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I’ll admit that lemon loaf was not on my radar whatsoever until my lemon-loving neighbor brought me a slice of Alison Roman’s lemon tea cake. It’s no understatement to say that vibrantly hued, lemony, sugar-crusted loaf changed my life! (I now crave lemon loaf.) In the same way that people declared pound cake a perfect dessert for every occasion, I feel similarly that lemon cake is a slightly elevated dessert that’s both easy to make and crowd-pleasing.
I was curious to see if we’d have similar findings to the lemon poppyseed muffin bake off–i.e. the cake itself generally lacks lemon flavor unless in contact with the glaze. Read ahead to find out!
METHODOLOGY // RESULTS // FACTORS // ANALYSIS // RECOMMENDATIONS
- 41 total tasters
- All 9 recipes were baked the day of tasting
- All loaves were baked in parchment-lined baking pans
- Tasters ranked each cake on a scale from 0-10 for overall flavor, texture, and as a whole
- Ingredients were measured by weight according to the King Arthur website
- Gold Medal bleached all-purpose flour
- Kirkland unsalted butter
- Crisco butter-flavored shortening
- King Arthur cake flour
- Bob’s Red Mill baking powder and soda
- Chobani Greek yogurt
- Jell-O Lemon Instant Pudding Mix
- Daisy sour cream
- Diamond kosher salt
- Imperial granulated and powdered sugar
PARTNER NOTE: I’m delighted to be partnering with Imperial Sugar on this bake off as I’ve consistently used their consistent, high-quality pure cane sugar products throughout my bake offs. Imperial Sugar is non-GMO verified, allergen free and gluten-free!
For more sweet inspiration, you can visit Imperial Sugar to find more than 4,000 expert-tested recipes, free downloadable vintage cookbooks, sugar scrubs and bath products at the Sugar Spa, and lots of helpful guides on their blog. You can also check out their Pinterest, You Tube, Instagram for even more recipe inspiration!
How I Selected the Lemon Loaf Recipes
Here is a quick summary of each lemon loaf recipe that was tested along with its categorization by ingredient (mostly fat + dairy). I tried to include a cross-section of recipes that used different fats like oil, butter and shortening plus different types of dairy like sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk and milk. I also include the “Similar Recipes” column for reference in case you’ve made and loved a similar recipe!
For the nitty gritty details, you can also view my recipe spreadsheet (first tab has all the recipes I scraped).
|Displaced Housewife||Olive oil||Food.com|
|Smitten Kitchen||Oil + Greek yogurt + mascarpone||The Cookie Rookie|
|The Kitchn||Oil + sour cream||Benjamina Ebuehi, The Baking Chocolatess, Two Peas and Their Pod, Averie Bakes, The Country Cook, I Am Baker, Your Cup of Cake|
|Lil Luna||Oil + butter + Greek yogurt + instant lemon pudding mix||N/a|
|Divas Can Cook||Butter + butter flavored shortening + sour cream||N/a|
|Ina Garten||Butter + buttermilk||Alison Roman, Plated Cravings, Dorie Greenspan, Tasty|
|Handle the Heat||Butter + sour cream||Sally’s Baking Addiction|
|Simply Recipes||Butter + sour cream||N/a|
|Sugar Geek Show||Butter + buttermilk||LMLD, Life in the Lofthouse, Yellow Bliss Road|
Results for the Best Lemon Loaf Bake Off
Another bake off where my personal favorite aligned with the overall top voted loaf! Although the Lil Luna loaf does contain an ingredient that will probably keep me from making this loaf on the regular (see more below), it really was an exciting recipe find.
Here’s my regular reminder to please take this chart with a huge grain of salt as these experiments are conducted by a non-professional baker (me) with a small pool of tasters. In this particular case, the results are a bit skewed by incomplete data for Ina Garten due to me forgetting her loaf at home. So Ina’s ranking is based on the 12 tasters who did have a complete set to sample once we recovered the loaf.
