Best Lemon Cake Ever Recipe

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lemon cake

Oh boy, Lemon Cake! Today I baked a sunny, yummy classic. I used a recipe from the 1960’s that circulated among the staff at the bank where my mom worked when I was still high school. My best friend Nancy had uncanny lemon cake radar and would show up whenever Mom baked one.

The recipe, along with a few other favorites at the time were typewritten, often incomplete, and the whole sheet was made on a mimeograph machine! (Google that one youngsters!) Now, grease stains and bits of batter are spattered across the page. Because the best recipes are bookmarked that way, am I right?

a bowl of lemons

“When life gives you lemons, make lemon cake!” ~Nancy Rogers Williams

Oh lemon cake, I love you. Let me count the ways.

I bet the Mad men would have loved you, too! Ah, the 60’s! It was an iconic age to be sure. Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and lemon cake. To this day, you’re still a winner and a family favorite. Moist, dense, and topped with a slightly crunchy glaze. Pure bliss! Great topped with ice cream, heaped with spring berries, or all by yourself.

lemon cake on plate

Best Lemon Cake Ever Recipe

Yield: 15 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Additional Time: 2 minutes
Total Time: 32 minutes

A moist, dense cake with a tart, crunchy, lemony glaze. This recipe has been around since the 1960s!

Ingredients

  • INGREDIENTS
  • CAKE:
  • 1 box lemon cake mix. Choose one without pudding in the mix.
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 small box instant lemon pudding
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup water
  • GLAZE
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice, you can also use orange juice or lime juice.
  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon extract (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. butter flavoring
  • 2-3 drops red food coloring (optional!)

Instructions

INSTRUCTIONS

Combine cake mix, oil, eggs, pudding mix and water. Beat until well mixed but do not overbeat because you'll get a poofy cake that may sink in the middle. Pour batter into an ungreased 9 x 13 pan. Bake about 25 minutes in 350 degree oven. While cake bakes, mix glaze ingredients. To test if cake is done, the top should spring back when touched lightly and should pull back slightly from edges of the pan. You do not want to under bake. Make sure a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. While cake is still hot, use fork to poke holes all over the cake. Pour glaze on hot cake using rubber spatula to coax glaze into holes.

Notes

This cake works best with a basic lemon cake mix, one without pudding in the mix or "extra moist". If you use a more "deluxe" cake mix you often end up with a "swaybacked" cake with a dip in the middle. Honestly, I've had the best luck with store brand, "bargain" lemon cake mixes.

Here’s how to transform an ordinary boxed lemon cake mix into this lemonicious delight!

Combine eggs, cake mix, oil, water and dry lemon pudding in a mixing bowl. Hint: All you need to make this cake is a hand mixer, no need to get out the big one. I like to set the mixing bowl right in my sink so any splatters are corraled and easily rinsed away! It’s a lazy lady’s time saver!

combine ingredients

Don’t overbeat. The added pudding produces a thick batter. Stop mixing when everything is well blended. If you beat too long the cake will poof up like a ’60’s bouffant hairdo, then deflate. 

lemon cake batter

Now Just Bake, Glaze, and Devour!

While the cake bakes, stir up the glaze, get out a cooling rack and a big old fork. 

ready to glaze cake

Don’t underbake this cake. You want to make sure the top springs back when touched lightly, a cake tester comes out clean. and the edges of the cake pull back slightly from the sides of the pan.

perfectly baked cake

While cake is still hot from the oven it will be thirsty to soak up the yummy glaze! Use a big fork and poke, poke, poke all over the cake! If you don’t have a big fork, just poke more places! Boom!!

poke the cake

Ordinarily I would not tint the glaze. You can if you want to but it’s totally optional. I tinted it to show how it soaks right into the cake, infusing every bite with intense lemon flavor. The part that stays on top forms a slightly crisp glaze. My mouth is actually watering. I have almost a full cake waiting for me in the kitchen right now. Temptation!!

tinted glaze poured on cake

See how the cake just soaks up every sweet-tart drop of glaze?

cake has been glazed

If you’re really lucky, you get a corner piece of lemon cake!


lemon cake on plate

True story. My grown daughters love this cake! But they ADORE the slightly crispy, glaze-soaked edges. When they think I’m not looking, they sneak pieces that are an inch wide and 4 or 5 inches long all along the sides of the pan until the cake ends up looking like an island in the pan!! Makes me laugh every time but they know the best parts!! 

A little history on boxed cake mixes. We’ve come a long ways, baby!

These days, when I’m shopping, I totally take a cake mix on the grocer’s shelf for granted. The first cake mixes were developed way back in the 1930s. A clever man invented a way to dry surplus molasses and turn it into a powder. Molasses powder, combined with flour and other ingredients including dried egg powder was sold as a quick and easy way to make a cake by just adding water. Not a success.

The true growth and acceptance of cake mixes didn’t happen until after World War II. When manufacturers discovered that adding fresh eggs greatly improved flavor and quality, sales of cake mixes started to skyrocket. Later, when more women entered the work force, they naturally began looking for time savers in the kitchen. And, boxed mixes really became mainstream when women were shown ways to enhance the cake mixes with toppings, fillings, and decorations.

Today, busy bakers use cake mixes in ways no one could have imagined in the early years of development.

Here are a few of my other favorites that begin with a cake mix!

Triple Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

Vanilla Poke Cake with Salted Caramel and Buttercream

GB’s Candy Bar Poke Cake Recipe

Coconut, Chocolate “Almond Enjoy” Cake

Lemon Cake is a great “take along.”

I love taking a lemon cake in a disposable pan like you can buy at the dollar store, the kind that comes with a lid and all. This cake keeps for days and there’s no frosting to mess up in transit. (Not that it ever lasts for days in my experience!)

It’s always a favorite at a bake sale, church picnic or a funeral dinner. I’ve had so many requests for the recipe, these days I always just tape a copy on top of the lid!

lemon cake in a disposable pan

If you enjoyed this recipe today, please share it on your social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. I’d sure be tickled and ever so grateful, thank you! 

When was the last time you ate lemon cake? Who baked it for you? Is it a great memory?

Love, GB (Betty Streff)

 

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