The New Classic: Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake

A life without cake isn’t one worth living. Sorry clean eaters and strict dieters.

I knew that when this long weekend that’s just passed came up that I was going to make a cake, irregardless of how poor I currently am (or that I’d just finished a Delia marmalade cake which I managed to burn the sugar top but still tasted good). I simply reached for the nearest cookbook (which just happened to be in my room instead of the bookshelf), which happened to be Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess, and just flicked through the cake chapter until I found one that I had everything in for or at least could make substitutions. A couple were considered but I decided that I hadn’t made or eaten a lemon cake in a long time.

Now for the ultimate making a virtue out of necessity – I had no granulated or caster sugar in, I’ve been working my way through a bag of preserving sugar (it’s just white sugar but with larger crystals) from abandoned jam-making plans  – using it in recipes that call for demerara for crunch etc, so I decided to blitz it in the blender until it was ground fine enough to bake with. Sugar is sugar and why go to the shop when I could just spend a few minutes running the blender?  If you aren’t a skinflint and do have granulated sugar handy, no need for this. I’m just writing what I did! And it worked, though when initially creaming it with the fat, there was still a bit of grit going on. Undetectable in the finished cake. I had just enough icing sugar buried in the cupboard to make the 100g for the syrup.

I also used plain flour with baking powder in lieu of the self raising flour (HANDY TIP! If you also have no SR flour in, add 2 tsp of baking powder to every 150g plain flour instead!), and Waitrose’s essential Olive Spread (they seem to have stopped selling essential sunflower but the olive is only £1.10 a tub so not that much more expensive) instead of butter – it said suitable for baking on the tub, so no issue. It’s important you check this as not all spreads can be used in baking as especially the ‘light’ ones will contain a lot of water. Recipe also stated large eggs, I had mixed sizes as they’re cheapest, and again, didn’t need extra liquid.

I’d say use a deeper 2lb loaf tin than I did, as I had a slight eruption of batter (luckily I had a baking tray directly underneath the tin so I ended up with a single lemony rock bun in addition to the loaf), and the lemons I had were cheap small ones that didn’t zest well so I used the zest of two, but kept to the 1.5 listed for the syrup as they still gave a hell of a lot of juice.

This cake might not be massively voluminous but is still incredibly light and citrussy – frankly it is just what you need. Unpretentious, but heavy with sharp lemon without being overwhelming – I suppose it is just a lemon drizzle cake in all but name, without the un-necessary icing.  I call this an adaptation rather than my own recipe. It’s cake. It’ll make the world feel like a safer place when you eat it.

Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake


For the cake:
125g olive spread  – or indeed any spread you like, just make sure it says ‘suitable for baking’ on the tub.

175g preserving sugar, ground as finely as you can in the blender – or granulated/caster.

2 eggs

Zest 1 regular lemon or 2 smaller, older ones (as I had)

175g plain flour

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt

4 tbsp milk

For the syrup:
Juice 1 1/2 lemons (about 4 tbsp/half a cup – 60ml)

100g icing sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/gas 4/160C fan; grease and line a 2lb/900g loaf tin with a sheet of baking parchment, leaving it hanging over the sides to make it easier to lift out later.
  2. Cream the olive spread and the ground-down sugar, for at least 5 minutes (a tip I picked up off The Kitchn or Food 52 ages ago), the sugar will still have some grit but don’t worry about it – if you used ordinary sugar, then obviously ignore what I just said as you’ll have no need to worry.
  3. Add in the eggs and lemon zest, beating them in well.
  4. Mix the baking powder and salt into the flour before adding gradually to the mix, folding gently but thoroughly, and then finally, the milk.
  5. Spoon and scrape into the prepared tin and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden and risen (It’ll sink a little on cooling) and a cake tester comes out clean.
  6. Whilst the cake is baking, get on with the syrup – place the icing sugar and lemon juice into a small and heat gently until the sugar is fully dissolved.
  7. As soon as the cake is out of the oven, puncture the top of it numerous times with your cake testing implement. Pour over the syrup, making sure to let the middle get a good dose of it as well as the drier edges, and leave to soak in. Make sure you absolutely douse it and use every last bit of the syrup! Don’t even TRY to take it out of the tin until it is completely cold, as it’ll be sodden with syrup and will crumble apart.

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