When I was younger, we would purchase this lemon loaf cake from Première Moisson in Montreal. I thought it was so special and regal, packed in a stiff transparent plastic box on a gold piece of cardboard. And packed was key: the cake barely fit in the box, and each time you slide it out, the top of the cake streaked the plastic with glaze. Those 1800 cubic centimetres contained satisfaction for days.
The cake had two presentations — first it would be the crisp morning coating of a crackly sugar glaze, and later, after a day or so, the glaze would be softened and the crown of each slice would be moist and saturated with lemon and sugary glaze.
I’ve been trying to make a lemon cake that lived up to my excessively detailed and visceral memories for a long time. That goal had vaguely concluded with the previous lemon loaf cake–I wasn’t fully satisfied, but I had brought that cake recipe as far as I could.
I was fairly certain that was to be that and any advances in lemon cake-making remained dormant until the last time my grandparents were in Montreal. They brought back a shrink wrapped loaf cake, and while it wasn’t glazed, this cake, labelled as “week-end citron”, had the tender and fine crumb that I remembered.
But best of all, the name was also familiar: the “week-end cake” recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi from which I had previously adapted this chestnut and prune version. In fact, the crumb and richness was quite similar to the cake I had made. A look at the ingredients also seemed to confirm that, as both cakes also contain heavy cream and rum.
I set about making a lemon adaptation of the week-end cake, taking some of the core principles that guided my previous favourite lemon cake. Based on Smitten Kitchen’s lemon cake, we use two glazes: some lemon juice squeezed over just out of the oven followed by a set sugary glaze once the cake is cool. But let’s take some measures to control the sweetness–just using straight lemon juice for the first soaking and cutting sugar from the cake. This is key so we can completely coat the whole cake (and I mean every spot of the top and sides) in a doughnut-like thin sugary crust without it being overwhelming (no thick drizzle please!). In the previous rendition, cuts to the sugar budget compromised texture and led to a bit of an anemic crust. This cake cooks long enough in the oven to end up with a golden brown crust, and has a rather lovely texture that is less dependent on proper butter-sugar aeration.
This cake is like I remember in the important ways. The crumb is finer and denser, and straightforwardly rich and each slice is solid, not crumbly. The deeply browned crust peeking out from below an icing sugar glaze and the profile when you cut a slice from the middle–of a tall, proud craggy crest of lemon yellow cake–is just what I remember.
This cake is also not like I remember; in fact, I think it’s a wee bit better in some of the even more important ways such as being very, very lemony.
I’ve made this cake upwards of seven times now (it is a good one to bring to the lab). And each time it has been actually rather excellent. Of course, all the credit goes towards the reliable base cake recipe from Dorie Greenspan, because in fact, this cake is far easier and reliable than the previous one. With melted butter, there’s no need for softening nor emergency measures when your perfect room-temperature butter gets wrecked by those dastardly fridge-temperature eggs. Nor do you need to actually put in the work of creaming butter (which I know really does pay off, yet I am never able to convince my right limb of that in the moment).
Now this earlier lemon cake still has plenty of merit, just of a different sort. When your butter and eggs are at the right temperature and properly creamed, the crumb is softer, lighter and fluffier. It’s not worse at all (and probably better to some), it’s just that this cake is the one that I’ve been looking for all this time.
Well. I’ll try not to overstate and exaggerate too much. It’s a very, very small thing, but it’s still a really lovely cake.
- 238 g a.p. flour
- 1 1/2 tsp b.p.
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 150 g sugar
- finely grated zest of 2 lemons
- 4 room temperature eggs
- 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp dark rum (optional)
- 80 mL heavy cream
- 1 stick butter, melted and cooled
- juice of 1 lemon
- 100g (1 c) icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a loaf pan with a parchment paper sling and butter the exposed sides of the pan.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In another bowl, rub the lemon zest into the sugar until very aromatic. Add the eggs and whisk thoroughly to combine, then whisk in the vanilla extract, rum and finally the heavy cream. Mix in the flour mixture with a spatula, and finally add the butter in 2-3 additions, folding in the butter completely each time. Scrape the batter, which is beautifully ribbony, into the prepared pan.
Bake for 45-55 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed clean. Remove from the oven, prick lightly all over with a wooden skewer, and drizzle overtop juice of half a lemon. Let cool around 10-15 minutes before removing from the pan and placing on a wire rack to cool completely.
For the second glaze, I recommend doing this the day you’re planning to serve the cake. Often I will bake the cake the night before, and then finish glazing next morning so it is freshly set before bringing it as a gift.
For the sugar glaze, whisk together the icing sugar with enough lemon juice (usually a bit less than half a lemon, depending on the size of your lemons) to make a glaze that is thin and drizzly (slightly translucent), but still thick enough to cling to the cake. Place the cooled cake on a wire rack over a pan. Pour the glaze over the cake, using a large offset spatula to spread the glaze evenly over the sides of the cake until it is completely coated.
Update notes: photographs updated Apr 2021.