After countless trials, I am thrilled to share the Best Lemon Loaf Cake recipe you'll ever try! I know the internet is full of recipes, many of which claim to be Starbucks copycats, but I highly recommend giving this one a try. This Lemon Loaf Cake has the most beautiful, perfectly balanced flavor, an incredibly soft and moist texture that actually gets better with time, and a beautiful golden crust.
My friends who tried this cake agreed with me that it is actually better than Starbucks, and the recipe is incredibly simple.
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WHAT MAKES THIS THE BEST LEMON LOAF CAKE?
I believe a great lemon loaf cake should have four characteristics, and this recipe checks all the boxes:
- A strong but balanced lemon flavor. You taste this cake and there's no doubt that it is a lemon cake. However, it is also not overpowering. The flavor is perfectly balanced between the tanginess and freshness of lemon, and the sweetness from the sugar
- Soft and moist melt-in-your-mouth texture. This cake is incredibly tender and moist, and only gets better with time. I was surprised to see that on days two and three, the cake felt even more moist, while many cake recipes get drier with time
- Beautiful to look at. Man, does this loaf cake deliver in the beauty department! It has the perfect height to it, so it doesn't feel too flat, forms a nice little dome with a crack down the middle, and has a stunning light golden crust all around. And that's before the lemon icing is drizzled on!
- A simple, fuss-free recipe. This recipe is not challenging at all, and most ingredients should already be in your pantry
HOW TO ACHIEVE A STRONG LEMON FLAVOR
After a lot of testing, I have learned that the punchy lemon flavor comes from two important ingredients, and lemon juice is NOT one of them!
- Lemon zest. This loaf cake has the zest of three large lemons (if your lemons are smaller, you can do 4-5). That's a lot of zest, but zest is where the lemon flavor and scent are concentrated in the form of natural oils. The zest is rubbed into the sugar to help release these oils and really extract that flavor
- Lemon extract. Before you get mad at me, let me admit: I avoided lemon extract for the longest time. For some reason, I was convinced it would be too artificial tasting, and I don't like purchasing ingredients just for one specific recipe. But no matter how much lemon juice I'd add, the flavor was never strong enough (and the batter would get too runny), so I finally submitted. And it was totally worth it - just 1-2 teaspoon of lemon extract will add a lot more lemon flavor than even ½ a cup of lemon juice. That's because lemon extract is made from the oil inside lemon peels, where the lemon flavor is much more concentrated! This is the exact one I used from Whole Foods, and it costs less than $5
We do add lemon juice as well, but that serves a different purpose, which I've explained in the next section! 😉
HOW TO ACHIEVE A SOFT AND MOIST TEXTURE
There are a few different ways we get the perfect texture in this lemon loaf cake:
- Vegetable oil. Oil is a liquid at room temperature, and adding it alongside butter results in much more moist cakes
- Addition of cornstarch. Instead of using just all purpose flour, this loaf cake uses a combination of all purpose flour and cornstarch, which, together, result in something closer to cake flour. Cornstarch lowers the gluten content in the cake, making it more tender and close textured - which is exactly what we want!
- Addition of sour cream and lemon juice. Sour cream is a magic ingredient - it adds moisture and richness (thanks to its fat content), and has acidity which reacts with baking soda to help the cake rise better. Lemon juice helps react with baking soda too, and the combination gives the best rise while still keeping the cake very moist. Both of these ingredients are added at the end, which helps ensure that most of the reaction with baking soda happens inside the oven
- Baking low and slow. Instead of baking at the usual 350F, this cake is baked at 325F. Baking at a lower temperature for longer gives the cake more time to rise before it forms a crust on top, resulting in a nicer, lighter texture!
BEST LOAF PAN
Your choice of a loaf pan will actually make a big difference on the outcome of this cake, and I highly recommend using this 8.5 x 4.5" loaf pan from USA pan. I love this loaf pan because it has a really good height (while others are usually too long or too wide) and has perfectly straight edges, which give the loaf cake a professional, neat look.
HOW TO MAKE THE BEST LEMON LOAF CAKE
Here's a quick video tutorial for you:
Now let's quickly go over the steps:
First, zest the lemons into the sugar, and rub the zest in using your hands to release the flavor and aroma. The end result should be a fluffy looking sugar mixture.
Add the eggs, vanilla and lemon extract, and use a stand mixer or electric mixer to whisk for 3-4 minutes until very light in color and ribbony. This step helps incorporate air into the batter, which leads to a light and fluffy texture.
Heat the butter, oil and milk until the mixture starts to simmer. Pour the hot mixture into the egg and sugar mixture slowly while whisking. This step is similar to a hot milk cake - the heat helps temper the eggs and stabilize the fluffy consistency!
Sift in the dry ingredients and fold very gently until combined. It's normal for some lumps to form - you can use a hand whisk to gently break them down but don't mix aggressively!
Lastly, fold in the sour cream and lemon juice. Adding them last ensures they don't start reacting with the baking soda too soon.
Pour the batter into the lined loaf pan, and here's a fun little trick I like to do: take a little softened butter in a piping bag, cut a small opening, and pipe a thin line down the middle of the loaf cake. This will ensure the cake cracks along this line as it rises, which will make it look really professional! With that, it's time to bake.
Make the icing by simply mixing together the ingredients.
Once the cake has cooled down, remove it from the pan and decorate with the icing and lemon zest.
Serve & enjoy!!!
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
If you can't find sour cream, you can actually make it at home very easily! Check out my foolproof recipe here.
Eggs are important in this recipe because they are whisked to aerate the batter. Therefore, I don't recommend substituting them. However, if you must, you can replace them with flax-seed eggs but you don't need to whisk the eggs and sugar mixture for 3-4 minutes; only until combined.
I strongly recommend using lemon extract as it is very challenging to get the strong lemon flavor without it. However, if you can't find it, you can skip it and add more lemon zest.
This lemon loaf cake can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature (as long as it's not too hot) for 3-5 days. If storing for longer, please keep in the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before eating.
If you try this recipe, I'd love to hear from you! Leave your reviews below.