Follow this foolproof recipe for how to make a fluffy lemon cake from scratch.
This moist cake is made with oil instead of butter and has an easy lemon glaze.
It's baked in a classic bundt pan but you can also use a regular round cake pan.
This is a moist lemon cake everyone loves! And to make the easy, fragrant lemon glaze you just need some fresh lemons and icing sugar.
When I make it for myself I usually skip the glaze, but because it certainly adds to the appearance and the lemon flavor, I always add it when I want to serve it for dessert or when I'm invited to a dinner.
And it also pairs really well with this creamy homemade vanilla ice cream made without an ice cream machine.
I usually bake this cake in a bundt pan but you can always make it in a 10-inch round cake pan, or if you want to make it a layer cake and frost it with buttercream, you can use two 8-inch round pans.
Keep in mind that the the two 8-inch cakes will be shorter in height. If you want them to be a little bit taller, you'll have to multiply the recipe by (1.25) meaning that you'll make 1 and a quarter of the total amount of cake batter.
Also, the baking time for the 8-inch round pans will probably be 10' shorter but this can vary depending on your oven.
I make most of my cakes using the one-bowl method I learned from Rose Levy Beranbaum, because this method produces a velvety cake with a melt-in-your-mouth texture. This white chocolate cake recipe with white ganache and this pistachio cake with rosewater buttercream are two perfect examples of this method.
However, another method that produces a moist and at the same time soft and fluffy cake with a light and airy texture is the one in which you first whip the eggs and the sugar until they are tripled in volume and then you add the liquids and the flour.
This method is a lot similar to the hot milk cake method, only here orange juice (at room temperature) is used instead of hot milk and vegetable oil instead of butter.
If you love lemon flavor you'll want to make this lemon cake from scratch again and again, but there are times when we all need a small change. Adding some extra flavorings or replacing the lemon zest can give you a totally different cake. Some flavors I think you would like are:
- Lemon poppy seed cake: Add 2 tablespoons poppy seeds to the cake batter when you add the flour and 1 teaspoon poppy seeds to the lemon glaze.
- Citrus cake: Replaze the lemon zest with orange, lime or tangerine zest or even a mix of the above
- Vanilla cake: Omit the zest and add 2 more teaspoons of vanilla extract.
- Lemon and chocolate chip/sprinkles cake: When adding the flour add 1 cup of chocolate sprinkles or 1 cup of mini chocolate chips (mix the chocolate chips with some flour to prevent them from sinking at the bottom of the cake)
- Pumpkin spice: Replace half the white sugar with light brown sugar, replace the lemon zest with orange zest and add 1-2 teaspoons of pumpkin spice.
- Amaretto: Replace the lemon zest with ¼ – ½ teaspoon of almond extract (this will depend on how strong your almond extract is).
- Marbled cake: Pour one third of the cake batter into another bowl, sift 3 tablespoons of Dutch processed cocoa powder over the batter, then fold gently with a spatula. Add half of the white batter to the cake pan, then add the chocolate batter and finish with the white batter. Dip a knife into the cake pan and swirl it a few times to create the marbled effect.
How to make it
This is a foolproof method to make a moist lemon cake, as long as you follow these simple steps:
- Whisk the eggs with the sugar: Beat the eggs and the sugar with the whisk attachment until tripled in volume. This is probably the most important step if you want your lemon cake to be very light and fluffy, so you must make sure that they reach a foamy consistency that resembles shaving foam.
- Add the oil, while beating with the whisk attachment. You can also use melted butter (or a mix of oil and melted butter) but the oil makes the cake more moist and keeps it fresh for a longer time.
- Add the flour alternating with the orange juice. In this step you fold the flour with a spatula because you want to preserve all the tiny air bubbles of the batter. Whisking it with the mixture will make the cake less fluffy.
- Bake in a preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Tips for light and fluffy cakes
Whip the eggs VERY WELL until they resemble shaving foam. This is because we want to trap as much air as possible inside the egg mixture, with the form of tiny air bubbles.