- Fat: In our classic debate of oil vs. butter or both??* The verdict once again is that oil and butter (Lil Luna) just edged out the all-butter recipes (Smitten Kitchen, Ina, etc.). In this particular case, I think this is mostly due to the instant pudding mix in Lil Luna but I do suspect that my ideal lemon loaf recipe would be a mix of oil and butter because a common complaint of the all-butter recipes were that they were too dry. Displaced Housewife, an all-olive oil recipe, unfortunately was demoted for a heavy olive oil flavor instead of a lemon-forward recipe. But the recipe received a very competitive texture score, indicating that people do favor oil-based textures. (As I mention below, it’s a delicious loaf–just not one that most would classify as a classic lemon loaf.)
*At this point we know that shortening will never win, yet I keep including the odd recipe with shortening just to see. In this case, Divas did well as the only recipe with shortening…but I feel it was in SPITE of the shortening. More below.
- Lemon extract: The struggle with most lemon baked goods is getting more lemon flavor into the cake itself. (We know that lemony glazes are an easy crutch to jumpstart any baked good with lemon flavor.) I hate buying ingredients that I’ll rarely use again, so I was curious to see if the recipes that used lemon extract (Lil Luna, Divas Can Cook, Sugar Geek Show) proved worth it. Overall, Lil Luna and Divas did have a better lemon flavor than average, but Luna was compounded by the lemon pudding and Divas tasted slightly artificial. Sugar Geek Show still lacked a significant lemon flavor to the cake. Overall, I don’t think lemon extract is the key by itself and not necessary to buy to make a good lemon loaf.
- Instant lemon pudding: As opposed to lemon extract, this seemed to be a powerful differentiator that rocketed Lil Luna to first place. Instant pudding mix is mostly made up of starch, sugar and fumaric acid for tartness. The added starch and sugar makes it clear why Lil Luna’s texture was so much softer than other recipes, and I think the boost of artificial flavor really contributed to its lemony flavor as well. However, I don’t love buying processed ingredients when I bake. In the future, I’d like to test to see if I could achieve that instant lemon pudding flavor from scratch by using lemon emulsion and citric acid.
- Dairy: Most recipes included some kind of acidic dairy–either buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt or a combination of milk and sour cream that would achieve the same effect as buttermilk. Only Displaced Housewife and Simply Recipes omitted acidic dairy (though Simply Recipes did add lemon juice. In this instance, I don’t think the type of dairy really made a big difference (sour cream, yogurt, and buttermilk are somewhat interchangeable). But I think the presence of an acidic dairy is very important in lemon cake–not only for the slight tang to enhance any lemon flavor, but also to help tenderize the crumb.
- Flour: I was skeptical of Simply Recipe’s recommendation to use bread flour for a more structured loaf and better rise (shouldn’t we stick to cake flour for cake?). But I gave it a try to see what would happen against the cake flour recipe (Sugar Geek Show) and the all-purpose recipes (everyone else except Handle the Heat, which used half cake/half AP). Ultimately, while it had a nice rise, it was a much tougher loaf than the others. Displaced Housewife was an example of a cake that used AP and still got an exemplary rise. So my recommendation would be to stick with AP or cake flour, and don’t worry about the rise!
Analysis of the Best Lemon Loaf Recipes
Displaced Houswife: a very moist, delicious loaf with overpowering olive oil notes
Although I was a bit scared to throw in an olive oil lemon loaf into the mix, I was intrigued by Rebecca’s recipe for a number of reasons. Aside from the olive oil, she calls for resting the batter for a minimum of 30 minutes to help the flour absorb moisture and “allows the cake to bake up nice and puffy.” She also adds almond extract and lemon sugar (zest muddled into the sugar) to the cake along with a lemon syrup in addition to a lemon glaze on top.
This did indeed bake up with a beautiful rise and dreamily cracked dome. From all appearances, this would probably be my aesthetic winner. The texture was also incredibly moist with a nice open, even crumb. However–and this could totally be due to the olive oil I was using–I found the flavor to be almost entirely olive oil. I don’t know if I would have classified it as a lemon cake without the lemony glaze on top. It feels like an olive oil cake enhanced with lemon–delicious, but not what I was looking for in a lemon cake.
- So moist!! Yum. Wish there was more glaze but a really good cake. Is there olive oil? Very flavorful and balanced.
