Calling all lemon lovers. Sweet and moist, this very lemony pound cake has sour cream for a perfect dense crumb, lemon zest and juice for that bright lemon flavor we all love, and a wonderful golden brown top. Easy to make, it is very versatile (more ideas at the end of the post) and yet fantastic with a simple glaze!
Originally published in April 2015, this post has been updated for text and images to serve you better.
As deceptively simple as the title is, considering the years I've been baking and the fact that plain cakes are probably my favorite thing to bake, this is a remarkable recipe which now holds the number one spot for pound cake, citrus or otherwise. Tip: if you take out the lemon in the recipe and only use vanilla extract, you have a fantastic classic pound cake recipe.
But lemon is a crowd-pleaser, we all know that, right?
And pound cakes are old-fashioned and wonderful and they keep well (always well wrapped in plastic wrap or under a cake dome of course) and the ingredients are everyday staples. So both combined make for a fabulously simple recipe. Our fav homemade lemon pound cake recipe I've made so far.
Origin of pound cake
Pound cake originated in France and was made with only four ingredients: butter, sugar, flour, and eggs. A pound of each! Can you imagine that? Heavy would be a big understatement I imagine. The famous French cake quatre quarts (which means four quarts).
This was before ingredients like baking powder were discovered which, in my opinion, turned an already delicious recipe into something even better because it made it lighter but dense, where each bite creates moist crumbs.
They are simple ones, but all play a necessary role in this recipe.
- Sour cream: use a regular, full-fat one for best and richer results.
- Lemon: fresh lemon juice as well as the zest are used for extra lemon flavor. If you have fresh lemons in season the flavor tends to be even better.
- Vanilla: I like pure extract or paste. It mellows out the lemon flavor while letting it keep its punch.
- Sugar: just your usual regular, granulated sugar.
- Butter: unsalted is recommended.
- Flour: I love cake flour for this recipe because the texture is softer, but all-purpose flour can be used and the result will be excellent. Together with the baking soda and salt they make up the dry ingredients in this recipe, sometimes called the flour mixture.
- Baking soda: it's used as a leavener that helps the cake to rise.
- Salt: it makes the flavors shine. I like sea salt but regular can be used too.
Sour cream - this is the star ingredient, as the title of this post highlights, and it makes this recipe a fantastic one.
Why use it in a cake?
Sour cream substitutes some of the butter and/or milk, it adds incredible moisture to the cake and makes for a tight crumb. So you get a dense (in a good way) and moist cake. And may have a slight tanginess to offset the amount of sugar or other sweet ingredients. That depends a lot of the recipe.
I personally think sour cream in a cake is one of the best things ever discovered!
Making a lemon loaf is simple but baking is all in the details, like having room temperature ingredients when specified in the recipe. I use a large bowl and an electric hand mixer, but you can make it in the stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Just make sure you don't over beat it after the flour mixture is added.
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The most common and best way to glaze loaf cakes is with a powdered sugar glaze. It’s super versatile, easy lemon glaze that happens to be a complete crowd pleaser! I usually make it while the cake bakes and cover it so it doesn't dry out.
It is a must in my opinion, with that extra sweet sensation that makes you want to eat the crunchy glazed top and leave the rest of the cake behind. Maybe not so extremist, since this is an awesome recipe. But you get my point.
I use lemon juice (image below) because well, it's a lemon loaf cake!
But when I say you can use any liquid I mean it! Milk, cream, citrus juice, dark coffee (my personal favorite), liquors, warm water, fresh raspberries, even olive oil, they all work. So take your pick.
- Organization: always read the recipe first and make sure you have all the ingredients, at the right temperatures, and also the rest of the equipment and space to make it. This will make the process so much easier!
- Sour cream: full fat is what I always use because it makes for a richer cake, but low fat can be used to with good results.
- Flour: if you have cake flour I like to use it for pound cakes. It lightens up the crumb a little, while still being dense. But keep in mind that all-purpose will work just fine also.
- Creaming: take your time to cream butter, sour cream, and sugar. It makes the cake rise better and makes for a wonderful crumb.
- Baking: pan sizes are important (see variations below) because dense cakes such as this lemon pound cake take a while to bake. So it the pan is too small it will color too much on the outside before being fully baked on the inside.
- Storing it: well wrapped it keeps for 3 days at room t°, a week in the fridge and a month or more in the freezer. I love to freeze leftover pound cake in slices so I can toast them whenever I get a craving.
- Bundt cake: you can easily double this recipe and bake it in a bundt pan or tube pan. I do it all the time.
- Lemon syrup: this is a pound cake, so it's dense by definition. And for of use lemon lovers who want an extra moist lemon pound cake you can add some lemon syrup before the glaze, while the cake is still hot. It's important that you don't let the cake cool down. Similar to what we do to the Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins. Simply mix ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice with 2-3 tablespoons of sugar and brush over cake just as it comes out of the oven. You can poke it first with a brochette stick or something similar so that the syrup seeps into the cake faster.
