This incredibly easy zesty lemon cake is bursting with fresh and fragrant citrus flavours! Soft and airy sponge infused with fresh lemon juice and lemon zest is topped with simple lemon icing and decorated with candied lemon peel.
The cake comes together in no time, making it great everyday teatime treat or a snack, and simple but very pretty and effective decoration makes it equally suitable for bigger occasions or gatherings.
It's not a secret that citrus bakes and treats are among my all time favourite recipes, and this lemon sponge cake is no exception. The recipe is similar to my Small Batch Lemon Drizzle Cake, but it's texture is not as dense and is much lighter in comparison (somewhere between the lemon pound cake and lemon sponge).
Unlike the mentioned drizzle cake, this easy lemon cake is topped with thick, lemon-flavoured icing, rather than a thin drizzle. There is also an addition of candied lemon peel, which not only enhances flavour and texture, but it also creates a unique and eye-catching decoration.
You only need a handful of the basic ingredients to make this lemon cake recipe. Here's what to gather:
- Dry ingredients - self-raising flour, caster sugar, icing sugar (for the glaze), baking powder, salt.
- Wet ingredients - butter, eggs, lemons (5 lemons in total- we are using lemon juice, lemon zest and lemon peel in this recipe), Greek yogurt.
Scroll to the bottom of this post for the recipe card and the full list of the ingredients.
Watch the video in the recipe card to see how I made this cake.
Start by creaming the butter and sugar until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Next, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Don't worry if the mixture curdles a little bit after the eggs are added.
Tip in the lemon zest and vanilla, and mix again to combine. Scrape the bottom and the sides of the bowl as and when needed. Lastly, fold in the flour mixture and yogurt. Mix until the ingredients are just combined, and transfer to the baking tin. Use the back of the spoon or a spatula to smooth out the top.
Bake the cake until it is golden brown, and the toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. It should take about 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool it completely.
Making the candied lemon peel
While the cake is cooling down, prepare the candied lemon peel. Use the vegetable peeler to peel the strips of the lemon skin. Remove any white pith from the back of the skin, and slice the peel into thin strips (julienne-style cut).
Place the peel into sugar syrup over the low heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper towel, allowing it to dry.
Make the icing simply by mixing the icing/ powdered sugar and about 5 tablespoons of lemon juice. It should be quite thick, but still drip of the spoon. Pour the icing over the cooled cake, and allow it to dry for about 20 minutes, before decorating the top of the cake with candied citrus peel. Now the cake looks perfect!
Hint: Allow the cake to cool completely before decorating it. Pour the icing right in the middle of the cake. You may want to gently tilt the cake a bit backwards and forwards and to the sides, to distribute the icing in an even layer. Allow the icing to drip from the sides of the cake, for a fun and eye-catching drip.
- Self-raising flour - Use the same amount of plain flour, but increase the amount of baking powder to 2 teaspoons.
- Caster sugar - You can use white or golden caster sugar, or granulated sugar instead.
- Butter - Salted or unsalted butter is fine to use. If using salted butter, skip the salt in the dry ingredients.
- Eggs - Use 3 large or 4 medium eggs.
- Greek yogurt - This can be substituted with buttermilk or sour cream.
Layer it up - To make a layered cake from this recipe, divide the cake batter between two 20 cm sandwich tins and bake for 20 minutes at 160°C (fan) or until the sponges are golden and toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. You can use lemon curd (be sure to check out my Homemade Lemon Curd recipe), whipped cream or flavoured buttercream to spread between the sponges for a delicious layer cake.
Use different citrus - If you'd like, you can use oranges or limes in this recipe instead of lemons, or even a mixture of different citrus fruit!
Make a different topping - If you prefer something a bit lighter and less sweet, try swapping the lemon icing sugar topping for yogurt, just like in my Lemon Semolina Cake recipe. A cream cheese frosting could also work well here.
Gluten free lemon cake - Swap the flour for self-raising gluten free flour (make sure the baking powder is also gluten free) to turn this bake into a gluten free version.
Vegan lemon cake - Looking for similar, but vegan lemon cake? Check out this recipe for Easy Vegan Lemon Cake from Veggie Desserts blog.