- Nice and moist, even at the edges. Is this a polenta cake? (My other guess is brown sugar.) Yum!! So delicious! So Italian! I do think that the corn flavor overpowers the lemon a bit, but maybe I’m biased because I’ve just eaten 3 actual lemon cakes. There’s also an interesting/complex nutty aftertaste to this one – maybe almond extract? I love what the corn does to the texture. It’s like if cornbread relaxed and became a cake. Also, this one has more of a soak than a glaze, which I think works nicely here to help tenderize the cake. So I guess we have the existential question now: Is this truly a lemon cake, or is it just a polenta cake with lemon in it? Regardless of what we call it, this was excellent – definitely one of my favorites.
- I can’t get enough of this one! Wow. Such a rich, complex depth of flavor and a beautiful springy but tender texture.
- The olive oil taste was very pronounced which was meh. I loved the texture of the cake though. Probably the best texture so far. It wasn’t necessarily a bad cake but I wouldn’t call it a lemon cake
- This was a delicious olive oil spice cake, would make and eat again, however could only taste lemon in the icing. Not “bright” like I want from a lemon cake. I didn’t love the more spongey texture of this one.
- I enjoyed the recipe but I’d be hard pressed to identify this as a lemon loaf vs a pound cake. This recipe had extremely faint lemon notes and was very butter-forward. It actually was a nice contrast to many of the other recipes since it was less sweet, but as a lemon loaf…it left a lemon-shaped void in my tastebuds.
- It was very dry and didn’t taste like lemon at all; olive oil aftertaste really overpowers any lemon
Sugar Geek Show: a dense, pound cake-y, slightly dry loaf with a very thin buttermilk glaze
Liz’s lemon buttermilk pound cake features butter and sugar creamed together, cake flour, buttermilk, and a little lemon extract in addition to lemon zest. Unlike traditional pound cake, this recipe adds both baking soda and powder for extra lift. The most interesting feature about this recipe was the use of buttermilk powder in the glaze. I actually went out and bought a whole bag before I realized that Liz offers a substitution of 2 tbsp buttermilk + 1/4 cup powdered sugar instead of the powder. Since I figured the grand majority of people don’t own buttermilk powder (and you use buttermilk in the cake anyway), I tested this recipe using the substitute.
The result? A crumb that lives up to the pound cake name with a thick, slightly dense, slightly spongy crumb. It felt slightly on the drier side which feels appropriate for pound cake, but I didn’t get much lemon flavor coming through. I also didn’t love the very thin glaze (I’m guessing the consistency is better if you actually use the powder). The tanginess from the buttermilk didn’t really come through in the glaze for me. This is another instance where I think working soft butter into the glaze isn’t worth the effort (I’d stick with a lemon juice + powdered sugar glaze). I liked the light lemon flavor from the cake itself, but this wasn’t a recipe I’d crave regularly.
- Bright lemon flavor – could definitely tell it is lemon which is great. I like the lighter glaze. The texture is a bit denser and leans more towards “loaf” than “cake” which I did enjoy
- Glaze is very zesty. Slightly dry, nice bite though. Very springy. Would like more lemon flavor
- Really dense cake, and it has a chew almost like a too-thick panna cotta. Also, this tastes much more of lemon flavoring than actual lemon. Maybe an extract is to blame? Or citric acid? The glaze has a nice flavor, and even though it’s not the texture you’d normally expect, it’s nice that it seems to be made with real sugar and it might actually be preferable to the thicker powdered-sugar glazes.
- Texture was nice if a tad too dry and a little spongy. Wish there was more glaze and more lemon flavor.
- Similar density to [Simply Recipes] but more moist which is better overall, however, the tightness of the crumb gives it a lot of chew in a bread-like way. Not much lemon flavor coming through in the cake but definitely noticeable in the glaze.
- Interesting thick crumb, almost reminded me of cornmeal (not really, I don’t think there was any in there but the texture was almost rough and a little crumbly), glaze was nonexistent almost, kinda eggy tasting but otherwise bland
Simply Recipes: a thick, dense and slightly bready lemon loaf that lacks sweetness unless covered with the crisp lemon glaze
Another lemon pound cake, this formula was overall very similar to Ina Garten’s ratios. However, the key differences were: the use of bread flour (the higher protein flour helps give more structure to the loaf and create a better rise), an extra egg yolk, slightly less flour and sugar, and sour cream swapped in for buttermilk. Like Ina, this recipe also uses a lemon syrup in addition to a lemon icing (thankfully, this icing adds a tablespoon of melted rather than softened butter.)
