Famous Lemon Cake – Bake this All-Time Favourite Tea Cake

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A moist and tender lemon butter cake that’s refreshingly tangy with the citrus notes and flavours of lemon juices and grated lemon zest.
Lemon Cake

This is a moist and ultra delicious lemon cake. And it was made legendary by the late Lady Bird Johnson, wife of the 36th US President Lyndon Johnson.

Lady Bird Johnson was renowned for her entrepreneurship and business acumen, which extended into the legislative arena in American politics. But she was also famed for her prowess in the kitchen, and her lemon cake was legendary.

So I was intrigued, to say the least, to try this lemon cake recipe. It is after all, famous!

Lemon Cake

How I discovered this gem of a lemon cake recipe

Before I get into this moist and delicious lemon cake, let me share how chance brought me and this famous lemon cake together.

You see, my husband has an uncanny knack for picking out just about all the best books I’ve ever read, whatever the subject matter may be. 

When we were out walking the mall last week, he chanced upon this small cake book. It was the only copy of it’s kind left on display. The book was sadly looking a little worn for wear.

Understandably, there had been many a curious hand flipping through its pages. So much so, that it’s cover photo looked outdated, dull, and altogether uninspiring.

Now, if it had been me, I would have, in all certainty, not given it a second look or pause for thought. But for some reason, it stopped him in his tracks. He picked it up.

Glancing through the pages in a matter of seconds, he calls over to me and declares, “You have to get this book, you’ll love it!“.

While I had my doubts, I’ve come to learn to trust my husband’s instincts for sieving out really good material. So I knew this was probably a worthwhile consideration. Promptly, ten minutes later, I had this little book simply titled “Bundt Cookbook”, in my hands.

Produced in 2008 by Nordic Ware, a long established American company that makes the Nordic Ware brand of bundt bakeware pans, this book now takes its place in my burgeoning collection of recipe books.

Later that evening, with said book in hand, I realised just what a treasure trove of cake recipes this book is. Feeling excited to get started on some of these awe-inspiring recipes, this is the first from that little book. So this lemon cake’s for you, hubs!

List of ingredients for lemon cake

  • Good-quality butter
  • Lemon juice and grated lemon zest
  • Egg yolks from large-sized eggs
  • All-purpose or plain flour
  • Baking powder
  • Caster sugar
  • Milk
  • Vanilla extract (and lemon extract, if desired)
  • Salt
  • Confectioner’s sugar (for dusting, optional)

Baking pans

This lemon cake makes a gorgeous cake when baked in a bundt pan. But you can bake in a regular 9-inch (23-cm) pan or any pan that can hold 10 to 11 cups of batter.

Lemon Cake

You can also bake this as a loaf cake, and this batter makes enough for 2 lemon cake loaves.

A loaf pan measuring 8½ x 4½ x 2½ inch (21 x 11 x 6 cm) pan or equivalent that has a 6-cups capacity will work fine.

Half the recipe amount if you want to make just one loaf, otherwise you’ll need 2 loaf pans.

Though I haven’t tried it myself, a chiffon tube pan also would work well. Essentially, a pan with a loose or fixed funnel helps cakes heat through and bake more evenly.


A day after baking this cake, my girlfriend gave me a wonderful surprise. I was gifted with two gorgeous bundt pans! Baking in these bundt pans has me loving Nordic Ware’s beautiful, quality bake ware!

Why we’re hooked on this lemon cake

We’ve now made this famous lemon cake three times. And just to be sure the recipe is consistent, I had my non-baker girlfriend have a hand in the process the third time. The one and same who gifted me the beautiful bundt pans.

Let me tell you, between me, my girlfriend, and her mom, we ate a lot of lemon cake that week! Incredibly, we can’t get enough and are completely and utterly hooked on this scrumptious lemony cake!

Our verdict? Truly and undeniably, one of the best lemon cakes we’ve ever had!