Bundt cake - Check out this Lemon Bundt Cake recipe.
There are only few basic pieces of equipment needed to create this recipe:
- Electric mixer (hand-held or freestanding).
- 18 cm deep, loose-bottom cake tin (alternatively, you can also use a loaf tin and turn this into lemon loaf cake/ zesty lemon loaf cake).
- Baking paper.
Storage and freezing
Store any leftovers of this zesty lemon cake at room temperature, in the airtight container for up to 2 days. It will dry out with time, so it is always best eaten fresh.
You can freeze this cake, plain, without the icing and candied lemon peel decoration for up to 3 months. Thaw it at room temperature overnight, and decorate with the icing and citrus peel before serving.
Candied lemon peel can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days. Keep it in the airtight container, to stop it absorbing any of the fridge smells.
You can use any type and variety of lemons. I recommend sticking to unwaxed lemons, as we are using the zest and the peel. If you can only get waxed lemons, make sure to lightly scrub the peel under running warm water to remove the wax.
Typically, this is due to changes in the oven temperature. Once you place the cake in the oven, do not open the oven doors until the cake is at least set. If the cake has risen and split/ cracked on top, simply level it with serrated knife. Cut off the 'dome', flip the cake upside down and pour the icing over it. Nobody will ever know!
The oven temperature was probably too hot or the cake was baked for too long. I use fan-assisted oven and this cake takes exactly X minutes at 170°C to be ready. Different ovens may require different baking times and temperatures. I recommend using an additional oven thermometer, and keeping an eye on the cake from 40 minutes onwards.
To pin this recipe and save it for later, use the button on the recipe card, or on any of the photos above.
If you try this recipe, or any other recipe on Anna Banana, please take a moment to rate the recipe and/ or leave me a comment. I love hearing from you , but it also helps the other readers who are thinking of making the recipe.
Zesty Lemon Cake
- 18 cm round, deep cake tin loose-bottom or springform
- hand-held electric mixer or freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment
- baking paper
- slotted spoon optional
- 175 g unsalted butter (softened)
- 175 g golden caster sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 3 large unwaxed lemons (zested, plus additional 5 tablespoon juice)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 250 g self-raising flour (see recipe notes for the alternatives)
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 100 g Greek yogurt
- 400 g icing sugar
For the candied lemon peel:
- 2 large lemons (peel only)
- 200 g granulated sugar
- 200 ml water
- Heat the oven to 170°C (150°C fan). Grease a deep, loose-bottomed or springform 18 cm cake tin and line the base of it with baking parchment.
- Beat the butter and caster sugar together with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs, one at the time, beating well after each addition, then stir in the lemon zest and vanilla. Fold in the 250g of flour, ½ teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon of salt and 100g Greek yogurt. Mix until the ingredients are JUST combined.
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake in the centre of the oven for 50-55 minutes, until golden brown on top and firm to the touch. Cool the cake in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack completely.
For the icing:
- Sieve 400g of icing sugar into a bowl and beat in enough of the lemon juice to create a thick icing. Set the cake on a cake stand or a plate and spoon over the icing, allowing it to drip down the sides a little.
For the candied lemon peel:
- Peel large, wide strips from 2 large lemons using a vegetable peeler. Remove any white pith with a sharp knife, then julienne the peel into very thin matchsticks. In a small saucepan, add the granulated sugar and water and set it over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon peel and simmer gently for 15 minutes then scoop the peel with slotted spoon and set on a paper towel to cool. Use to decorate the cake with it.
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.
- If no self-raising flour is available, use the same amount of plain flour / all purpose flour, but increase the amount of baking powder to 2 teaspoons.
This recipe was originally published in April 2019. It has been updated with the new photos, video, revised recipe and tips in March 2022.
So lovely.. thank you for the recipe Anna. Cant wait to bake
This cake looks so beautiful and delicious, Anna! I'm so in love with the pictures! So gorgeous!
Such a perfect dessert!
Lots of love,
Hey Bianca, thanks so much! I'm so happy to hear that! Lemon cake is always a winner and a crowd pleaser! Big hug! x
Zesty lemon cake, sounds so delicious, perfect to celebrate spring and your light airy photography goes so well with this cake.