Ultimately, I could see the similarities between this loaf and Ina’s loaf. Both had a tighter, slightly firmer crumb that wasn’t super sweet or lemon-forward. Simply Recipes was definitely a little more structured, dense and bready, which I would attribute to the bread flour. There’s a light dairy-forward flavor that again isn’t super lemony, but the perfectly crisp and lemony glaze added good balance. Overall, an interesting crumb and slightly blander flavor that I wouldn’t crave.
- I think this cake is nice, but as far as a lemon loaf goes I would want this to be much more lemon-y. Most of the nice tart lemon flavor here came from the glaze, which is lovely.
- Buttery pound cake with a hint of lemon that comes through in the glaze!
- Beautiful looking slice, but fell a little flat in the lemon flavor. The icing really carried most of the flavor, but the loaf itself was a bit bland. The texture was nice though, very fluffy and cake-like texture
- Muffin-like. Not too sweet, a little dry. Icing has strong lemon flavor.
- Texture was too dry, strange sponginess. Not enough lemon flavor or flavor at all.
- Dry, spongey, feels light on a fat, very small and tight crumb which I don’t like as much. Light on lemon flavor.
Handle the Heat: a spongy, slightly coarse and very buttery lemon cake
Proportion-wise, Tessa’s recipe is very similar to the popular Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe except that it uses half cake, half all-purpose flour. However, technique-wise, it was quite different from most recipes which is why I decided to test it. First, it uses melted butter instead of the more common creamed butter. Tessa also calls for combining the wet ingredients in a food processor or blender (a step I didn’t see in any other recipe) before mixing into the dry ingredients.
This loaf was a rare example of when something is TOO buttery–I felt as though the butter flavor almost weighed down the flavor, muting any zest from the lemon. I do also think the method introduces potential for user error–I have a feeling I whipped the wet ingredients together too vigorously, causing the ingredients to incorporate too much air and creating a weirdly coarse, thick and crumbly crumb. While I’d like to note potential user error here, I also think the butter ratio was a bit excessive, lending a slightly greasy flavor to the loaf. As is probably clear by now, I tend to prefer brighter glazes that are moistened only with lemon juice (no need for cream). Next time, I might try Sally’s method before making this loaf again.
- Texture was great but the flavor wasn’t lemon forward
- Frosting was bomb! Cake was meh, not the best of the bunch. I liked how short the cake was. It allowed the frosting to be really the star.
- Honestly this could have just been a pound cake, I was getting barely any lemon from it. The flavor and texture were nice but just not lemony enough for it to hold a candle to some of the others
- Without the icing, loaf was a bit dry/tough, more bread like. Still good flavor of the lemon throughout the loaf despite texture w/o icing
- This one was quite dense and I think was too light on lemon flavor. It was overall just ok – the icing helped a bit but that didn’t have too much lemon flavor either
- Very dense and tight crumb. This had a light but muddled lemon flavor and was kind of buttery. I did not care for glaze, not sure if it had lemon extract in it or something
The Kitchn: an airy, springy, moist lemon cake with strong vanilla notes
A beautifully easy hand-mixed affair, this copycat Starbucks loaf from The Kitchn is an oil-based loaf enhanced with sour cream and lemon extract. It calls for rubbing the zest into the sugar for a fragrant lemon sugar and is generally a very straightforward recipe.
This loaf had a notably spongy crumb–simultaneously airy and springy, it was a good combination of being soft yet bouncy and moist. There was a subtle lemon flavor to the loaf but not overpowering. I thought the ratio of the icing (1.5 tablespoons lemon juice to 1 cup powdered sugar) was almost perfect for a zingy icing that coated the top perfectly, bringing flavor to the otherwise not lemony cake. I thought this was a good standalone lemon cake with good moisture (if a little too bouncy for my taste)–acceptable, but I’d make other recipes before returning to this.
- Surprising springy texture; seemed kind of mochi like when putting the fork into it. A nice bright lemon flavor comes through in both the cake and glaze which was appreciated. Sweet glaze but no metallic tang that some lemon flavored glazes and curds can develop.
