Lemon Vanilla Cake

This cake will keep you coming back for more, and it’s not just because it’s baked into a sunflower shape (although gimmicky shapes are enticing, aren’t they?).

This cake will grab you because it’s stunningly simple and pure.  Lemon and vanilla are classics, and neither one tries to one-up the other in this recipe.  They just exist confidently alongside one another in this fine-crumbed cake- swathed under a thin sheath of lemon glaze (LOOK at the little dried drippings of glaze on the bottom of the cake in the picture… can you see them?  Subtle yet there.  Waiting to be eaten and enjoyed.).  The Husband commented, after seeing the glaze-covered cake, that it looked like a cruller.  He’s right… the crust does look crispy in an almost fried sort of way… and I also must reconsider my vow to never ever get a deep-frier because I can’t possibly make a real cruller without a deep-frier.  (I wonder if I could bake a cruller?)

You so don’t have to make this cake in a flower-shaped pan.  The only reason I did is because I am cleaning out my baking closet and desperately want to get rid of stuff… so this pan was on my “just use the damned thing once and then you can get rid of it” list.  So there- I’ve used it, and now I can move it on out.  (Making room for more baking paraphernalia.  Oh dear.)

Enjoy this cake in its simplicity.  But if you must jazz it up, might I suggest a bit of Lemon Curd spooned overtop?  Or maybe a good vanilla ice cream is all you need.  That sounds pretty smashing to me, too.


Adapted from an epicurious’s recipe that I am sorry but I simply cannot source…


3 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 1/2 cups cake flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups vanilla-infused sugar*

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/3 cup buttermilk


1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice (freshly squeezed)

  1. Preheat oven to 325° and grease a patterned cake pan or Bundt-cake pan with shortening (use a pastry brush to get into crevasses), then sprinkle with flour and tap excess out into sink or garbage.  (You can also line 12 muffin tins with paper liners to make cupcakes.)
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest to blend.
  3. In another medium bowl, whisk cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until well blended, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl.  Gradually beat in egg mixture until well mixed.  Beat in dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions each, starting and ending with the flour mixture.
  5. Pour batter into pan or cupcake liners, and bake until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 40 minutes for the cake and 25 minutes for cupcakes.  Cool on a rack for 10 minutes then remove from pan.
  6. GLAZE: whisk confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice together until smooth, and brush over surface of cake (while still warm, ideally) with a pastry brush.  If using a patterned cake pan, keep glaze thin… if using a plain cake pan or cupcakes, you can add more sugar to thicken the glaze if you’d like.  Sprinkle candied lemon zest over top of glaze before it sets (optional- see instructions below).


  • *No vanilla sugar?  Of course not, I didn’t really expect you to have any on hand (although I have suggested this to you before- I’m jut saying).  Just use regular sugar, and if you’re feeling frisky, take about an inch of a real vanilla bean and scrape the seeds inside of the bean into your batter when you’re mixing the butter and sugar together.
  • How to make the vanilla-scented sugar so you never have to go without again: get a big ziploc bag, fill it with sugar, and throw in the remains of your used, scraped vanilla beans.  Just let the sugar live with the bean scraps, that’s it.  (The beans still smell amazing and have oils or whatever that will infuse the sugar… causing it to smell and taste a bit like vanilla.  In a really subtle way.)
  • Greasing a patterned cake pan is a specific thing.  I learned recently that the trick to preventing cake bits from sticking to the mold is to use shortening instead of butter (brush it on with a pastry brush), then sprinkle flour into the pan, allowing it to cover all of the crevasses, and then tap the flour out.  It worked really well for me with Mr. Sunflower above.
  • Candied lemon rind/ zest as a garnish is optional, but if you do want to do it…  in a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup of both water and sugar to a boil, and stir to dissolve sugar.  Add the zest of a lemon to the saucepan.  Simmer (so turn the heat down to medium-low) for 8 minutes, and then drain and dry with a paper towel before sprinkling a tablespoon of sugar over zest.  You can de-clump the zest when it’s dried… just sprinkle over top of cake.  Freeze any portions you don’t use in a little airtight ziploc.
  • This cake freezes like a champ.  Enjoy now… or later!

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