Lemon-lovers, this is for you! A celebration of effervescent citrus, through and through – from the glistening glaze to the very last, sunny-yellow crumbs. Infused with a liberal amount of freshly grated zest, this cheerful cake sparkles with the perkiness of lemon and has a superb balance of sweetness and tang.
Is there anything better to lift us out of the depths of winter than a cheerful, sunny, little lemon cake? If you’re still recovering from all the buttery indulgences from the holidays, not to worry. Greek yogurt and avocado oil replace butter for a ‘healthified’ version that results in a lighter, perfectly moist cake with the bonus of a little extra protein.
I can tell you’re probably reading the relatively benign title and asking, “What makes this lemon cake different from all the others, Gayle?”
Well, let me tell you 🙂
First, let’s talk about how many times I’ve purchased slices of coffee shop lemon cake for my kids, only to watch them eat JUST the portion in direct contact with the icing, leaving the crumbled, dry, pretty much flavorless cake behind.
Life is too short for sad lemon cakes.
I’ve tried other recipes over the years, and while yes, homemade is better than the coffee shop slices (most of which I’m convinced use extract, not fresh lemon), the results were tasty but still relied on the glaze or additional sugar syrup to boost the overall flavor of the cake itself.
I really wanted to find a similar style cake that had a juicy, lemon flavor all the way through, so that every bite was as delightful as the first. My criteria for this cake came down to four points:
• Excellent lemon flavor throughout the entire cake, not just the glazed portion.
• Volume in the rise to create a satisfying, golden-crowned top.
• A light, moist crumb, flecked with zest that holds together well when sliced.
• Must use an entire cup of Greek yogurt. (We always seem to have containers of Greek yogurt on the brink of expiration, so I personally appreciate recipes that help me use it up quickly.)
I started tinkering around with a recipe last year, but success eluded me. Not enough lemon flavor, despite plenty of fresh lemon juice in the batter, and I couldn’t get the cake to cook through properly without collapsing. I didn’t have a clue how to get it right, so I gave up.
The lemon cravings kicked in again a couple of weeks ago and so I put call out to my foodie peeps on Instagram, requesting a great lemon cake recipe. My girl, Shahla was the first to point me to her recipe for a lovely lemon tea cake on her blog, and I could tell right away it was going to be delicious.
Not simply a suggestion of lemon, Shahla’s cake is deliberately enriched with two tablespoons of zest, which, I discovered, is far more successful in conveying the brilliance of lemon in a baked treat than the juice. There’s something about prolonged heat that significantly diminishes the flavor of juice alone, so take my advice and save it for your morning lemon water.
In addition to the quantity of zest, taking the time to massage it into the granulated sugar releases more of the flavorful oils, and is a step that is essential to maximizing the essence of lemon.
The flavor of Shahla’s cake is exactly what I was looking for: distinct lemony-ness in every bite.
Since her version is more of a pound cake density, I decided to pursue my intentions of a lofty snack cake and finally arrived, after no less than seven rounds of testing. Yes, I went down a rabbit hole, friends, but my tenacity paid off with this one.
After more than two dozen eggs, over thirty lemons, four tubs of yogurt, and with all of my heart, I hope you find this cake as scrumptious as we do; delivering on the promise of consummate lemon flavor in a downright delicious package.
If you do make this one, PLEASE come back and tell us all about it! I put significantly more effort into these recipes than I do search engine optimization 😉 so, if you love it, a star rating and a review helps others find it too!
Lemon Yogurt Snack Cake
- Standard Loaf Pan (9×5")
- Cooling Rack
- 3 bowls (1 large, 2 medium)
- Parchment paper
For the cake
- 5 lemons
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup thick, full-fat Greek yogurt
- ½ cup avocado oil (grapeseed or any neutral-flavored oil will work)
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
For the glaze
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2-3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 tsp lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
- Ensure your oven rack is in the center setting, and preheat to 325ºF. Grease the inside ends of the loaf pan, then line it with a strip of parchment paper, wide enough to cover the majority of the length of the pan, and up both long sides, with about an inch or two overhanging to act as handles.
- In a large bowl, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir with a whisk to thoroughly mix the dry ingredients. Set aside while you mix the wet ingredients.
- Finely zest the lemons with a microplane directly into a medium bowl with a wide enough opening to capture the mist of oils released as the citrus is zested.Reserve 2 tsp of zest to use for the glaze, then measure the remaining zest and ensure you have at least 2 tablespoons. A little extra is completely fine, but less and your cake will lack in flavor.Measure the sugar and pour it into the bowl with the zest. With your fingers, "massage" the sugar and zest together for at least 1 minute so that the oils are released and the mixture smells incredible. Add the eggs and whisk until uniform; then add the yogurt, oil, lemon juice, and vanilla, and stir with the whisk until thoroughly combined.
- Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir well with a spatula until relatively smooth. You'll still see small lumps in the batter, mostly due to the lemon zest. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and tap firmly on your countertop 2-3 times to expel any large air bubbles.
- Place the pan into the oven and set a timer for 50 minutes. When the timer rings, check for signs of uneven baking and, if necessary, carefully rotate the pan 180º.Bake for another 10 minutes, then check for doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf. It should come out clean with just a couple moist crumbs clinging on. If the toothpick comes out with wet batter, continue to bake in 5-minute intervals until done.Remove from the oven and set the pan on a cooling rack.
- Make the glaze by measuring the powdered sugar into a medium bowl. Add the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons at first and stir until completely blended. Add more lemon juice if you wish – I find 3 tablespoons to be the magic number, but if you like a thinner/thicker glaze, adjust accordingly. When you have the consistency you like, stir through the reserved 2 tsp of lemon zest.
- Pour about half of the glaze over the still-hot cake, focusing on the fissure running down the center to allow the glaze to seep in. You may want to use a small spoon to coax any glaze that pools in the corners of the pan back up onto the top of the loaf.Allow the loaf to cool completely, drizzle the remaining glaze over the loaf, distributing it evenly with the back of a spoon. Let sit until the glaze is dry then run a knife around the edge of the pan.
- Using the parchment as handles, lift the loaf out of the pan and onto a board for slicing. Enjoy!
Seriously, thanks for reading my lemon cake ramblings, and if you make this beauty don’t be shy! Drop a comment below and share your creation on Instagram. Don’t forget to tag #myfamilyfoodlife!