- Spongy texture. Moist. Not enough lemon or flavor in general. Texture was kind of chewy. Not bad! But not my fav.
- Flavor was nice and light, but texture of the cake seemed a little rubbery to me. Still moist, but was different if that makes sense
- Strong starting flavor, but finishes weak, decent frosting with good contrast, bad bounce again
- Dense and flabby, and strangely a tiny bit gritty. The glaze is a very thick powdered sugar situation. Again, I like the thick glazes from the standpoint that they can hold more lemon flavor, but the downside is you have to wade through a layer of solidified powdered sugar, like eating the frosting of a day-old cupcake. Eating this cake is also a strange experience because the glaze is so much more lemony than the cake; when I get a bite without any glaze, it feels like a very different food.
- Oily, kind of rubbery, not lemony enough for the lemon club!!!
Ina Garten: a fluffy, slightly bland lemon cake with a zingy glaze
The recipe that seems most replicated across the internet, Ina’s recipe starts with the standard cake technique of creaming the butter and sugar before adding eggs, lemon zest, and then dry ingredients alternating with buttermilk. As an extra touch, she also calls for a lemon syrup (lemon juice boiled with sugar) that gets draped over the cakes before adding a lemon icing on top.
Although her recipe is nearly identical to the formative Alison Roman loaf (which is why I didn’t test it), I was surprised at how much her loaf differed from my memory of Alison’s tea cake. The interior was kind of a fluffy, almost shaggy cakey crumb. While tender, it wasn’t overly moist or very lemony-flavored (it was slightly bland). However, the icing is very lemony, and though it was so thick it was hard to mix at first, my ideal texture and flavor once draped over the cake. Overall, a solid inoffensive cake with a perfect glaze.
- Light and airy and almost melt in your mouth. Glaze feels overly sweet at first, but then it mellowed out and mixed nicely
- Buttery, preponderance of lemon beyond the shadow of the butter. Light airy crumb.
- Nice aroma, texture, icing was delicious. Soft and airy
- Reminded me of [Simply Recipes] but more flavorful. Soft, moist texture
- Unmemorable, really dry
Divas Can Cook: a moist, loose-crumbed, sweet lemon cake with a strong but slightly artificial lemon flavor
I chose Monique’s recipe partly because of the irresistible looking crumb in her photos, and partly because I was curious about the use of shortening. With a combination of butter and butter-flavored shortening, this recipe also adds a little bit of sour cream in addition to whole milk. It also calls for two teaspoons of lemon extract in addition to a teaspoon of vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons of lemon zest and some lemon juice.
Sure enough, the lemon flavor came through brightly in this sweet loaf, though there was a slight artificial lemon note that was reminiscent of a warhead. I also felt that the butter-flavored shortening added to the artificial flavor in a way I didn’t prefer. The crumb felt coarser than I wanted–a looser, kind of oily crumb that feels like it wants to be fine and tender but doesn’t quite achieve that texture. With equal amounts of melted butter and lemon juice and vanilla extract in this glaze, this glaze felt a little muted and sugary to me compared to the others. However, it works with the very lemon-forward cake (though I’d probably make it with all butter next time). A great choice for a lemon loaf that actually tastes lemony!
- Excellent! Love the vanilla and lemon flavors. Great moist crumb texture. The glaze is perfectly on the lighter side in terms of application (thickness, sweetness, and delicate flavor)
- The glaze is really nice on this one – super flavorful and bright. I liked how tender the crumb was. Still want more lemon flavor in the cake itself but this was overall tasty.
- The cake base was amazing and so moist, good balance. Could be more tart on icing, seemed heavy on vanilla
- Cake has a beautiful fluffy texture. The cake flavor is bright and citrusy, and it’s also fat-forward in a good way. Is it just butter, or something else too? Maybe I’m tasting the effects of sour cream or yogurt? I also wonder if this is cake flour, not AP flour, and that’s keeping it light. It’s so good! It tastes like a lemon creamsicle. The glaze has a little bit of a chemical aftertaste – not sure why. It’s also thin and not very lemony. I honestly would be perfectly content without any glaze on this cake at all. Flavor score: 5 for the glaze but 9 for the cake itself!