About this recipe

You get lovely lemony and buttery flavours

  • Tart, lemony flavours come through beautifully without being too sweet. I think the lemony notes aren’t bold, and more of a nuanced taste that allows the buttery flavour to stand out as well. If you want to intensify the lemon flavour, you may wish to add lemon extract or lemon paste.
  • Refreshingly tangy and citrusy with loads of freshly grated lemon zest, to scintillate your taste buds in every bite.

This cake is even more gorgeous and delicious with a great frosting

  • This lemon cake bakes to a gorgeous and rich golden brown every time! Let’s face it! In fact, we love the crust because it’s where all that flavour is concentrated.
  • There’s no doubt that a lemon buttercream like this one will bring this lemon cake over the top! Which makes this a perfect celebration cake to make for special occasions, where an elegant cake should take centre stage and be the perfect dessert!

Moist and tender cake will keep you coming back for seconds!

  • This lemon cake is unexpectedly light, in spite of 8 egg yolks in there!
  • It’s moist and tender and slices cleanly. It’s not too crumbly that lots of bits fall off when you handle a slice. But it’s not heavy, dense or compact either. This lemon cake has a nice, even, in-between kind of delicate yet firm crumb texture.

Lady Bird Johnson’s lemon cake is an all-time classic

Given how baking science, methods, and equipment like ultra-powerful electric mixers, has advanced through the decades, it amazes me how this lemon cake has withstood the test of time and convention. Till today, it remains a favoured classic.

Lady Bird Johnson’s lemon cake indeed lives up to its fame and renown, and it’s no wonder that it enjoys wide popularity. Now, yet another new fan (me!) to add to its following.

Though I have no way of telling how close this recipe may be to the original one that Lady Bird Johnson used to make her lemon cakes, it is so delicious that I really couldn’t ask for a better recipe!

Here are more cakes to inspire your next bake:

Tried this recipe? Remember to share your pics on Instagram and tag @foodelicacy or #foodelicacy.

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Lemon Cake Featured Pinterest
Famous Lemon Cake

Famous Lemon Cake

Yield: 1 bundt cake (23-cm/9-inch)
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

A moist and tender lemon butter cake that's refreshingly tangy with the citrus notes and flavours of lemon juices and grated lemon zest.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1¼ cup caster sugar
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 2½ cups sifted plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • Some confectioner's sugar (optional) for dusting

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 160 deg C (325 deg F) with oven rack in the lower one-third of the oven. Lightly grease and flour a 10-cup capacity Bundt pan, or a 9-inch cake pan. Tap out the excess flour.
  2. Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed (speed 3 on a Kitchen Aid mixer). Beat until light and fluffy, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, sift the flour, then measure out 2 1/2 cups, keeping the rest. Then sift together the sifted flour, baking powder, and salt. Re-sift three times.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks with a hand whisk until light and lemon coloured. Blend into creamed butter mixture, using low speed (speed 2 to 3). Add the sifted ingredients in thirds, alternating with milk. Add vanilla extract, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes.
  5. Pour out into the prepared pan, and level the surface evenly around the pan. Tap the pan lightly a few times on the countertop to eliminate air pockets. Bake for 60 minutes,or until a metal or bamboo skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges free of sticky batter.
  6. Remove pan from oven and let cake cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes. Invert onto a cooling rack, and allow cake to cool completely. Sprinkle top with confectioner's sugar, if desired. Slice and serve as desired.

Did you make this recipe?

I’d love to see! Remember to share your pics on Instagram and tag @foodelicacy or #foodelicacy.

15 Comments

  1. Hi Poh Lin, thanks for pointing this out. I used unsalted butter and plain flour.

  2. Hi,

    What flour to use? And the butter use is salted or unsalted?

    Thank you

  3. Hi Mei, thank you so much! Where there’s a will, there’s a way! If you don’t have a mixer, it can be quite a bit of effort but if you don’t mind creaming butter by hand (it will give you a good workout!) then I’d say go for it. You could halve the recipe, makes a smaller cake but a lot more manageable. I’d love to know if you try it!?

  4. Wow your lemon cake looks soooo good! Would you recommend a novice baker without a mixer to try? Ha

  5. Thank u dear celia for ur reply…..

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