Ina Garten’s Lemon Cake

Ina Garten’s lemon cake is similar to a classic, old-fashioned pound cake but not quite so dense. It’s magnificently buttery and exponentially lemony thanks to a tart soak in a lemon and sugar syrup and a drizzle of lemony confectioners’ sugar glaze.

Ina Garten's lemon cake, a pound cake, on a cutting board, drizzled with a lemon glaze

Ina Garten’s lemon cake, like everything else we’ve experienced from the kitchen maven, is one of those very few things that literally makes us sigh with content. Subtly sweet. Distinctively lemony. And not quite as heavy as a traditional pound cake. Yep. Does it to us each and every darn time.–Renee Schettler

Ina Garten's Lemon Cake

Ina Garten's lemon cake, a pound cake, on a cutting board, drizzled with a lemon glaze
This lemon cake is similar to a classic, old-fashioned pound cake but not quite so dense. It's magnificently buttery and exponentially lemony thanks to a tart soak in a lemon and sugar syrup and a drizzle of lemony confectioners' sugar glaze.
Ina Garten

Prep 35 mins
Cook 55 mins
Total 2 hrs
Dessert
American
16 servings
398 kcal
4.72 / 21 votes
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Ingredients 

For the lemon cake

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup grated lemon zest* (from about 6 large lemons)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice*
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (either low-fat or full-fat), at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the lemon syrup

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice*

For the lemon glaze

  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice* (from about 1 large lemon)

Directions
 

Make the lemon cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans.
  • Cream the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.
  • In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, combine the lemon juice, 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 and smooth the tops.
  • Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • When the cakes are done, let them cool in the pan on a wire rack placed on a baking sheet for 10 minutes.
  • Invert the cakes onto the rack. Turn the cakes right side up and, while still warm, make the lemon syrup.

Make the lemon syrup

  • In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice and cook until the sugar dissolves and makes a syrup. Remove from the heat.
  • Generously spoon the lemon syrup over the tops of the still-warm cakes, letting the syrup dribble down the sides. Let the cakes cool completely.

Make the lemon glaze

  • In a bowl, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice, mixing with a whisk until smooth.

Glaze the lemon cake

  • Pour over the top of the cooled cakes, letting the glaze drizzle down the sides. You may not need all of the glaze if you don't have a sweet tooth. Slice immediately or, for a slightly moister texture and more mellow lemony tang, let the cakes rest overnight prior to devouring.
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Notes

*How Many Lemons Will I Need for This Recipe?

Is it just us or is it rather maddening to stand there in the grocery store looking at a recipe that calls for a certain amount of fresh lemon juice yet gives nary a clue as to how many lemons that means? Part of the problem is that the yield of any lemon varies immensely given a particular fruit's size and freshness. A conservative guesstimate? Count on 2 to 3 tablespoons juice per lemon. If you end up with an extra lemon, well, better than the alternative. (Honestly? We're still waiting for an app that assesses a particular lemon's yield when you point your camera at it.)

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1portionCalories: 398kcal (20%)Carbohydrates: 66g (22%)Protein: 5g (10%)Fat: 13g (20%)Saturated Fat: 8g (50%)Trans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 84mg (28%)Sodium: 152mg (7%)Potassium: 83mg (2%)Fiber: 1g (4%)Sugar: 47g (52%)Vitamin A: 449IU (9%)Vitamin C: 8mg (10%)Calcium: 39mg (4%)Iron: 1mg (6%)

Recipe Testers' Reviews

This was the perfect recipe for me to make on a cold winter day to give me a little taste of summer. Of course, it would also be a welcome summer dessert. The cake is tart but not too tart. In my opinion, the perfect balance of sweetness to tart.

Because 1/3 cup zest is quite a bit, a good zester is a handy tool (note to self: get a better zester). The lemon juice and sugar that you cook together to make the syrup didn’t get very thick but sure gave the cake another jolt of luscious lemon.

I’ll definitely make this cake recipe again, and next time will take it to the next level by making some lemon curd to serve with it.

I loved how this turned out! I LOVE lemon anything and this definitely delivered in the lemon flavor department. I think the zest was a great amount in the cake. It wasn't too tart- but you knew it was there.

My husband said he felt the punch of lemon and then it rounded out nicely with the sweetness of the cake in just one bite. The glaze hardened nicely and is a great addition to the cake.

But I don't know if I call it a cake per say...maybe Lemon Loaf Cake? Just doesn't completely make me think of cake when eating and the texture and baking in the loaf pan. I think it reminds me more of a muffin. That could also be because of the doneness and maybe I dried it out a bit. I think poppy seeds could be a nice touch!

Both of my loaves came out a much darker brown than the picture. I tried the second loaf on a lower rack and still browned up while getting it to come out clean in the center. Didn't really affect the flavor, though. My husband said he liked the crunchier outside so not necessarily a bad thing!

You can get 16 servings out of the recipes. Great for breakfast or paired with some afternoon tea.

I will absolutely make it again! Perfect for taking to summer party or a cookout!

Originally published May 15, 2001

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I made this cake today. It turned out wonderful. Just letting the cake rest with the syrup poured over them. Great that I can freeze them as i have a few lemon trees in our garden. I did also make the orange pound cake a few times. It was delicious. People raved about it! They were by Ina Garten aka The Barefoot Contessa. I love citrus. I just had a slice. I loved it. Will for sure make it again.

    1. I have two 9-inch pans. Is there enough batter for 2 9-inch loaf pans or should I make just one large 9-inch loaf? Is there too much batter for one loaf pan? If not how long should it take to bake? Thanks.

      1. Renee, you can make this in two 9-inch pans, however, the loaves will be a little shorter. They may be done a few minutes earlier, so I’d start checking around the 40 minute mark. I think this would be too much batter for just one 9-inch pan.

  2. For Easter, I have always used the Lemon Grove cake recipe that makes a large bundt cake.

    This has more lemon juice and more zest so perhaps I’ll double it and see how that works as a larger cake. After all, it has Ina Garten’s imprimatur, and I don’t think I’ve ever not liked anything she’s done.

    I think I’ll use the Lemon Grove glaze though. It’s mouth puckering heaven.

      1. 4 stars
        I made the cake last night and it has very lovely color and flavor. I also found it much lighter than the Lemon Grove cake I’ve loved for so long. I assume that’s from the additional eggs and the combo of baking soda and baking powder. Full disclosure though: my hens don’t lay extra large eggs so I picked the 4 largest I could find and added an extra yolk for insurance. Anyway it was a much airier cake (though, in truth, I rather like the dense flavor and mouth feel of a bundt cake).

        With all the respect due to Ina Garten — and I hold her recipes in very high esteem — both my husband and I felt that the bit of butter in the Lemon Grove glaze smoothed out the tartness of the lemon juice and we missed that in the IG recipe. That would be an easy add, though, if anyone cared to try it out and see how they feel about it for themselves.

    1. JJ, we didn’t test it in a tube pan so we can’t say for certain. As you mention, it may end up looking flat as the tube pan may require more batter than this recipe makes. Also, chances are the timing would be off. Baking is such a precise science, we’d be hesitant to try it in a different pan than specified in the recipe.

  3. 5 stars
    This is absolutely the best lemon cake ever! All of my tasters agree. I made it in a bundt pan and it came out perfectly. I did not make the glaze and it was still beyond excellent. This recipe is in my permanent collection. Thank you!

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