- This one has a more oily or eggy flavor that overwhelms the lemon flavor. The texture seemed a bit denser than recipe #1, but was still good
Smitten Kitchen: a rich, dense and moist lemon cake with salty highlights and light lemon flavor
Although this recipe is technically an Italian tea cake that gets baked in a tube pan, I felt it was worth making an exception for. Why? Because Deb found it a worthy alternative to Ina Garten’s very popular lemon pound cake. She notes that this cake uses oil instead of butter, slightly more sugar, mascarpone and yogurt instead of buttermilk, and less lemon than Ina’s recipe–and the result stopped her in her tracks.
While I don’t think I achieved the same level of deeply bronzed crust, we still got an excellent crust with a very tender, moist and plush interior. I did find the flavor notably salty (which I loved, but you could definitely afford to cut down the salt if needed). The flavor was beautifully lemony where the glaze sinks in even without the lemon syrup that Ina calls for. Personally, I also preferred this cake over Ina’s, though I would stick with Ina’s glaze recipe (I don’t think the corn syrup added anything special to this glaze). It’s a stunner, and I’ve already made it again as a loaf, though I can’t wait to try it in a tube!
- Okay so far, I’m thinking this might be my new go-to lemon cake recipe. This has a lot of great lemon flavor, the texture is wonderful, it’s perfectly moist and the crumb is superb. Absolutely would eat again.
- Favorite so far! Very buttery and delicious, love the texture and the glaze was good and improved the excellent crust rim. Not sure if I would say, LEMON, but I loved it
- The texture is really good! My favorite out of all the samples. It had an open light crumb. I wish there was a stronger lemon flavor then it would’ve been perfect. Maybe pair this cake with the icing from [Simply Recipes]
- Best cake out of all of them, had the strong lemon taste I was looking for, texture was soft but not too moist or dry and taste was just sweet enough
- Wish there was a bit more lemon, but overall a nice classic flavor and loaf cake texture. Could be sweeter and more tart. This is what I expect a lemon loaf cake to taste like.
- I’m getting a little baking soda flavor poking through – this one feels like it could use a little bit more acid (it could also use more lemon flavor, presenting one potential solution). Can we talk about something though? I feel like a few of these cakes, this one among them, are trying to be “the Starbucks lemon loaf!!” And I’ll be honest with you: I don’t think the Starbucks lemon loaf is good! It’s too dense, the icing tastes cheap, and it has to be rescued by a coffee pairing. Compare their lemon loaf to, say, Tartine Bakery’s lemon poppy seed tea cake, a beautifully-textured fluffy marvel. Anyway, this one tastes more like a Starbucks than a Tartine. I will say though, I do like how lemon-forward the glaze is. It’s one of the only ones where I really get a juicy sour jolt from the glaze, instead of just a general brightness.
Lil Luna: a brilliantly yellow, moist and tender cake full of lemon flavor
Advertised as a “better-than-Starbucks” loaf, Kristyn uses an interesting combination of oil and just a little bit of softened butter in her recipe. She also adds a decent amount of Greek yogurt, lemon extract AND fresh lemon juice and–in the most unusual and controversial of ingredients–adds instant lemon pudding mix to the dry ingredients. The glaze was also unusual with added butter and lemon extract in addition to the typical powdered sugar and lemon juice.
While I generally like to bake from scratch without ingredients like instant pudding mix, I was extremely curious to see how this would affect the flavor and texture. And it was AMAZING! The flavor was deeply lemony compared to all other loaves and the artificial coloring in the pudding mix lent an appealingly vibrant yellow tint. The texture was also very tender and moist–almost squishy, but in the best way. The icing was also zingy with lemon flavor–I hated using the mixer to cream such a small amount of butter for the icing (honestly would not repeat) but I think adding lemon extract to the frosting definitely helped boost the lemon flavor. Purists may prefer just lemon juice and powdered sugar, which I think is just as good. Overall, I think the moist and soft texture is easily achievable with other recipes. But I’ll be thinking long and hard about how to achieve the deeply lemon-y flavor from scratch.
- This is an ideal lemon loaf cake. Perfect texture, rich moist cake and a lemon flavor that comes through. The glaze (applied to all sides) just sweetens (and sours) the deal. What a winner!
