This lemon loaf has a rich buttery crumb that melts in your mouth. To amp up the citrus flavor, lemons are used in two ways.
First, freshly grated zest gets massaged into the fats, which allows the citrus oils to disperse evenly within the batter, coating every crumb in a bright, aromatic lemon essence. Second, freshly squeezed juice is used to make a tart soaking syrup and buttery soft glaze, which offers a tangy acidity taste to balance the sweetness of the loaf cake's crumb.
Lemon zest is finely grated from a fresh lemon. The zest is highly concentrated with essential oils and, mixed with the butter and oil in the recipe, provides bright aromatic lemon flavors throughout the loaf. Be careful not to include the white pith underneath the colorful zest containing bitter-tasting compounds. Feel free to use any variety of lemon you like. Grocery store lemons (of the Eureka and Lisbon varieties) are very acidic. In contrast, Meyer lemons (not a “true” lemon) are sweeter with a less acidic juice.
White granulated sugar adds sweetness and moisture to the loaf cake. It’s also used during the initial steps to scrub the zest, which releases the oils into the cake batter.
Oil is for moisture. I like canola for this recipe, but vegetable or any other flavorless kind will work.
Unsalted butter provides flavor and moisture. I like to use unsalted butter in all my recipes because salted varieties contain varying amounts of salt. This could cause your baked goods to be overly salty based on the brand you buy.
Salt and Vanilla extract are added for flavor. I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, but if you use finer granules, use half the volume I have in my recipe.
Eggs provide structure, moisture, and color. Eggs are crazy expensive now, but if you have access to eggs with super orange yolks, this is the recipe to use them in. The color of this loaf is highly dependent on the yolk’s hue, but I used regular Target eggs in my video, and the loaf was still a pretty yellow.
Sour cream is the primary acidic ingredient for this cake. I intentionally didn’t use any citrus juice in my loaf cake, which was inconsistent with the rise and texture. It also didn’t add any flavor to the cake in the amounts allowable in the recipe. In its place, I use full-fat sour cream, a fermented dairy product containing lower acidity lactic acid. The sour cream, paired with the citrus zest in the batter, produces enough tanginess for a balanced citrus flavor.
Water provides moisture for the cake.
All-purpose flour (or plain flour) is used because I wanted a denser crumb that almost “shreds” when you cut into the soft loaf. You can use bleached or unbleached, and I always use unbleached in my recipes.
Baking powder is the leavener in this loaf. Upon heating, the acid and base contained within the powder react to form carbon dioxide gas, which expands air pockets and gives us a fluffy and aerated cake.
Step 1: Preheat oven.
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
Step 2: Prepare a loaf pan.
Prepare an 8-inch (also called a 1-lb) loaf pan by creating a parchment sling. Spray with baking spray.
Step 3: Extract citrus oils.
Finely zest lemons (3a). To a large mixing bowl, add the zest and white granulated sugar and massage to release the fragrant citrus oils (3b, c).
Add the oil, unsalted butter, salt, and vanilla extract (3d). Mix on high speed for about two minutes (3e).
Step 4: Add liquids:
Add the eggs and mix (4a). Then add the sour cream and mix (4b). Add the water and mix (4c).
Step 5: Add dry ingredients.
Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl (5a). Sift the flour mixture into the liquid batter in three additions, mixing after each addition until no visible flour remains (5b, c).
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan (5d).
Step 6: Bake loaf.
Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Step 7: While the cake is baking, make syrup.
Remove and slice the zest for a candied zest topping to garnish the loaf, optionally (7a). Make a syrup by adding the juice of lemons and sugar to a small saucepan (7b). Bring syrup to a boil and simmer for a few minutes (7c).
Step 8: Apply syrup/cool slightly.
Use the sling to remove the loaf from the pan and use a toothpick to poke some holes through the top and sides (8a).
Brush some syrup atop the loaf, including the sides (8b).
Step 9: Glaze loaf.
Prepare the glaze by mixing the powdered sugar and butter until all the butter is incorporated (9a). Add the reserved syrup (9b). Add extra liquid if necessary until the glaze runs off the spatula slowly (9c).
Pour the glaze atop the loaf and garnish with candied zest (9d).
These citrus loaves taste amazing over the next few days but make sure to store by wrapping tightly in plastic either at room temperature or in the fridge.
I have designed this recipe to not include any citrus juice in the batter, which can affect the loaf cake’s rise and texture based on the type of citrus you choose. You can use any citrus that you like or have access to. For example, I used Meyer lemons in my video below, which have a higher sugar content and lower acidity than grocery store lemons. (Typically, these are Lisbon or Eureka lemons.)
If you want to modify this recipe, I have some ideas below. I’ve categorized them as either:
If you’re interested in Elevated Modifications, such as adding mix-ins to this batter, check out this post for my Orange Blueberry Loaf with Orange Glaze.
If you’re interested in the more adventurous take on this recipe, check out my Grapefruit Olive Oil Loaf with Sour Cherry Swirl. It’s my favorite variation of this recipe. I’m almost ashamed to admit how many slices I can eat in one sitting. Almost.
Lemon Loaf Cake:
Lemon Soaking Syrup:
Buttery Lemon Glaze: