Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake

8 August 2012

Post image for Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake

Having been glued to the screen the last few months watching MasterChef Australia, I’m not sure if I should be relieved or depressed that the show is now finished. What am I going to do with all of this time now?? It is strange that, whenever I become engrossed in a TV cooking show, I spend more time on the sofa than actually in the kitchen. Most of the time, I am simply in awe of what these so-called ordinary, amateur cooks are getting up to in their Mystery Boxes and Invention Tests. And the Team Challenges, not to mention the amazing trips to exotic, foodie destinations overseas, seem like a lot of fun.

I have to admit that, whilst I am usually only inspired by a few dishes which the contestants cook, I am usually more impressed by the ingredients that they are working with. If I am ever to tinker with the idea of applying to go on MasterChef (which is very highly unlikely), I think I need to start filleting my own fish, cooking with beef short ribs, learn how to use (and invest in) a Thermomix, make my own pasta more regularly, memorise a few hundred dishes …

One dish which recently got my tastebuds watering was Julia’s lemon syrup cake. When she first made the cake, she clearly had issues with the other contestants opening and closing the oven which prevented her cake from cooking through properly. She ultimately presented to the judges a cake which had severely sunk in the centre and proclaimed that “It’s meant to be that way”, suggesting that the cake was supposed to be raw in the centre, somewhat pudding-like. The judges bought her explanation and actually enjoyed her undercooked cake. Whilst I am sure many viewers, like me, laughed out loud at the screen, you had to give it to her for her fighting spirit.

The second time Julia made the cake was in the finals week when the contestants’ partners made an appearance and requested a special dish, with Julia’s husband requesting her lemon syrup cake. This time around, there was no talk of a gooey centre and her cakes were lovely and well-risen in the centre. They looked so good, in fact, that I almost immediately went to the kitchen to see if I had all of the ingredients to recreate the same cake.

This recipe is not Julia’s, although I would be curious to try her recipe. I haven’t seen it published anywhere yet so hopefully it will be featured somewhere soon.

This Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake comes from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, a baking bible which I have been proudly cooking from for over 10 years. Some of the recipes are so good that I have made them over and over repeatedly to the detriment of trying out new recipes. But I was happy to have had a greedy excuse to try this Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake.

The cake itself is very simple to put together and stays deliciously moist from the syrup which soaks into the cake. And due to the lovely moistness of this cake, it keeps for quite some time, staying fresh for even up to a week. (I think hubby was on a self-imposed diet which meant I was the only one tucking into this cake for morning tea each day.) I actually think the cake tastes best after a few days once the syrup has had time to do its work.

And if I were to make this cake again (which is very likely), I think I would reduce the amount of icing sugar in the syrup next time; I found the syrup to be a little too sweet for my liking and would prefer something a bit more tart. Or, as Nigella suggests, I might try a version with limes or even grapefruit next time.

Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake
Recipe adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddessย byย Nigella Lawson
Makes 1 cake
{To view this recipe in a printer-friendly version, please click here.}

{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

TheSpicySaffron 8 August 2012 at 2:30 pm

Wow…wow…wow!! I am drooling over this sweet & citrus cake of your’s, Thanh! You would not believe, I for reason was craving a lemon-kind-a-cake since Jo baked the lemon square for PPT. I was thinking of baking Nigella’s Lemon cake from ‘How to eat’ ( after admiring your post on the same!!). Now this…Will definitely bake this one over the weekend. The step wise pictures are excellent as usual.
I must say its a huge cake :) did you eat all by yourself or hubby was tempted to come out of his self imposed dieting plan?
Its funny to read about Julia’s sunken cake. About the show you are right, the ingredients in the mystery basket is quite intriguing. I am amazed how some of the unusual ingredients are transformed into exotic dishes. Kudos to them!


eat, little bird 8 August 2012 at 2:42 pm

The cake is actually not that big … or I am becoming accustomed to eating large quantities of cake! ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s made using a standard-sized loaf tin and, strangely, I find a loaf cake to be less imposing than one made in a round tin. I think there were about 2 slices left when hubby decided to finish the cake for afternoon tea the other day :-) Thankfully because now I can bake something else!

It’s funny that Jo made the lemon squares recently because we must have both been craving something citrus with this sunny weather at the moment.

This Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake is really lovely, but if you want a lemon cake which is really lemony, you can’t go past Nigella’s Lemon Cake which is made with whole lemons. Both cakes have their place in my mind, but this Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake is lighter and a little sweeter, if that makes sense.

And as for the Mystery Boxes, I think I would have a panic attack each time I lifted the lid! But it all looks like a lot of fun, though.


Meenakshi 8 August 2012 at 3:13 pm

MC Aus is still going on in India, our telecast is a few weeks behind. I love citrusy cakes- I have only attempted orange so far! The recipe photos are beautiful. I like adding icing sugar to cake batter, I have found that it helps make the cake quite fluffy…but yes, there is the danger of things getting sickeningly sweet. Also, I adore loafs…they are so comforting yet sophisticated at the same time. Not to mention so much easier to cut and serve!! I shall try this.


eat, little bird 8 August 2012 at 10:27 pm

Oh you can watch MasterChef Australia in India? I hope you are enjoying the show. I thought it was a pretty good season.

I also love loaf cakes and agree that they have an understated elegance. I’m also quite fond of plain cakes, especially since you can get away with eating them at breakfast :-)


Julia Levy 8 August 2012 at 9:54 pm

This is a firm favourite in this house and yes I reduce the sugar too.


eat, little bird 8 August 2012 at 10:29 pm

Good to know that it just wasn’t me who thought it was a tad sweet! Despite that, the cake was still really lovely :-)


Jo Blogs Jo Bakes 9 August 2012 at 7:52 am

A wiv not made this in yeeeears! Hubby loves a Madeira cake and so as they can be made with lemon or vanilla I used to use this recipe sans syrup to provide for him :D. I love ypur mise en place photos so much and taking photos inside a KA bowl is really tricky but you’ve done is so well thanh! The cake looks beautiful too – so perfectly risen ๐Ÿ˜€


eat, little bird 9 August 2012 at 3:29 pm

How does this cake compare to the actual madeira cake recipe in HTBADG? Have you tried it? That’s one of my other favourite recipes from this book … should make it again soon :-)


Nicola 9 August 2012 at 2:36 pm

This cake is one of my all time favourites. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve made it. Beautiful pictures as always Thanh :-)


eat, little bird 9 August 2012 at 3:30 pm

Thanks, Nicola! I think this cake will become a favourite in our home, too. So many recipes from HTBADG are now favourites actually!


Anita Menon 10 August 2012 at 12:28 pm

such a gorgeous looking loaf. I have the book and I have bookmarked this one for the longest time now. wonder when i would get on with actually making it.
Masterchef australia is still going on and am enjoying every episode. They have raised the bar this year and its amazing to see these new (amateur) cooks, cooking all that jazz up. Its amazing. In last night’s episode, I saw this Fig caramel cake that Debra made and I fancy to make it soon.


eat, little bird 13 August 2012 at 8:44 pm

That’s great to hear that you have also been watching MasterChef Australia! I remember that episode well with the fig caramel cake – it sounds really delicious, doesn’t it? I’m sure the contestants must practice a lot before they go on the show because some of them seem to excel at making certain fancy dishes, but then fail miserably at what I would think are more basic recipes, like a quiche. Of course, you also have those who seem to have a knack for making absolutely anything!

This lemon-syrup cake is really delicious and definitely worth trying. Hopefully you will get around to it soon! I know the feeling though ๐Ÿ˜‰


Thelittleloaf 11 August 2012 at 11:32 am

Lemon loaf cake is one of my all time favourites-sticky & lemony and delicious. Yours looks perfect, yum!


eat, little bird 13 August 2012 at 8:47 pm

It’s hard to beat a loaf cake, isn’t it? I’ve made quite a few lemon cakes before but this might be my first in loaf form.


Me And My Sweets 11 August 2012 at 10:59 pm

WOW! Thats sounds and looks like a cake that I would love to eat:-)


eat, little bird 13 August 2012 at 8:47 pm

It’s hard to go past this lovely cake! I particularly loved it at breakfast …


Jennifer (Delicieux) 13 August 2012 at 9:35 am

Gorgeous cake Thanh! I love lemon syrup cakes, especially really tart ones. Have you tried Nigella’s lemon polenta cake? It’s on my to try list as it sounds like a deliciously different lemon syrup cake.


eat, little bird 13 August 2012 at 8:51 pm

No, I haven’t but it’s definitely on my to-do list! We have a friend coming over this weekend who is gluten-intolerant and I was thinking of making the lemon polenta cake for him. When we were in the US, I had tried quite a few cakes with cornmeal (which I suppose is the same as polenta) and thought they were delicious. I will let you know if I try it :-)


Anna @ The Littlest Anchovy 14 August 2012 at 2:59 am

Ooh this is a cake after my own heart! It looks so moist and delicious. GREAT recipe!


eat, little bird 17 August 2012 at 12:07 am

Yes, it’s a very moist cake, which explains why it keeps so well. Definitely a keeper!


