This easy lemon semolina cake is a perfect treat for all the citrus lovers out there. With incredibly soft and tender crumb, zesty and fragrant fresh lemon flavour and beautiful appearance, this cake ticks all of the boxes!
Semolina gives this bake a very unique, light and crumbly texture, and together with heaps of the simple lemon syrup, allows the cake to stay moist for days! It is simple and quick to whip up, making it an ideal every day tea time snack.
This recipe is very similar to my Blood Orange Semolina Cakes recipe but we are using lemons instead of oranges (that said, both work great in this recipe). If you prefer a more traditional citrus bake, without the semolina, you may like this Zesty Lemon Cake recipe or my Small Batch Lemon Drizzle recipe.
The sweetness of the sugar syrup balances really well with the topping of Greek yoghurt, but you can also enjoy this cake plain, without the topping. Either way, it will be delicious!
Here's what you will need to make this lemon semolina cake:
- Self-raising flour (you can also use plain flour, see 'Substitutions' or recipe notes for the instructions).
- Lemons (zest and juice).
- Pistachios (optional).
- Yoghurt (optional).
To make the lemon syrup:
- Lemon juice
Watch the video in the recipe card to see how I made this cake.
To make this easy semolina cake, start by mixing the flour, semolina and a pinch of salt together in a medium bowl.
In a small jug or a bowl, stir the lemon juice with finely grated lemon zest and vanilla.
Next, using the hand-held electric mixer o the freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the softened butter and sugar together, until you have pale and fluffy mixture. This should take about 2-3 minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition, and scraping the bowl when needed.
Hint: Don't worry if your mixture splits or curdles a bit at this stage. It will all come together just fine at the end.
Tip half of the flour and semolina mixture into the sugar mixture, followed by half of the lemon juice. Fold gently to combine, then add the remaining flour and lemon juice and fold again until just combined.
Transfer the cake batter into the prepared baking tin and smooth the top with offset spatula or the back of a spoon and bake for 40- 45 minutes. Allow the cake to cool completely, before drizzling it with the simple syrup and topping it up with yoghurt (optional).
Hint: When making the lemon sugar syrup, allow it to cool down to room temperature, and pour it over cool cake. Allow the syrup to absorb into the cake for about 30 minutes, then proceed to topping it up with yoghurt and pistachios (if using).
- Self-raising flour - Swap it for plain / all purpose flour (same amount), but add 1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder to the dry ingredients.
- Semolina - You can use fine or coarse semolina in this recipe. If using coarse semolina, which is more gritty, you may want to use the blender to grind it ever so slightly into finer texture.
- Lemons - Feel free to use oranges instead. Any type of citrus will actually work really well, so feel free to use your favourite type or even a mixture of different citrus fruits.
- Sugar syrup - Can be replaced by honey instead.
- Yoghurt - I always use Greek yoghurt, because it has thicker texture, making it perfect for topping this cake with. You can also use whipped cream instead.
- Turn it into cupcakes or mini cakes - This cake batter can be used to bake mini lemon semolina cakes or cupcakes. Simply divide the batter between the cupcake liners and bake for about 15 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Make it vegan - For the similar vegan version of this cake, check out this Vegan Semolina Cake recipe from Domestic Gothess.
- Keep it plain - Instead of topping the cake up with yoghurt and pistachios, you may want to keep it plain. Adding some candied lemon slices on top could be a nice way to decorate the plain cake.
- Serve it as a pudding - If you keep this cake plain, you could also serve it hot or warm with a drizzle of custard or a scoop of ice cream on side!
- Cake tin - I'm using the 20 cm (8 inch) loose-base cake tin, which is 5 cm (2 inch) tall, and it fits this cake perfectly. You can also use 20 cm square baking tin, or a larger round cake tin (the cake won't be as high and you will have to adjust the baking times accordingly).
- Baking paper - To line the base of the baking tin.
- Mixing bowls.
- Electric mixer - Hand-held or the freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment.
- Small saucepan.
Storage and freezing
One of the best things about this cake is that it keeps really well, and stays moist and spongy for days. Store any leftovers in the airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days (for the cake with the yoghurt topping).
Plain cake (without the yogurt) can be stored in the airtight container at room temperature for up to 5-6 days.
This cake is also suitable for freezing (plain, without the syrup or yoghurt topping). Make sure not to pour the simple syrup over the cake before freezing it. If you soak the cake in syrup and try to freeze it, the syrup will form ice crystals and this can allow the freezer burn to set up.
