Friday, April 24, 2015

Lemon Cake

by Sheila Connolly

Lots of lemons!
Once upon a time I lived in a small house in California, with a scenic view of a BART station—very convenient for commuting to San Francisco, which I did for several years. If you stood on the roof of the house, you could see the Golden Gate Bridge. There were really only five rooms plus bath, but they were nicely-sized, and the kitchen was surprisingly roomy. It had a wonderful vintage stove that our Siamese cat loved to doze on—the pilot light kept her warm.

It had a lemon tree in the back yard. Somehow I had never thought I would have a lemon tree. The tree smelled wonderful when it was blooming, which was most of the time, and produced a wealth of lemons. We got very good at making lemon meringue pies.

This is not that recipe. Somehow, though, lemon seems a hopeful flavor. Maybe spring will arrive one of these days. There’s still very little on anything in my yard, but I did see a bunny yesterday.

This recipe comes from Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking, from 1989. It’s a copy I bought at the United Nations in New York, when I was chaperoning one of my daughter’s class field trips. It has a definite French bias, but that’s fine with me. This cake is light and tart—a nice accompaniment to a cup of tea in the afternoon. If you like, you can add whipped cream.

Lemon Cake

2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
5 large eggs
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup crème fraîche (or substitute heavy cream)
7 Tblsp (3-1/2 oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
Grated zest of 4 lemons

Juice and zest of four lemons

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-1/2" loaf pans (this is meant to be a slender cake, so you will need the two).

Combine the flour and baking powder.

In the large bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs and sugar and mix until well blended.

With the mixer at low speed, slowly add (in the following order): the crème fraîche, the flour mixture, the melted butter, the lemon juice, the vanilla, and the lemon zest. Beat until very smooth.

Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans. Place them in the center of the oven and bake until golden and a toothpick comes out cleanBabout 1 hour. (Keep an eye on them so they don’t get too brown.)

Remove the pans from the oven and cool in the pans on a rack.

Okay, it's a little bit brown around the edges,
but the inside is still nice and moist

Garnish with whipped cream or fresh fruit or both. The cake improves in flavor over a day or two. 

Time for tea!

In Privy to the Dead, President of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society Nell Pratt finds some unexpected things in the basement...

Coming June 2nd, 2015. Available now for preorder.


  1. The lemon cake looks so yummy! Thank you for the recipe.

  2. What an amazing luxury to have that lemon tree in your yard! I had a fig tree in my yard many years ago, and I'm sad to say I wasted the opportunity to try everything fig. Spring will come Sheila!

  3. I loved that tree. When my daughter was a baby, I used to sit outside under it with her and read. Plus, our neighbors behind us had a plum tree that hung over our wall, and they said we could use whatever was on our side. We learned to make wicked plum daiquiris!

  4. This sounds delicious!
    Make the two and freeze one for whenever that "I've got to have something sweet and tasty now!" urge hits.

  5. I'll have one of my daughters make the cake and I've added the new book to my six page (by month, week & year) TBR (to be released) list.

    1. Thank you! You're more organized than I am. I just wait for my friends to tell me they have a new book out (which happens a lot!).

  6. Oh, yum! I grew up in southern California, and we had a large and healthy tree in the back yard. I never bought a lemon until I moved to Japan when I was 23. Love that fragrance. And the cake sounds just perfect. If I had a lemon tree now, I'd make my own limoncello for those hot summer days. Which surely will be along one of these months?

  7. A lovely recipe and an earworm in one post -- you're more efficient than you think, Sheila!

  8. Lemon cake is my favorite! My Mommom would make me one with vanilla frosting. Mmm Mmm

  9. My grandmother kept a lemon tree in "captivity." It stayed outside during the summer and in the winter she tipped the santitation men to bring it into her living room (it was planted i a gigantic barrel.) There are picture of me as a baby with the lemon tree in the background and she still had it more than 30 years later when she died. It bloomed and grew huge lemons. I also have that Patricia Wells cookbook!

  10. I'll have to give this recipe a try. It sounds delicious!

  11. I would LOVE to have a lemon tree! Such a beautiful tree, and although I live in the Northeast, my parents did have a small lemon tree for a while. My father had it potted and put in the green house in the Winter, but I just didn't do well. They have several fruit bearing trees and I have a beautiful cherry tree. But how lucky to have such a beautiful lemon tree.

  12. No lemon trees here though I'd love to have one. The cake sounds great and I'll try it, but I have to ask about the plate. Is it by any chance Louisville Pottery Cornflower?

    1. It very well may be. My sister lives in Kentucky, and she's the one who gave it to me several years ago. She does shop in Louisville now and then.

  13. We really enjoy the fresh lemons when we are in Arizona and miss them when we leave. My mom makes great lemon bars. The cake looks very good.

  14. What a pretty cake. The texture looks great!

    ~Daryl / Avery

  15. It looks yummy! when we lived in Northridge, CA we had an ugly fruit tree in the backyard (cross between a grapefruit and lemon). The dog loved to play with them. Our neighbors had avocado trees and my sister had orange trees that were delicious for juicing!