BURSTING with fresh lemon flavor in every bite, this iced lemon loaf with lemon flavored icing is bakery level goooood. This loaf has that classic buttery richness and density that pound cake is famous for but it does NOT sacrifice on tenderness and softness!
This recipe is adapted from my classic sour cream pound cake (with just about the same ingredients and measurements), but it also borrows some features from Of Batter and Dough blog's classic pound cake recipe.
We're using 2 main features from Of Batter and Dough's recipe to make this the best lemon loaf: 1) including an additional 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to make the cake more moist and tender, and 2) using the reverse creaming method to make the batter!
And let me say: pound cake made with a touch of oil and reverse creaming? GAME CHANGERS - but I'll go into more detail on that below!
how to bring out the most lemony flavor
There's a little added step in this recipe that helps make all the difference in terms of lemon flavor (and it's the same strategy I use in my lemon poppy seed loaf! This loaf cake is combining a whole lot of recipes!)
It seems so insignificant, but step one involves combining the sugar and lemon zest and using your fingers to rub them together. The friction will bruise the zest - which sounds bad, but it actually brings out the natural oil in the lemon! This imparts a stronger lemon flavor to the loaf.
what is reverse creaming?
Reverse creaming is honestly one of my favorite methods for making any heavy butter based cake (I use it in my cinnamon roll gooey butter cake!) While traditional cake recipes usually start with creaming together butter and sugar together, the reverse creaming method involves cutting the butter into the dry ingredients, and then adding the remaining wet ingredients on top.
In fancy terms: reverse creaming allows the butter to coat the flour, which ultimately slows the development of gluten. If you've made cakes before, you may have heard recipe creators advise you "not to overmix or it will overwork the gluten in the cake." Overworked gluten is what leads to dense, dry, and sometimes rubbery cakes.
With reverse creaming, you have a more dense yet tender bakery-style cake - perfect for a pound cake! It's a wonderful method for beginners because there's a million and one less ways it could go wrong, and it's a great method for seasoned bakers because it's quick and leads to much more consistent results!
lemon pound cake with baking powder
Pound cakes are traditionally made without baking powder. That being said, I've never found homemade pound cake made without baking powder to yield consistent results. Without baking powder, the cake would need a VERY particular amount of mixing and if it's off by the smallest amount, the cake can be dense, taste eggy, and concave in the center.
So I personally always like adding baking powder to my pound cakes.
While I usually also like including baking soda in my cake recipes when I can, I don't include it in this one for 2 reasons:
1) I tried making a lemon cake WITH baking soda, and ended up adding a wee bit too much - and as baking soda and lemon juice do, they volcano-d. In my oven. Onto the oven floor. And made a mess. Such fun. Soooo we're not trying that again.
And... 2) I find pound cakes really don't need double leaveners. The baking powder is enough to give it lift but still maintain that classic density that pound cakes are famous for!
how to grate lemon zest
Although box graters have a side that's specifically designed for zesting, I honestly kind of hate using it. I find it a bit difficult to use and it's a nightmare to wash! I prefer to grate lemon zest on the fine shredder side.
When grating your zest, there's not much to it. The only thing to keep in mind is to avoid shredding too deep into the lemon - the white underlayer of the skin is bitter and can ruin the flavor of your loaf cake.
how to make iced lemon loaf
1. Rub together the sugar and lemon zest.
2. Add dry ingredients and butter.
3. Cut together until the butter pieces are as fine as you can get them. Although most cakes made with reverse creaming will have a drier butter / flour mix, since this is such a butter heavy cake, you're mixture will come out quite soft and sticky - kind of like a cookie dough.
4. Whisk together wet ingredients in a separate bowl.
5. Combine wet and dry ingredients. You want to add in and whisk the wet ingredients gradually (in 3 additions) otherwise the batter may separate or the butter won't properly incorporate. You can see in the bottom right photo below what the mixture looks like after whisking in the first ⅓ of the wet ingredients. It'll be very thick and pasty.
The bottom left photo shows you what the batter looks like after whisking in the final third of the wet ingredients. The batter will initially look a little grainy and separated, so it's important to continue whisking until it's smooth and velvety like the bottom right photo.
6. Spread into a loaf pan and bake! Once baked, cool the loaf for about 1 hour in the pan then pull out and cool on a wire rack until room temperature.
7. Whisk together icing ingredients to combine. Drizzle the icing on top of your loaf. You can serve the loaf right away (although the icing will be runny and messy) or wait until the icing crusts over and sets for cleaner slices!
Keep your lemon loaf covered tightly with plastic wrap - the less air it's exposed to, the longer it will keep! This cake can be stored for about 4 days at room temperature or up to 1 week in the fridge.
check out these other recipes!
Iced Lemon Loaf Recipe
For the lemon loaf:
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest (about 2 lemons worth)
- 1 & ½ cups (180g) all-purpose flour, spoon and leveled
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks / 225g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ¼ cup (60mL) milk
For the lemon icing:
- 1 cup (130g) powdered sugar
- 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Make the lemon loaf cake:
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease an 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pan and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. Leave a bit of extra parchment hanging over the sides of the pan to make it easier to pull the baked loaf out later.
- In a large bowl, combine sugar and lemon zest. Rub together with your fingers to bring out the oil in the zest (for extra lemony flavor!)1 cup (200g) granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
- Add flour, baking powder, salt and butter over the lemon sugar. Mash together using a fork, pastry cutter, or your hands until the butter pieces are as small as you can get them. The mixture will be soft and sticky (kind of like a cookie dough) - see above post for visual.1 & ½ cups (180g) all-purpose flour,, 1 teaspoon baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt, 1 cup (2 sticks / 225g) unsalted butter,
- In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, lemon juice, vanilla, and milk. Gradually pour this mixture into the butter mix in 3 additions, whisking well between each one.3 large eggs,, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, ¼ cup (60mL) milk
- Once combined, give the batter a final whisk until it no longer looks grainy. A few clumps are fine - but the batter should otherwise be smooth and velvety (see above for visual). Take care not to overmix!
- Pour the batter into your prepared pan and spread into an even layer. Bake in the center of your preheated 350°F oven for 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. If you notice the top browning too quickly, loosely tent the loaf with aluminum foil to slow the browning down and allow the center to bake through.
- Cool the loaf for 1 hour in the pan, then pull out and transfer to a wire rack. Set aside to cool completely.
Make the lemon icing:
- In a medium bowl, whisk together powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice until smooth and combined. If needed, whisk in more lemon juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency.1 cup (130g) powdered sugar, 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Pour the icing over your cooled loaf. Serve right away (although it will be messy!) or wait for the icing to set for cleaner slices!