These air bubbles will help the cake rise and become light and fluffy. If the eggs are not well-beaten the cake will be dense. Room temperature eggs (or better yet warm) will whip up faster than eggs that are straight from the fridge.
I like to place the eggs in a bowl filled with warm water before gathering the rest of the cake ingredients. This way they become warm and ready for whipping.
Use oil and not butter. Because butter becomes solid at room temperature I find that after the second day the cake is less fluffy.
Vegetable oil usually makes the cake lighter and fluffier.
Use an adequate amount of baking powder. Because baking powder is a raising agent, using less will result in a dense cake.
Using more can give the cake a bitter (or metallic) aftertaste and can even make it collapse under its own weight during baking.
Sift the flour just before adding it to the cake batter and fold it with a spatula and not a whisk
Folding will protect the air bubbles in the cake batter, while whisking will destroy some of them.
Another thing you can do is to use orange soda instead of fresh orange juice. The carbon dioxide from the orange soda will make the cake even fluffier.
However, I usually prefer to use fresh orange juice since I believe it makes the cake a little healthier.
The lemon glaze
My “rule” when making this simple lemon glaze is that it must be thicker than I believe it should be. If you don't make sugar glaze often, you'll probably also think that if it's too thick it won't run down the sides of the cake, but trust me, it will.
Another thing to consider is the lemon zest. If you want it to be extra lemony, then adding more lemon juice won't make any difference (plus it will result in a very thin glaze). The ingredient which will give extra lemon taste is the lemon zest. So, if you want it extra lemony, add more zest not juice.
Fluffy lemon cake from scratch with lemon glaze
For the cake:
- 1 ¼ cups (250 grams) white sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 4 large eggs (220 grams), at room temperature or warm
- ¾ cup (170 grams) sunflower oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups (390 grams) all-purpose flour
- 5 teaspoons (16 grams) baking powder
- 1 cup (240 grams) fresh orange juice
For the lemon glaze:
- 1 ½ cups (200 grams) icing sugar
- 4 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- Grease and flour your baking pan very well (use butter and not oil). Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C)
- Whip the eggs with the sugar: Transfer the sugar, the salt and the lemon zest to a bowl and mix to combine. Transfer the eggs to the bowl of your electric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until frothy. Add the sugar mixture gradually and continue beating until the mixture thickens and resembles shaving foam (about 10 minutes).
- Add the oil: While beating, add the oil in a thin stream and then add the vanilla extract.
- Prepare the flour: Transfer the flour and the baking powder to a bowl and mix well.
- Add the flour and the juice: Sift approximately one third of the flour over the egg mixture and fold gently with a spatula (at this tage it's OK if the flour is not completely incorporated). Add half of the orange juice and fold it again with the spatula. Continue with half of the remaining flour, then the rest of the orange juice and then the rest of the flour.
- Bake: Transfer the cake batter to the bundt pan and bake for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let it cool for 5 minutes, then unmold to a cooling rack and let it cool completely.
- Make the lemon glaze: Transfer the icing sugar, the lemon zest and the lemon juice to a small bowl and mix well with a spoon. The glaze should be very thick if you want it to be white. If the glaze is too thick, add half a teaspoon of lemon juice at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. Spoon the glaze over the cake (you may not need it all) and let it set for 30 minutes. Serve.
- For this cake you will need one 10-12 cup bundt pan or one 10 inch round cake pan.
- If you don't make the glaze and you prefer a sweet cake, you can increase the sugar for the cake butter to a total of 1 ½ cups.
- This cake can also be made with melted butter or a mix of melted butter and vegetable oil. However, with vegetable oil only, the cake stays soft and moist for more days.
- Warm eggs whip up much better and faster. If you've forgotten to take them out of the fridge, place them in a large bowl with warm water for 5-10 minutes.
- You can also use orange soda instead of fresh orange juice. The carbon dioxide from the orange soda will make the cake even fluffier. However, I usually prefer to use fresh orange juice since I believe it makes the cake a little healthier.
- Replace 2 tablespoons of flour with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch for a more delicate crumb.
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