- Serving it: if you love lemon desserts you can serve a thick slice of this cake topped with berries, lemon curd, and some whipped cream. Or make a trifle using the same ingredients and layering them in individual glasses (like the Creamy Peach Trifle recipe) or in a large glass trifle bowl.
Oh boy, there are so many ways you can vary this fantastic recipe! Take the lemon zest and juice out, add more vanilla and you have a base recipe for pound cake.
- Chocolate glaze: make a vanilla pound cake and use one of the amazing chocolate glazes in this blog.
- Pans: you can double the recipe and bake it in a 10-cup bundt or tube cake like the Maple Walnut Cake or a sheet cake like the Chocolate Chip Pound Cake. Also, mini bundt cakes similar to the Blood Orange Cakes can be made.
- Flavorings: add other citruses (I usually make this a lemon-lime loaf) add a tablespoon liquor (replacing some of the lemon juice), use ground spices (cardamom, cinnamon), add ½ cup of chopped nuts or chocolate chips.
The first time I took it to the office it not only disappeared in a nanosecond, but even I was impressed by the texture. And I've baked my share of lemon pound cakes.
I mean, after 30+ years of baking, 300+ cookbooks (and a few other numbers I should be slightly embarrassed to share) I was surprised to find such a fantastic variation of a sour cream pound cake recipe. So go ahead and keep it close. It's worth it.
Frequently asked questions
It probably wasn't beaten well (too little or too much) so not enough air was incorporated and/or the ingredients weren't properly mixed. Also, some recipes are lighter than others while still maintaining the pound cake dense structure, so you might want to try different ones and see which is your favorite.
The first one has more butter than eggs, while the second one should have equal amounts (in weight). Nowadays, pound cakes have gotten lighter and easier to make, and most don't maintain the exact proportions as the very old ones which were a pound of each ingredient (flour, butter, sugar, and eggs).
Yes and no. Originally, this cake relied on beating to incorporate air and rise while baking. Nowadays, recipes try to adapt to a more hectic life and the need for easier baking, so many of them have a little help in the form of chemical leaveners (baking powder, baking soda or a mix of both).
Related recipes you might like:
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For the cake:
- 1 ⅔ cups all-purpose or cake flour
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 9 tablespoons (130g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup sour cream, at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Zest from 1 lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
For the glaze:
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
For the cake:
- Preheat oven 350ºF/180°C.
- Butter or spray one 9x4 loaf pan.
- Spray or butter the pan and line the bottom with parchment if you want. It makes it easier to remove it later.
- In a large bowl beat butter and sour cream until smooth, about 1 minute.
- Add lemon zest and mix.
- Add sugar gradually and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes more.
- Add eggs, one at a time, incorporating each one before adding the next.
- Add vanilla and juice.
- Sift flour with baking soda and salt and add it to the butter mixture at low speed, in 2 additions, beating only until well mixed. Don't overbeat.
- Pour batter into the pan, smooth top, and bake for about 45-55 minutes, or until golden and cracked on top and a tester comes out clean. It might take longer depending on your oven and the type of pan you use. If the top is coloring too fast, cover it lightly with a piece of aluminum foil for the last part of the baking.
- Let cool for 10-15 minutes on a wire rack, and then remove from the pan.
- Let cool completely before glazing.
For the glaze:
- Mix powdered sugar and juice until smooth.
- Put the cake on a wire rack and a piece of parchment or aluminum below, and pour slowly along the center of the cake letting it slide to the sides.
- You can rescoop the glaze that drips to the paper and pour it over again.
Organization: always read the recipe first and make sure you have all the ingredients, at the right temperatures, and also the rest of the equipment and space to make it. This will make the process so much easier!
Baking time: keep in mind that all ovens and pans are different, even if they look the same or very similar. The baking time in my recipes is as accurate as it can be, but it might take you more or less time. You can use a thermometer that is placed inside the oven (like the OXO oven thermometer) to check that your oven is at the right temperature. I recommend you keep track of how your oven works and what tiny details you might need to adjust.
Sour cream: full fat is what I always use because it makes for a richer cake, but low fat can be used to with good results.
Flour: if you have cake flour I like to use it for pound cakes. It lightens up the crumb a little, while still being dense. But keep in mind that all-purpose will work just fine also.
Creaming: take your time to cream butter, sour cream, and sugar. It makes the cake rise better and makes for a wonderful crumb.
Baking: pan sizes are important (see variations below) because dense cakes such as this lemon pound cake take a while to bake. So if the pan is too small it will color too much on the outside before being fully baked on the inside.
Storing it: well wrapped it keeps for 3 days at room temperature, a week in the fridge, and a month or more in the freezer. I love to freeze leftover pound cake in slices so I can toast them whenever I get a craving.
Bundt cake: you can easily double this recipe and bake it in a bundt pan or tube pan. I do it all the time.
- Prep Time: 20
- Cooling time: 60
- Cook Time: 45
- Category: Cakes
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
- Serving Size: 1/10
- Calories: 347
- Sugar: 37.7 g
- Sodium: 120.9 mg
- Fat: 13.3 g
- Carbohydrates: 53.4 g
- Protein: 4.7 g
- Cholesterol: 86.5 mg
Keywords: lemon pound cake