Lemon Cake

This light, 10-ingredient lemon cake recipe is lightly sweet and bright - the perfect treat to enjoy with an afternoon tea or coffee.

Lemon Cake

“This not-too-sweet, very simple cake is perfect for that ‘it’s four o’clock and I need a little something with a cup of coffee’ moment,” says Julia Turshen about this lemon cake recipe, and I completely agree. I’ve had a little slice of this lemon olive oil cake every day this week, and it’s been delightful.

This easy lemon cake recipe comes from the book Small Victories by Julia Turshen. If you think you’re not familiar with her work, you probably actually are, as she’s co-authored books with Gweneth Paltrow and Mario Batali, to name a few.

I am head-over-heels for her easy lemon cake recipe. It’s made with just 10 simple ingredients, it’s light and fluffy, and the citrus flavor makes it incredibly fresh. I think you’ll love it too.

Easy Lemon Cake Recipe

Lemon Olive Oil Cake Recipe Ingredients

I couldn’t believe that this moist, flavorful cake had only 10 ingredients! And even better, the ingredients are accessible – you likely already have all of them in your pantry. Here’s what’s in it:

  • All-purpose flour forms the base of the batter.
  • Finely ground almonds (or almond flour) give this cake a wonderful moist crumb. If you don’t have almonds, almost any ground nut will work instead!
  • Baking powder helps it rise.
  • Salt brings the bright, sweet flavors to the foreground.
  • Eggs add moisture and richness.
  • Olive oil gives it fruity notes that highlight the citrus flavor.
  • Granulated sugar sweetens it up.
  • Vanilla extract adds depth of flavor.
  • Lemon juice and zest make it vibrant & bright.
  • And a dusting of powdered sugar gives it a nice sweet finish.

Let’s bake!

Lemon Olive oil cake recipe

Lemon Cake Recipe Variations

What I love about the recipes in Small Victories is that Julia has spin-off ideas for each one. (I know how all of you love recipe options, and I do too!) Her original Afternoon Cake recipe calls for orange, but since she said any citrus would work, I made a lemon cake… for obvious reasons.

Here are the other spin offs she suggests:

  • Switch the citrus. Orange, lemon, clementine, tangerine, blood orange, and grapefruit zest all work very well.
  • Make a lemon poppyseed cake by using lemon zest and juice and adding 1 tablespoon poppy seeds to the batter.
  • Enhance the almond flavor. Julia’s recipe uses finely ground almonds, but she says you can substitute nearly any nut. If you do use ground almonds, add ½ teaspoon almond extract to the batter for a more intense almond flavor.
  • Add a swirl. Just before you put the cake in the oven, dot the top with ¼ cup raspberry jam and use a fork or the tip of a paring knife to swirl in the jam.
  • Make it nut-free. Omit the ground nuts and add an extra 1/2 cup flour to batter.

Let me know what variations you try! I’m dying to make the jam spin off next.

How to make lemon cake

Lemon Cake Recipe Tips

Each recipe also comes with a little tip (the titular small victory). Here’s a tip she shared for cutting parchment paper to fit in a round pan, which is much easier than the way I used to do it:

Rip off a piece of parchment that’s a bit bigger than your pan. Fold it into a square. Then, fold it in half to make a triangle and fold it in half again to make an even more narrow triangle. Next, place the tip of the triangle in the center of the pan. Use scissors to cut off the excess parchment that extends beyond the pan. Finally, unfold the parchment and, voila, you have a perfect circle that fits into your pan.

And a tip from me: Serve this lemon olive oil cake with dollops of coconut cream (or whipped cream) for an extra treat. It’s a lovely creamy contrast to the moist, bright cake.