The Food Sage 15 August 2012 at 5:18 am

I simply can’t resist lemon cakes, especially those that are lovely and moist. This one looks abundantly so, and perfectly captured in your photographs. Lovely work. Thanks for sharing.


eat, little bird 17 August 2012 at 12:08 am

I have the same soft spot for lemon cakes :-)


Denise 16 August 2012 at 9:55 pm

I would be way too nervous to participate in Masterchef (I guess simple things like boiling water would become a huge problem:p), but I love to watch it too. What I also love are cakes like these: with sweet, sour, sticky lemon syrup. It’s now in my favorites, so it will probably be in my kitchen soon:)


eat, little bird 17 August 2012 at 12:09 am

I know what you mean – I think I would forget how to use a wooden spoon if I had a camera in my face! I hope you will try this cake as it is really delicious!


Paula 17 August 2012 at 4:01 pm

Thanh, this is one of my favourite recipes os How to be a Domestic Goddess!!! Well, I haven’t tried all (yet?), but it’s so perfect!! The texture is really good!!

Nice to see we have this in common ๐Ÿ˜‰ And yeah, it goes better after a few days ๐Ÿ˜‰ And of course, I used less icing sugar in the syrup, cos I think Nigella goes to far with it. And of yes, yes, yes, try with limes!! I have taste it with lime and rum and, wow, is near a mojito syrup cake ๐Ÿ˜›

Nice photos!!


eat, little bird 17 August 2012 at 4:54 pm

Great to hear that you have also tried this recipe! Lime and rum … sounds delicious!! I must try that combination soon.


Rushi 26 August 2012 at 9:19 am

I love this cake, it’s a firm favourite in my home too and one of my fallback recipes when I crave for something sweet. I too reduce the sugar but sometimes to please my mom (who has a terrible sweet tooth) I leave things just the way it is. I like the idea on using limes and rum. I’ve tried it with limes but haven’t added the rum… A good excuse to make this loaf cake soon. Have you tried it using oranges? Nigella has some good citrussy recipes, especially her clementine cake….:D


eat, little bird 26 August 2012 at 12:38 pm

Good to hear from another fan of this cake! I have only made this cake once, though I know I will make it again soon. I have made Nigella’s clementine cake quite often – it’s a favourite here once winter sets in and clementines are in season. The Lemon Cake which I have posted about earlier is a variation of her clementine cake. I’m quite interested in trying the lime and rum version of this syrup-cake …


Autumn Quince 1 September 2012 at 9:33 am

Hi Thanh, I am back in cyber land catching up on a lot of happenings! Your blog is beautiful. I was wondering your thoughts on creaming butter and sugar in the kitchen aid mixer. I hope you don’t mind me asking – do you have a time and speed that you use all the time with room temp butter? I would really appreciate your thoughts. Thanking you, Quince.


eat, little bird 1 September 2012 at 1:41 pm

Hello Quince! Lovely to see you here.

When creaming butter and sugar with my KitchenAid, I tend to do it on low speed, either speed 1 or 2, for only perhaps 2 to 3 minutes until the butter is pale and fluffy (about one shade lighter than what you started with), and the sugar looks well incorporated. Much also depends on how soft the butter is and whether you are using caster sugar (super-fine sugar) or granulated sugar. If you are using granulated sugar, I would allow up to about 5 minutes on low speed. You could, of course, do everything at a higher speed but I would just keep a careful eye on it then. I tend to use a low-ish speed so that I can get the other ingredients ready in the meantime.

And then when I am about to add the eggs and flour, I tend to increase the speed one or two notches so that everything is incorporated quickly.

I hope this helps!


Autumn Quince 1 September 2012 at 3:06 pm

Thank you Thanh, I appreciate your feedback. I use castor sugar and room temperature butter also. I read an article some time ago that stated that the sugar should be dissolved into the butter during the creaming process. This confused me as I have never beated the mixture for that long. Thank you for your tips. Looking forward to baking this cake.


Ashima 17 September 2012 at 3:05 pm

Love the way you present the ingredients and the recipe! I was craving for a lemon cake and stumbled upon your blog by chance and am I not happy that I did :). Going to make the cake now..

Thanks :).



eat, little bird 28 September 2012 at 8:30 pm

I hope the cake turned out well for you! :-)


Tripti 27 September 2012 at 1:21 pm

I love anything with lemon in it. I saw Julia baking her lemon-syrup cake (for the second time) last night on MC Australia. I was looking for the recipe and yours was the first one that I saw while I was searching for the recipe using Google! :). I shall try it this weekend.

Love your blog! And the pictures are clear and beautiful!


eat, little bird 28 September 2012 at 8:32 pm

Oh another MasterChef fan! :-) Julia’s lemon-syrup cakes looked really divine, didn’t they? I hope you will enjoy Nigella’s recipe.


Shazi 2 October 2012 at 9:40 pm

It is 1 am here in India and I just put my Julia-inspired Lemon Syrup Cake in the fridge….I just want to tell you that I LOVED IT!!!!

In fact, my whole family loved it…even my Dad who is a diabetic and does NOT like sweets! Lol

And yeah…I am a Masterchef Aus fan too.

Btw ur recipe pics are lovely…very visually appealing.

Keep up the cool stuff! :)

I will definitely be back for more of ur recipes…

Incidentally, I found Nigella’s recipe as well but I made mine following ur site….I also omitted her glaze coz I thought that wd be a lil too OTT!


eat, little bird 3 October 2012 at 6:17 pm

Thank you for your lovely comments! In the absence of knowing Julia’s recipe itself, I think Nigella’s recipe is a great place to start :-)

The syrup is nice to have if you want to make sure that your cake stays moist for longer. In which case, I would highly recommend reducing the sugar content so that it is not too sweet. But otherwise, I agree that it is a lovely recipe.


Ashima 19 October 2012 at 5:34 am

Two days back I tried an orange syrup version.. And while I loved the lime variety (don’t get lemons here so the first time I had tried lime); I simply adored the orange one. It had this subtle flavour of orange, not too overpowering and the best part – my whole kitchen was filled with the lovely aroma.

I just love the whole concept of loaf cake and now that I have the basic recipe, I love to experiment with different flavours :)



eat, little bird 19 October 2012 at 12:10 pm

Hi Ashima,

It sounds like you have been experimenting with different citrus fruits! I love the sound of an orange-syrup version as I do love orange cakes. I might try that this weekend :-) I’m still also curious about trying this recipe with grapefruit …


VINITA THAPA 19 October 2012 at 11:04 am

Have made this around 10 times already since I have read your recipe…. Its been only a month….(don’t worry am distributing them around) but its a great great recipe. Thank you so much for sharing.


eat, little bird 19 October 2012 at 12:12 pm

Oh wow!! You need to be congratulated for your baking marathon! I’m so happy to hear that this recipe has been so reliable and well-received for you. Your friends and family are so lucky to know you :-)


Fatima 26 October 2012 at 5:43 pm

I have made this cake twice, followed the recipe correctly but unfortunately the cake collapsed each time.
The oven was checked with a themo and the oven door was not opened. I didn’t even open it to add the syrup. Nevertheless, the sponge was great.


eat, little bird 26 October 2012 at 6:04 pm

I’m sorry to hear that the cake sunk each time – that would be very disappointing. As you can see from my photos, my cake also sunk slightly in the centre, and I think this is quite common for loaf cakes, although I’m not sure about the science behind it. You certainly don’t want the cake to sink too much, but I’m glad that it still tasted ok :-)

I think cakes often sink in the centre due to inadequate oven temperature, expired baking powder, or taking the cake out of the oven too soon. In your case, I guess we can eliminate the first and third suggestions, so perhaps there is a problem with your baking powder? I wonder if the size of your loaf tin could also be a problem?

Food science can be very interesting but a lot of it is a mystery to me, I’m afraid!


Srini 6 November 2012 at 3:19 pm

Hey there – you should definitely try Nigel Slater’s variant with a dash of Thyme in the cake :)

Lovely I’d say :) Nothing to beat November in Europe than this!


eat, little bird 1 February 2013 at 7:48 pm

Thyme sounds like an interesting addition! I love Nigel Slater’s recipe. Thanks for stopping by!


