please stay in touch.

Lemon Tea Cake

Author Jen Nurse

This cake is a lemon lover's dream - you'll need about 5 big, juicy lemons. Double the recipe for a 10-inch bundt cake.

Adapted from: (very loosely from) Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties
Yield   1 (8-inch) loaf


For the Pan

1-2 tsps butter or oil

2-3 tsps all-purpose flour

(or use pan spray)

For the Lemon Syrup

50g (¼ cup) granulated sugar

75g (⅓ cup) fresh lemon juice (3-4 large lemons)

For the Cake

20g (2 lightly packed Tbsp) grated lemon zest (4-5 large lemons)

200g (1 cup) granulated sugar

115g (1 stick | 8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs, at room temperature

190g (1½ cups) all-purpose or GF flour

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

½ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt

95g (⅓ cup) plain full-fat yogurt

For the Lemon Glaze

115g (1 cup) confectioner's sugar, sifted

21 to 28g (1½-2 Tbsp) fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon)


Heat the oven to 350℉. Grease and flour a (8-x-5-x-2½-inch) loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment, trimmed to extend over 2 opposing sides by 1 inch. This will make a sling to help lift the cake out of the pan. Grease and flour the parchment.
Make the lemon syrup: Whisk the sugar and juice together in a small bowl. Return periodically to re-whisk so all sugar dissolves by the time the cake has baked.
Make the cake: In the bowl of an electric mixer, rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips until the sugar is slightly damp and fragrant with lemon.
Cream the lemony sugar with the butter and vanilla on high speed with a paddle attachment until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a large bowl. Always mixing on low speed, add the flour mixture and yogurt alternately to the butter-sugar mixture in 5 installments, starting and finishing with the flour. When the last trace of flour disappears, stop the mixer. Scrape the interior of the bowl with a rubber spatula, folding the batter a few times to ensure it is evenly mixed.
Scrape the batter into the pan, smooth the top, and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the cake's top is golden, a cake tester comes out clean and the cake's internal temperature is 210℉. Remove from the oven to a rack, leaving the cake in the pan.
Soak the cake: After 5 minutes, use a thin skewer or toothpick to poke many small holes in the cake's surface, all the way down into the cake. Pour the lemon syrup all over the top of the hot cake. Let cool in the pan for an hour before carefully lifting it out. Wrap it snugly in plastic wrap. Let sit until fully cooled, overnight if you can.
Glaze the cake: Unwrap the completely cooled cake and set it on a wire rack over a sheet pan or piece of parchment.
Whisk the confectioner's sugar and 1½ Tbsp lemon juice in a bowl until smooth. Adjust with more juice as needed, so the glaze slowly drizzles down the side of the cake when you pour it on. Let set for at least an hour before serving.