February Pound Cake Project Take Three: Nigella’s Lemon Not Quite Pound Cake

Nigella Pound Cake 1

Nigella Lawson's lemon syrup loaf cake, with some changes.

My soul was flagging a little in the middle of the February Pound Cake Project. For all that I love highly tested, extremely scientific recipes, part of me wanted to bake something comforting and homey, without all those explanatory notes about the chemical reasons for using cake flour rather than all-purpose flour.

It was in this state of mind that I turned to Nigella Lawson, whose outrageously descriptive and soulful prose seemed like a perfect antidote to scientific overload. Also, seeing as the pound cake originated in England, it made a certain kind of sense to try the recipe of this British domestic.

But I ran into a road block, as Nigella doesn’t actually have a recipe for plain pound cake in How To Be A Domestic Goddess. But many of her recipes are loaf cakes, which all look to be variations on the classic pound cake recipe. “Close enough,” I thought, happily bending the Project rules to suit my own will.

I chose to make her lemon-syrup loaf cake with a couple of changes, the biggest of which is that I omitted the syrup. I’ve never understood why some pound cakes are drenched in soaking syrup, transforming a perfect piece of cake into a dense, sickly sweet and sloppy creation that shouldn’t be allowed near a dessert tray. In lieu of the soaking syrup, I made my own lemon icing and drizzled it over the cake.

The recipe also calls for self-rising cake flour, which I didn’t have on hand, and which I doubt they even sell in my crappy Giant. So I used the substitution suggested in Wonktheplank’s Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, (add 1 teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to a cup of cake flour).

The result was perfection. This cake was definitely different than the first two pound cakes – those had a tender, close crumb, that melted in your mouth. This cake was lighter, without the close crumb, and much more crumbly. The lemon icing and the lemon zest in the batter also added greatly to its appeal – it’s amazing what a little citrus can do for a cake!

Nigella Pound Cake Slices

Mmmmm, lovely slices of pound cake.

Lemon (Sans-Syrup) Loaf Cake
Adapted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess, By Nigella Lawson.

Cake Ingredients
1 cup plus one tbs cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus one tablespoon sugar
Zest of one lemon
2 large eggs
4 tbs milk

Icing Ingredients
Approximately 1 cup powdered sugar
The juice of one lemon


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan and line with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda until combined. Place sugar in a mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment and add the lemon zest, mixing until the zest is evenly distributed (alternately, you can place sugar and lemon zest in your food processor and pulse, briefly, until the zest is evenly distributed. Then place sugar/lemon mixture in your mixing bowl). Add the butter and cream until light and fluffy, 5-6 minutes.

Add the eggs and beat until combined. Gently fold in the flour mixture, and then fold in milk until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Place in oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean – approximately 45 minutes.

While your cake is baking, make the icing. You’ll notice that I don’t have specific proportions for my icing ingredients, and that’s because I never really measure anything when making this icing. What I do is I place half a cup of powdered sugar in a small bowl, and then add a couple teaspoons of lemon juice, and mix together. If the mixture is too thick, I add more lemon juice. If it’s too thin, I add a little bit more powdered sugar. I keep on mixing and mixing it until I get the desired consistency – thin enough to be pourable, but thick enough so that it doesn’t dissolve into the cake.

When the cake is done remove from the oven. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before taking it out of the pan and transferring to a wire rack. Let cool completely before covering with the icing – I like to use a fork to drizzle the icing over in attractive spidery patterns.



  1. foodnearsnellville said

    In the one heirloom cookbook my mother left me, a nice church cookbook, there must be 20 different variants of pound cake and I think I’ve made at least 5 of them at one time or another. These cooks tended to use lemon flavorings as opposed to lemon zest, and one of the more modest twists on those base recipes I experimented with was to use a mix of 2/3 lemon to 1/3 orange.. it adds a hint of flavor people notice but can’t quite recognize.

    I’d be tempted to try this with a bit of orange peel added to the lemon zest.

  2. Bonnie said

    Continuing on the orange theme, I have stopped making lemon pound cake since I tried Barefoot Contessa’s orange pound cake recipe. It’s fantastic in the summer with fresh berries or as a base for strawberry shortcake. I’ve also used it in a deconstructed raspberry trifle that was a big hit with guests. She also has a variation that adds chopped bittersweet chocolate and a chocolate ganache glaze. The original recipe makes two loaf size cakes so I try to keep one in the freezer for a quick and easy dessert.

  3. […] salad.  This is a quick article on cooking pearled barley (yum!). And Modern Domestic has a pound cake series that leaves my mouth watering (her comments about food shows are also very […]

  4. […] overpowering. The texture is crumbly and soft – it reminded me of the texture of Nigella’s Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake, but denser. I can’t imagine why anyone would go back to eating classic shortbread cookies […]

  5. If you really don’t know what goes into self-RAISING (not rising) flour, it’s asmall amount of baking powder. You never, never put salt in a lemon cake. If you haven’t got baking powder, you should use a combination of bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar, in the quantities specified on the little boxes they come in.
    And don’t forget to stir and sift them together well into the flour before using it.
    It’s sad if your shop does not sell self-raising flour, but most supermarkets do, here in England. One more tip is this: always buy flour in very small quantities. Never leave it lying around in a cupboard then use it when months or years old. The best cakes are made only with the freshest ingredients.
    Nigella Lawson’s cakes are really dreadful, she knows nothing about cookery, and as for her idea of combining chocolate with cherries, it’s a waste of both.

    • moderndomestic said

      Actually, it’s referred to as “self-rising flour” here in the States.

      Why should you never put salt in a lemon cake? I’ve never heard that tip before, but I’m very curious!

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