Ever since I met Rich, he has been telling me about a “Lemon Crystal Cake” he remembers eating as a kid. He tells me about how good it is, how it’s one of his favourites, and how he is really good at making it (yet funnily enough cannot provide me with a recipe for it?!). I kind of wrote it off and gave up on trying to work out what it was - until I made this Lemon Cake from Maida Heatter’s book, Happiness Is Baking, a few weeks ago, and was met with a very, very excited Rich when he tried it, and let me know that not only was this the same type of cake that he remembered, but it was better. Crisis averted!
This cake comes from the amazing Maida Heatter’s book - she passed away a few weeks ago at the incredible age of 102. Because I didn’t grow up in the States I hadn’t heard of her much until her most recent book, Happiness Is Baking, was released in April. It is full of her most-loved recipes - I did a little research, and can very easily see why she was such an amazing baking icon, and very aptly titled “The Queen of Cake”. The head notes in her recipes are funny and informative, and the recipes are extremely detailed. She sounds like she was just the most amazing woman, who led the most exceptional life.
I flicked through the book loads of times before I was able to decide on which one I wanted to share here - there are cakes, cookies, brownies, cheesecakes, pies, and bars. I settled on this Lemon Cake, which has become a very well known recipe of hers. It is relatively simple, but so, so delicious - a tender lemon cake, baked until beautifully golden brown, then brushed with a glaze when still hot from the oven, which gives the outside this amazing, crunchy crust. Rich ate nearly the whole thing by himself over the course of a weekend - it’s just that good. I can’t wait to bake more of Maida’s recipes - they all look incredible.
A few wee tips:
- I baked this in a crown bundt pan, and, following Maida’s suggestion for a wee sub, used lime juice in the syrup rather than lemon.
- I also noticed something that I have seen in a few older style recipes before - it calls for a measure of ‘sifted’ flour. This means that you need to sift the flour before you measure it - but for ease of measuring and easy clean up, I did some quick measuring at home and 1 cup of sifted flour weighs 115g (I read somewhere that Maida recommended treating a cookbook like a textbook and making notes, so I don’t think she would mind that I annotated mine a wee bit).
- You can make this in a regular tube pan if you like!
- Maida calls for dusting the pan with bread crumbs - because I was using a detailed pan (and didn’t have any bread crumbs at home), I used a flour based baking spray, which is my favourite to use for bundt cakes!
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Maida Heatter's East 62nd Street Lemon Cake (Lemon and Lime Bundt Cake)
- 3 cups (345g) sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 8oz (225g / 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups (400g) sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup (240g) milk
- Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
- ⅓ cup (80g) lime juice (feel free to sub lemon juice)
- ⅔ cup (135g) granulated sugar
- Adjust an oven rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°f / 180°c. Butter a plain or fancy tube pan with an 11 to 12 cup capacity and dust it lightly with fine, dry bread crumbs (I used a 10 cup capacity bundt pan and sprayed it well with flour based baking spray).
- Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. In a large bowl of electric mixer, beat the butter to soften it a bit. Add the sugar and beat for 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs individually, scraping the bowl as necessary with a rubber spatula to keep the mixture smooth. On the lowest speed, alternately add the dry ingredients in three additions and the milk in two additions, scraping the bowl with the rubber spatula as necessary and beating only until incorporated after each addition. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Stir in lemon zest. Turn the batter into the prepared pan. Level top by rotating pan briskly back and forth.
- Bake for 1 hour and 5 to 10 minutes, until a cake tester comes out dry.
- Let cake stand in the pan for about 5 minutes and then cover with a rack and invert. Place over a large piece of aluminum foil or wax paper.
- The glaze should be used immediately after it is mixed: Stir the lime juice and sugar together and brush all over the hot cake until absorbed.
- Let the cake cool completely. Use two wide metal pancake turners or a cookie sheet to transfer it to a cake plate. Do not cut for at least several hours.
Reprinted with permission from ‘Happiness is Baking’ by Maida Heatter
“Happiness Is Baking” was published in 2019 by Little, Brown, and Company, and is Copyright 2019 Maida Heatter.