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. I want to make these for a dinner party, the guest of honor loves lemon. My question is…can I bake them ahead of time and freeze? If so, would you recommend letting them thaw in the fridge overnight? Thank you!

    1. Debbie, you absolutely can. The cake is structurally sound enough to withstand freezing and thawing. I usually let my cakes thaw on the counter. If you choose to defrost it in the fridge, don’t forget to take into account the extra time needed.

  2. 5 stars
    Perfect cake! Made it in 2 round 9-inch pans instead of loaf pans. Cut the tops off to level, as it will be a layer cake, and then drizzled the syrup on it. Going to layer with lemon curd and frost with meringue!

  3. 5 stars
    This has become my “go-to” cake – I take it as a hostess gift, bring it when I travel (tell me I’m not the only person who travels with food!) and today I am making it for a girlfriend, newly pregnant and craving cake/lemons/raspberries.

    1. Carmen, you’re certainly not the only one who travels with food! You’re in good company, and from the sound of it, a very thoughtful friend.

  4. 5 stars
    I made the lemon cake tonight to send away in two care packages – it tastes delicious and made the house smell amazing. Sadly though, the cake stuck to both loaf pans so I would recommend using parchment instead of just spraying/greasing the pans if you want to play it safe. I definitely plan to make this again and am thankful for the friend who let me come over and take a sack of lemons from his tree!

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