- YES THIS IS THE ONE. Amazing. I was starting to question whether I really like lemon cake at all, and then I tried this, which I think is exactly what lemon cake should be. Super lemony citrus bomb flavor. Pushing the upper limit of moisture while still holding together, all without being too dense. A clear standout.
- This was my absolute favorite lemon loaf. It had great flavor balance (not too sweet) and the texture was divine. Apparently my ideal lemon loaf is sticky on my fingers and has a sticky mouthfeel. There was just something so satisfying about this loaf!
- Very very moist almost pudding like. Good lemon and vanilla flavor. Could use more lemon in the cake but glaze is very lemony.
- Very strong lemon taste and very moist texture! A little stodgy at the end where it stuck to my teeth. This flavor was combined with [Smitten Kitchen’s] texture would’ve made the perfect lemon loaf cake for me.
- Super moist..almost too moist? I feel like I almost lost the crumb on this one because it was so dense, kind of turned to pudding-ish texture in my mouth. Lovely bright lemon flavor in the glaze, but the loaf itself surprised me by not being as lemony as it looked. Something about that bright color made me expect a more flavorful bite.
- Very strong lemon flavor and looked very yellow. It was sweet and a bit too moist. I would eat it again but I feel like it would not be suited to eat a lot of in one sitting
- Too soft, mushy, oily. Needed more lemon! Overall impression is one of oiliness.
Tips for Making the Best Lemon Loaf
- Lemon flavor: Let’s all say it together: LEMON JUICE DOESN’T ADD LEMON FLAVOR (when added to the cake). Instead, try adding more zest, lemon extract, or a lemon soak.
- Room temperature ingredients: As always when making a cake, it’s best to use room temperature ingredients to help the ingredients emulsify smoothly and for a better rise.
- Yellow color: If you’d like the appealingly bright yellow color from Lil Luna without the artificial ingredients, take a note from Alison Roman’s book and use 1/4 tsp turmeric! (I promise you can’t taste it.)
- The best lemon glaze: While we are still searching for a sufficiently lemony cake base, I’ll advocate for a sharp but perfect lemon glaze for whatever cake you decide to make: 1 cup powdered sugar + 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice. It’ll seem thick, but trust. It’ll whip up into a perfectly thick and tangy frosting that hugs your loaf perfectly.
Lemon Loaf Recommendations
Erika’s picks: Lil Luna, Smitten Kitchen
Best lemon flavor: Lil Luna, Divas Can Cook
Best classic loaf: Ina Garten, Smitten Kitchen
Best moist lemon loaf: Lil Luna, Divas Can Cook, The Kitchn
A rich showstopper: Smitten Kitchen
Easiest to make: Displaced Housewife
It was soooo interesting to read your summary. Especially because I just saw Bon Appetit’s recipe that uses turmeric and a paste of preserved lemons! I’ll try that and smitten kitchen’s. Can’t even think of using lemon pudding mix. Thanks for all the work! And let me know if you need help for any Bay Area bake-offs. Happy to help assemble samples or whatever you need. I met you at pickup for pound cake tasting – former Sunset kitchen recipe tester. 😍
Thanks for doing this because I love lemon loaves/cakes! I’m happy for the comparisons to Starbucks (even though the tasters may not like it) because I am a big fan of Starbucks lemon loaf.
i like the smitten ones cake it is bit salty and yum with lemon in the cake
Thank you Erika, for doing these bakeoffs and the hard work that goes into them.You saved me so much time in the kitchen and a lot of headaches. I’ve always struggled with baking and even more so in picking a good recipe because there are so many out there. It’s hard to figure out what’s going to work or not.
Could you move up the QuickLinks at the top of the pages and provide a clearer conclusion on the top results? Some of the bakeoffs have it, others don’t, and some links didn’t direct to the correct section.
It’s interesting that both the Little Luna and Smitten Kitchen recipes both have completely different unusual ingredients in them. I happen to have mascarpone, so I guess I know which one I’m trying! I think my favorite casual lemon cake is from Shauna Sever’s Midwest Made book; she also compares it to Starbuck’s.
Also, how did the Alison Roman recipe compare to the ones in the bake off?
I have the same question!