How to make the best lemon drizzle cake

A classic dessert ideal for family parties

Photograph: Harry Weir

Photograph: Harry Weir

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Lemon drizzle cake is a classic, usually made in a loaf tin. The icing drizzled over the light, lemony sponge gives it a wonderful moistness. Moist sponges are especially useful when you want to make a cake ahead of time that will keep well.

Unfortunately some cakes are victims of their own success. Many popular cakes get reproduced en mass, so we stop noticing them or become wary of the varying quality, often sold at suspiciously low prices.

Lemons are one of my desert island ingredients, so I simply can’t resist a homemade lemon drizzle cake. I find this simple sponge tray bake is very useful when I want to create a large decorated cake for a family party.

The rectangular shape cooks evenly and the recipe can easily be doubled if you have two similar-sized trays which you can bake off as two sandwich layers. When it comes to celebration cakes, you’ll never have the same problem writing letters on top of a rectangular cake as you do with a round cake.

In this recipe, the lemon wheel garnish gives the cake more of a grown-up feel. It also provides an alternative topping if you want to reduce the amount of drizzle icing covering the cake – recipes are always open to interpretation in this way. Making the sunshine lemon wheels is easy. The lemon peel is tenderised and loses all its bitterness once poached in a sugar syrup. I am quite addicted to them so I always make a few extra. Though intrigued by the wheels, kids usually peel them off and leave them to one side (so more for you). The cake will serve more portions if you cut it into fingers and is great with a cup of tea.

Lemon drizzle cake

Serves 6
225g butter, room temperature
225g caster sugar
Zest of 1 large unwaxed lemon (reserve juice for icing)
1tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
250g self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
1tbsp boiling water

For the lemon-drizzle icing:
150g icing sugar
Juice of 1 lemon (reserved from above)
Lemon wheels
150g water
100g caster sugar
1 unwaxed lemon, cut into 2mm thin slices, remove pips

Method

Preheat oven to 160°C fan and line a 18cm x 28cm baking tin with parchment paper (this is quite a small rectangular size).

2 Using an electric whisk, cream together the butter and sugar until pale. Add in the lemon zest and vanilla. Gradually add in the eggs. 

3 Sieve the flour and baking powder together into a bowl then mix the sieved ingredients into the batter. Lastly, mix in the boiling water to loosen the consistency, if very stiff. 

Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and level with a spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until risen in the centre.  

5 Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before upturning the sponge on to a wire rack (when the sponge is turned over it has neater edges). 

6 To make the lemon icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and whisk in as much lemon juice as needed to give an opaque white colour but pouring consistency. Prick the warm sponge all over with a skewer and pour the icing over the top (place a sheet of clean parchment paper underneath the wire rack if you are worried about the icing spilling over the sides). 

7 Allow the icing to set for 30 minutes while you make the lemon wheels. Heat 150ml water and 100g caster sugar in a small saucepan, once simmering, add the 2mm sliced lemon wheels. Simmer for 15 mins (to maintain the bright sunny yellow colour remove them, before the syrup starts to caramelize and darken the slices). Pat the lemon wheels dry and use to decorate the top of the cake.

Variation
If you are doubling up the sponge cake recipe to make a large celebration cake, add lemon curd or buttercream icing between the layers. Frame the top with freshly whipped cream and lots of fresh berries.

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