Lemon Cake, Idiot-proofed

I make this recipe every Christmas, but since I only make it annually, I always forget that I screw it up every single year. It’s a Barefoot Contessa recipe and I find that Ina Garten over-complicates most things, so I have modified the recipe slightly and revised the instructions to be idiot-proof for my own benefit.

Rachel Divider

Advisory: Even if you don’t have blood sugar issues, you are going to want to have insulin on-hand just to read this recipe!

lemon cake


2 regular loaves or 6 mini loaves

Prep time

30 minutes

Cooking time

45 minutes -to 1 hour



lemon cake

  • 2 sticks of butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup grated lemon zest tossed with one teaspoon flour (6 to 8 large lemons)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup milk (or buttermilk)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup plus 3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
  • ½ vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise (optional, but worth the investment)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

let’s make it!

  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  • Grease and flour 2 loaf pans or 6 mini loaf pans.
  • Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, and the lemon zest (be sure zest gets evenly distributed)
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, milk and vanilla extract.
  • Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the pans (I use an ice cream scoop to portion evenly). Smooth the tops and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • While cakes are baking, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice and vanilla bean in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.
  • When the cakes have cooled for 10 minutes, poke holes in them with a skewer. *Remove from the pans and set them to a rack set over a sheet pan (I don’t remove cakes from the mini loaf pans if I’m gifting them). Slowly spoon the syrup on top of cakes, aiming for as little waste as possible.
  • Allow the cakes to cool completely.
  • Combine the confectioners’ sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes. These lemon cakes freeze beautifully. (guilty pleasure: eating a hunk of cake FROZEN. Yumm!)


Zest is tossed with flour to aid in even distribution in the batter

PRO TIP: The lemon rinds can be turned into an organic, Lemoncello Cleaner very simply with only a 2 liter bottle and 1 cup of brown sugar!


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Kathie De ToroTheChickenChickL. KeippKathy Toomerkskountrygirl Recent comment authors

Thanks again for this – making it now, can't wait for the delicious aroma from the oven! Hope you and yours have a blessed Christmas and so happy everything worked out for you legally. In the end I am glad justice prevailed!

Avis Peterson

I like this, and now I am craving it!

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