Wrap the cooled cake in a double layer of clingfilm and place it in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw it in the fridge overnight. Poke it with the skewer or with a fork, and soak in the syrup about 30 minutes before serving it.
Do I have to use semolina in this recipe?
No, you don't have to. You could just substitute semolina for self-raising or plain flour, but the texture and the taste of the cake will not be the same. Semolina adds subtle sweetness and nutty flavour to bakes.
What's the difference between fine and coarse semolina and semolina flour?
Semolina refers to meal or flour made from durum wheat, using specific grinding methods. You may find coarse, medium or finely grated semolina in the shops, and different manufacturers may label it differently. Most of the semolina sold in the UK shops is fine semolina, which is much softer and silkier in texture than coarse type (more gritty).
Fine semolina is almost as fine in texture as regular wheat flour. Some producers may label fine semolina as semolina flour. But that isn't always correct. Semola (or semolina flour) is even finer in texture and is used to make pastas, pizzas and breads.
Do I have to use the lemon sugar syrup?
No. You can skip it from the recipe, but the cake will not be the same without it. This simple syrup adds incredible flavour and sweetness to this cake. It also keeps the cake moist and wonderfully soft.
Can I use different tin size?
Yes, you can. Feel free to use 20 cm square baking tin (preferably with loose-base), or larger, round tin. If you use larger baking tin, the cake will be flatter, and will require shorter baking times. You can also use rectangular cake tin, but again, make sure to adjust the baking times accordingly.
Why is my cake soggy?
This could be caused by adding the syrup that was too hot, or not allowing the cake to cool down enough, before adding the syrup. Make sure to cool the cake completely, and allow the lemon syrup to cool down to room temperature before using it.
Help! My syrup is really thick!
This could happen if you allow the sugar syrup to cook for too long. Simply add some more water to the syrup and mix it well.
If you don't fancy juicing the lemons for the cake and the sugar syrup, you could use the shop-bought lemon juice.
If your cake happens to have a little indent or dip in the centre, do not allow the sugar syrup to sit there for too long. This would cause the cake to collapse and it will become soggy. Brush the syrup from the middle part of the cake equally over its surface.
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Lemon Semolina Cake
- 1 20 cm ( 8 inch) loose-base round cake tin
- baking paper
- 1 hand-held electric mixer or freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment
- 2 large mixing bowls
- 1 small saucepan
For the cake:
- 150 g self- raising flour see notes for the alternative
- 150 g semolina
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 medium lemons zest only
- 100 ml lemon juice (about 3 medium lemons)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 250 g sugar caster or granulated
- 250 g butter softened
- 3 large eggs
- 150 g Greek yogurt optional
- 40 g unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped optional
For the lemon syrup:
- 100 g sugar caster or granulated
- 100 ml lemon juice (about 3 medium lemons)
To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Grease the 20 cm loose-base cake tin and line the bottom of it with the baking paper. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, semolina and salt. In a small jug or a small bowl, combine the zest of two lemons, 100 ml of lemon juice and the vanilla.
- Using an electric mixer, cream together the softened butter and sugar until you have pale and fluffy mixture. This should take about 2-3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition and scraping the bowl when needed.
- Tip half of the flour mixture into the eggs and sugar, followed by half of the lemon juice mix. Fold gently to combine, then add the remaining flour and lemon juice, and fold again, until just combined. Transfer the batter into the prepared cake tin, smoothing the top with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.
- Bake the cake for 40- 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool completely.
To make the lemon syrup:
- Place the sugar and lemon juice into a small saucepan over a medium heat. Allow the sugar to dissolve completely, and simmer until the mixture reduced in half (about 3 minutes). Take off the heat and allow the syrup to cool down to room temperature.
- When the cake is cool, poke its surface with the skewer or with a fork. Pour half of the lemon syrup over the top of the cake ( use the pastry or silicone brush to spread the syrup over the top surface of the cake if needed), and allow it to soak in for about 30 minutes. Save the remaining lemon syrup for serving.
- Top the cake with Greek yogurt and chopped pistachios (optional). Slice and enjoy!
Please note that all my recipes are developed and tested in metric grams. I recommend that you use digital scales for a more accurate results. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.
- You can use oranges instead of lemons, or even a mixture of both.
- Allow the cake to cool down completely before drizzling it with the lemon syrup.