Thank you Jagruti! Yes, this cake is a perfect bake to welcome the new season with! Glad you like the photos too!
Lemon is my favorite flavoring. It works for savory too, but anytime I'm wondering how to make a dessert special, lemon comes to mind. Very excited to try this recipe!
Hey Charity, thanks so much for your comment! Yes, lemons are so essential in cooking for me too, whether it's in sweet or savoury dishes, it balances the flavours out so nicely! Glad you will be trying this recipe!
Kylie | Midwest Foodie
Yummmm!! This cake looks so good - perfect for Spring! My dad loves lemon so I am pinning this one for his birthday cake this year! Thanks for the great recipe!
Pleasure all mine Kylie! I hope your dad will enjoy this lemon cake as much as I do! Hugs!
Your pictures alone have my mouth totally watering! I'm so ready for light, summery flavors (and, of course, warm weather)! This would be perfect the perfect addition to any sort of outdoor party!
Thank you Amy! It's one of those bakes that is suited for any gathering really, and I'm glad to hear that you also think so!
Leanne | Crumb Top Baking
All the lemon photos are absolutely stunning! They've really put me in a spring mood. It actually still feels wintery here, but when spring actually arrives, I'll be celebrating with this lovely cake!
Hi Leanne! I'm glad they've made you feel all Spring-like! That's exactly the emotion I was trying to capture! Hope you will enjoy the lovely spring weather in no time!
ana @ muy delish
Your photos are amazing Anna! And the cake looks so fluffy and light. I love baking with Greek yogurt since I always have some in my fridge and it's so much healthier. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful recipe!
Aww Ana, thanks so much for your sweet comment! So happy that you like it! And pleasure all mine, I hope you will try this recipe soon! Big hug!
I love lemon in desserts. It's so refreshing.
Couldn't agree more! Lemon adds perfect balance to sweet bakes!
For someone who is a sour/tart lover We are always making lemon desserts. This lemon cake looks amazing and The photos are great!
Thanks so much Analida! So happy to hear that you like the recipe and the photos!
Marisa F. Stewart
I adore anything with lemon flavors, especially desserts. Lemon cakes are fantastic any time of year. I've yet to meet anyone who says they don't like a lemon flavored dessert. We have a gathering coming up in two weeks and I know this cake would be a huge hit. Great recipe.
Hey Marisa, thanks so much for stopping by and your lovely comment. I'm also yet to meet a person who doesn't enjoy lemon flavoured desserts! They are always a hit with friends and family. I hope you will try this recipe soon!
Wow this cake looks so elegant (also thanks to your beautiful photographs!). And I appreciate your note about substitutes if you don't have self rising flour which I don't usually have on hand. Can't wait to try this!
Thank you so much Kate, so glad to hear that you like the photos and the tips about the SR flour! Would love to know how did you like the cake once you've tried it!
This is such a beautiful looking cake! I love lemon desserts and this would be a hit with my family!
Hi Anne, thank you so much! Lemon flavoured desserts are always well received with my family too! Glad you like this recipe!
I realize the taste would be compromised as butter is BEST...but if we weren't quick on our feet and forgot to take out butter to come to room temperature, will this cake still WORK with oil?
Hi Monika, thanks for your comment and for stopping by. I honestly cannot guarantee that the the recipe will work with oil instead of butter, it may alter the texture and the taste of the bake. But I would love to know if you try making it with oil and what sort of the results you've had with that!
I am such a lemon lover. This dessert is a great way to celebrate spring. I think it is the best way to end the EASTER dinner.
I couldn't agree more Gloria! Lemons are one of my favourite ingredients to cook with, and they are essential in any kitchen in my opinion! So happy to hear that you like this recipe, thank you!
Saw it on Instagram yesterday and fell in love! This cake is so beautiful, Anna. Such a masterpiece! 🙂 I need to make a vegan version of it. Sending you much love, Ela
Aww Ela, you're so kind! It makes me so happy to read your lovely comment, and I can't wait to see your vegan version of this cake! Sending big hugs! Have a great start of the week! xx