A timeless, classic lemon cake from the queen of desserts, Maida Heatter, with a lovely texture and brushed with a lemon juice and sugar glaze.
Originally published in in the New York Times in the 1970's, this lemon cake went viral when viral meant it was showing up in every kitchen and the recipe was being written out to share with everyone they knew! And for good reason. This lemon cake is timeless and simply perfect. It's easy to make and made with standard pantry items. And it's a cake that can be enjoyed plain with tea or dressed up with fruit and whipped cream.
The original recipe comes from the queen of desserts, Maida Heatter, who apparently was given the recipe from her daughter, who lived on East 62nd Street in Manhattan.
Cook's Notes for East 62nd Street Lemon Cake
This cake can be made in either a bundt pan or a tube pan. In either case, it should have a 12-cup capacity. The bundt cake will be inverted after baking. The tube pan will not. I kind of love the soft top from baking it in a tube pan. That's what I've used here. I like to leave the base of the tube pan on until the cake is glazed and cooled, to prevent any breakage from trying to move a warm cake. It works just fine.
Interestingly, this cake recipe was published with two different baking temperatures. The original New York Times version specified 325F. for 75 minutes. When the recipe was published in Maida Heatter's "Book of Great Desserts" some time later, the baking temperature changed 350F. while still recommending about 75 minutes. It would seem that both can't be true. Having made this cake several times with different pans and times and temperatures, I think 325F for 70-75 minutes works nicely. If baking at 350F, the timing would be closer to 60 minutes, but note that this temperature tends to make quite a dark crust, darker than I prefer myself.
Top Tip! Don't mix up the lemon juice and sugar glaze until right before brushing on the cake. It's important that the sugar not have time to dissolve. That way the sugar crystals make a lovely, crisp coating on the cake.
The sugar glaze on this cake nicely seals the outside and helps to keep it fresh for several days. Simply cover the any cut ends with plastic wrap and keep on the counter.
East 62nd Street Lemon Cake
For the cake:
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt reduce to 1/4 tsp if using salted butter
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups white sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- finely grated zest of 2 lemons about 2 Tbsp
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice strained
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- Preheat oven to 325F. with rack in lower third of oven. Grease and flour a 12-cup capacity/9 x 4 1/2-inch bundt or tube pan (with removable bottom, greasing the tube as well). Set aside.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl with an electric mixer or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter. Add the sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With mixer on lowest speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternately with the milk in 2 additions, scraping the bowl as necessary. Beat only until smooth after each addition. Stir in lemon zest.
- Spoon batter into prepared pan. Let top by rotating pan back and forth.
- Bake for 70-75 minutes, or until a tester comes out dry.
- For a bundt cake: Let cake stand in the pan for about 3 minutes, then cover with a rack and invert. Remove pan, leaving the cake upside down. For a tube pan, let stand 5 minutes, then run a knife around the outside and centre hole. Carefully push up from the bottom to remove cake from outside ring. Place onto cooling rack with the base still attached. Proceed to brush with glaze and cool, then remove from the base by running a knife underneath the cake and using two spatulas to lift the cake off the base of the pan.
- Place a baking sheet under the cooling rack and prepare glaze by stirring together the glaze ingredients. (Glaze must be used immediately after it is mixed). Brush glaze liberally all over the hot cake until absorbed. Let cake cool completely. Do not cut for at least several hours.