An Actual Recipe: French Lemon Cake


Friends, readers, countrypeople…let’s step away, for just a hot second, from the long-ass “How To Cook Everything, Ever” posts. Are they useful? Hell yeah. Are they educational? Hell yeah!

Are they, like, a little much?

Oh, yeah. Yes.

Instead, I have for you a simple tasty lemon cake. 

Wait–why is it French?

Because it’s basically this recipe, but transformed into its long-lost lemony cousin. As Dorie Greenspan says in the original article:

[E]very French person I know, baker or not, can make a yogurt cake. And does. For Sunday lunch. For a kid’s birthday. For an anniversary. For mama coming to town. For that time when you need a cake and can’t get to the pâtisserie to buy one.

I’m on board. Lay it out for me.

On it.

what you need

  • A loaf pan
  • 2 bowls
  • Unsalted butter (for greasing the loaf pan)
  • A stick of unsalted butter (to melt and put in the cake)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar (for optional glaze)

what to do

1. Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in one bowl and mix ’em together. Set the bowl aside. Feel accomplished.

2. Dump the sugar in the other bowl. Then take the lemon and grate the zest directly over the sugar. (If you have a zester, great! [Ha–great/grate…anyway.] If not, use the tiny-holed side you might have on your cheese grater. If you don’t have that, you can probably scrape off the zest with a small knife and break it off by hand, but this is a last resort.)

3. Once you’ve zested the whole lemon (and now you have a naked, not-quite-as-yellow-as-before lemon), massage the zest into the sugar. I’m dead serious. Rub the zest in until, according to Dorie, the sugar is “aromatic and moist.”

4. Suddenly remember that you’re going to have to bake this thing. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Plop the yogurt into the bowl of lemony sugar, and whisk it up. Feel your heart swell a little bit with wonder at how unexpectedly beautiful this is. (That might just be me. But if you’re whisking with a swelling heart, I get it.)

6. Whisk in each of the eggs, one at a time, until fully combined. Dorie says to do it “energetically,” so put on some dance music while you whisk.

7. Cut the weird, bald lemon in half. Take one half and squeeze the juice into the sugar-yogurt bowl. Whisk to combine.

8. Take your bowl of flour-salt-baking powder, add it to the sugar-yogurt-lemon-juice bowl, and gently whisk until it’s all one, and there aren’t any dry ingredients left.

9. Melt a stick of butter in the microwave (in a container, obviously). Add the melted butter to your cake bowl a little bit at a time, whisking after each addition.

10. Rub an unmelted stick of butter all over the inside of your baking pan. Like, ALL over. Make sure every surface is coated. Don’t be stingy.

11. Pour the cake mix into the baking pan and smooth out the top. Make sure it gets all the way into the corners. You can shake it from side to side to even it out, if you want. This works well.

12. Stick it on the middle rack and bake for 50-60 mins, or until the top is golden-brown, and you can stick a knife in and it comes out clean.

13. When you take it out of the oven, let it cool for 5 mins. Flip the pan over to get the cake out. (You might have to hit it to get the cake out. You might have to hit it a lot.) Then, flip it right-side up.


14. If you want a LEMONY GLAZE (optional but highly recommended), put the powdered sugar in a microwaveable container. Add a little bit of butter, a dash of salt, and the juice from the other half of your bald lemon. Mix it together to the best of your abilities, and then microwave it for 45 seconds. Drizzle it over your cake.



Believe me–nothing feels better than being able to look at the clock and think, “It’s not even noon, and I’ve already baked a cake today.”

Plus, now you have CAKE FOR DAYS.

Enjoy the single recipe. We return to long-ass How To Cook Everything, Ever posts on Saturday, and I’m actually very excited. But for now, this is a nice breather.

P.S. Other posts you might like: can you substitute chickpea brine for egg whites? and how to make any casserole, ever.


*Glaze adapted from The Kitchen Magpie


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