MattfromMelbourne 1 January 2013 at 4:38 am

This recipe is excellent, total winner.



eat, little bird 4 January 2013 at 10:15 pm

I’m glad to hear that this recipe worked out for you!


Louise 20 February 2013 at 10:27 am

I find the visual content of your recipes so appealing – and my kids love it too and want to join in. Just one problem with this cake – it lasted all of 5 mins in our household!


eat, little bird 24 February 2013 at 1:25 pm

That’s so lovely to hear! I guess you might have to make a double batch next time ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m making this cake again today.


joolie 24 February 2013 at 8:16 pm

baked this last night im not very good with baking and the birds get to eat my cakes this cake came out perfect delish !!!


eat, little bird 27 February 2013 at 3:29 pm

How wonderful to hear! I think it’s hard to go wrong with this cake :-)


VINITA THAPA 16 March 2013 at 3:23 pm

hi there!
do you think a lime butter cream icing will be too much for this cake…… had the same combination on form of a muffin and it tasted divine. I was just wondering if i can replicate the same on this loaf….


eat, little bird 19 March 2013 at 3:42 pm

Yes, I think a lime buttercream icing might be too much for this cake if you also use the syrup – the cake might end up too sweet. Perhaps you could omit the syrup and use the buttercream icing instead? I think that would taste wonderful!


Rach 31 July 2013 at 4:27 am

I’ve just made this cake for the second time with my 5 y.o. son – he loves lemons and we did a quick search around the net for a recipe to use up some lemons from our tree. I’m pleased to say that it turned out beautifully both times (though I used extra lemon juice in the syrup as you said it was a bit too sweet) and I am happily munching on some for my morning tea! This recipe will definitely become a staple in our household, thank you :)


eat, little bird 31 July 2013 at 10:02 pm

Thank you for your lovely feedback! I love receiving feedback like yours and it is such a delight to hear that your little boy loves to help you bake. I can’t wait until my little one is old enough to make a mess with me in the kitchen :-) And lucky you to have a lemon tree!


sandra 13 October 2013 at 5:40 am

is it possible to use lime instead of lemon?


eat, little bird 13 October 2013 at 10:30 am

Yes, of course. You could substitute the lemon for any other citrus fruit in this recipe. Limes are especially delicious!


Sally 3 May 2014 at 5:39 pm

I’ve just made this cake but it has sunk in the middle – what did I do wrong?? I feel like I’ve followed the recipe to the T!


Eat, Little Bird 3 May 2014 at 5:58 pm

Hi Sally,
Oh dear! I hope the cake still tastes great. Loaf cakes have a tendency to sink a little in the middle, mostly due to the shape of the tin and also the composition of the batter, but they shouldn’t sink completely. Your cake could have sunk for various reasons – the expiry date of your baking powder, whether you creamed the butter and sugar for long enough, whether you took the cake out of the oven too soon. Sometimes it is just the nature of home-cooking but I hope you will have better luck next time.


Sally 28 May 2014 at 6:49 pm

it was delicious! I’ll definitely attempt to bake it again!


Kerrie garland 5 October 2014 at 4:56 pm

I made this cake with the recipe In the book. It tastes delicious but is hasn’t risen much. I notice that you use baking powder in yours and it doesn’t state that in the book will using this make it rise more.


Kerrie garland 5 October 2014 at 5:23 pm

Re my last comment I now see that you have used plain flour hence the baking powder. I used at flour. I see from many pictures that it doesn’t seem a deep cake. Mine is about 1 half inches high is this normal do you think or should it be deeper? Has anyone baked in 18cm square tin and cut into squares?


Eat, Little Bird 5 October 2014 at 6:25 pm

Hi Kerrie,

Self-raising flour is not available where I live so I use a mix of plain flour and baking powder. I think your cake should rise nicely upon baking, but loaf cakes have a tendency to then sink in the middle a little. If your cake is only 1.5 inches high, that does sound a bit small. Did you use the baking powder as per the recipe above? If so, did you check the use-by-date for your baking powder? Or perhaps your cake tin is slightly larger than what I have used?

If you were to make this cake in an 18cm square tin, I would probably double the recipe so that you have enough batter to fill the tin. I like the sound of making a larger version of this cake!


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