Lemon Cake for birthdays

It was Neil’s birthday yesterday, and chef Michael was preparing the feast for all the lab group. I volunteered for the dessert, and immediately thought of the lemon cake of my father. It is such a cool recipe, cooking the aromatic rind in a rich cake, then dripping the juice in after the cake has baked but is still warm. That way you get real lemon flavor without the metallic taste of cooked lemon juice.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour 2 nine inch round cake pans, or use some of that handy baking parchment they use in Denmark in the bottom. If you use the paper, round tins are a pain. I bet it would work with square tins, or even a single layer lasagna pan.


2 1/2 cups white flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks or half pound) butter (if hard microwave for 30 seconds avoid melting)

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 eggs

grated rind of two lemons (I used three because I wanted lots of the lemon flavor)

1 cup milk


½ cup fresh lemon juice

¾ cup sugar


Confectioners sugar to dust over top

COMBINE two glaze ingredients and let sit so the sugar mostly dissolves.

BEAT the butter with an electric mixer (necessary for good cakes) until it is lighter colored, about 3 minutes.

ADD the sugar and beat some more.

ADD the eggs one at a time, beating continuously.

ADD lemon rind.

COMBINE flour, baking powder, and salt in another bowl.

ALTERNATE adding flour mixture and milk to the butter/sugar mixture in two batches.

Scrape heavy batter into the two cake pans and bake about 45 minutes (test by putting a knife, or a toothpick or something into the cake and seeing if it comes out clean).

DRIZZLE the glaze into the hot cake taking care to get the edges and the middle.

When cake is cool, put one layer on top of the other on a plate. Put some confectioner’s sugar in a sieve and shake it over the top of the cake so it turns white.


Well, I have to confess, I did not do all those separate beatings, and I did not use a second bowl just to mix the flour, salt and baking powder. I did mix it a long time. We had raspberries, Neil’s favorite fruit, and whipped cream, to go with it. Michael added a sprig of mint, which was a brilliant addition, the minty oils contrasting with the lemony ones. I’ll have to always serve it that way!


Lemon zest.


Beat the butter.


Thick dough.


Just baked.


Neil’s birthday, and a feast of many courses cooked by chef Michael Douglas at the head of the table.


Before the mint.


Perfect flavors.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Recipes. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Lemon Cake for birthdays

  1. Neil says:

    It was a great cake! Thanks Joan. It’s not a proper birthday without a good cake.

    You didn’t mention that the blowing out of 34 candles can cause a bit of a mess with that confectioners’ sugar!

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