Lemon cake recipe batter Lemon olive oil cake recipe batter

Click here to check out this sweet book 🙂

Small Victories by Julia Turshen

More Favorite Afternoon Treats

If you love this lemon cake recipe, make one of these sweet treats next:

4.8 from 25 reviews

Lemon Cake

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Lemon Cake Recipe from Small Victories by Julia Turshen. Reprinted with permission.
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 8-12
  • 1 cup [120 g] all-purpose flour (I used spelt)
  • ½ cup [50 g] almond flour or finely ground almonds (see Note)
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup [120 ml] extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup [100 g] granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon, plus ¼ cup [60 ml] fresh lemon juice
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F [180°C]. Use your hands to butter the bottom and sides of an 8-in [20-cm] cake pan, then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. For good measure, butter the parchment paper. Set the pan aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until the whites and yolks are fully combined. Add the olive oil and granulated sugar and whisk until the sugar is dissolved (test by rubbing some of the mixture between two fingers). Whisk in the vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Whisk in the flour mixture.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, being sure to use a rubber spatula to get it all out of the bowl. Hold the pan just a little bit above the counter and then drop it on the counter to eliminate any air bubbles.
  5. Bake until the cake is beautifully golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the cake, still in its pan, to a wire rack and let it cool completely. Once cool, use a dinner knife to loosen the edges of the cake from the pan and invert it onto your work surface (you might need to give the pan a little whack). Peel off and discard the parchment. Invert the cake one more time onto a serving platter so the flat side is down and the domed side is up.
  6. Just before serving, dust the cake with powdered sugar.
note: Any nut works well in this cake. To make ground nuts, just put whichever type of nut you’d like (I’ve made this cake successfully with walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios, and am sure pecans and pine nuts would also be great) in the food processor and blitz until they’re as fine as cornmeal. Or use a mortar and pestle. Or purchase ground nuts, which often go by the name “meal” or “flour” as in “almond meal” or “almond flour.” For a nut-free cake, simply omit the ground nuts and add an additional ½ cup [60 g] flour.

Feel free to SUBSTITUTE ANY CITRUS in place of the orange. Clementine, tangerine, blood orange, and grapefruit zest all work very well.

FOR A LEMON–POPPY SEED CAKE, use lemon zest and juice instead of orange and add 1 Tbsp poppy seeds to the batter.

If you’re using ground almonds, add ½ tsp ALMOND EXTRACT to the batter for a more intense almond flavor.

Just before you put the cake in the oven, dot the top with ¼ cup [80 g] RASPBERRY JAM and use a fork or the tip of a paring knife to swirl in the jam.



Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rate this recipe (after making it):  

  1. This looks delicious and as you say, just right for afternoon tea in my case. I also just got Small Victories and am making my way through this wonderful cookbook. Best of luck with your No Kid Hungry campaign.

  2. A big yes to this cake and to Julia and her book. Love your lemon version and the option to add almond extract. Going on my list to make right after those pumpkin waffles. 😉

    Btw, your photo of the cracked egg is awesome!

  3. Alexandra Cummings

    Thank you so much for raising awareness about No Kid Hungry! I’ve followed your blog for a while now, and seeing your support makes me an even bigger fan. This cake looks so nice. I always crave a little something sweet in the afternoon.

  4. Jan

    I can’t wait to try this. Question- do you have to use a springform pan?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      nope! I just didn’t have a regular 8″ cake pan.

  5. Ruth

    I guess I have to ask about subbing gluten free flour 😉

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Ruth, I think an all-purpose GF flour will work in place of the regular flour here.

      • Ruth

        Molte Grazie – yumm!

  6. Natalie from workovereasy.com

    Lemon cake is one of my absolute favourites. This looks like such a good book, with a perfect title, every time I add a recipe to my favourites it truly does feel like a small victory

    – Natalie

  7. Pam

    I’m working from home today, so popped into my kitchen during my lunch break to make this for my afternoon tea. I love that this uses olive oil instead of butter, and otherwise doesn’t have any dairy. I made cashew flour, because that’s what I had. And, used the rest of my whole wheat pastry flour, filled-in with white + regular whole wheat flours for the remainder. Oh, and baked it in a 7″ springform pan, because that’s what I have.

    My arm survived the whisking, despite the organic (larger crystals) sugar I use. The cake baked-up beautifully in the smaller pan. I tasted a tiny fork-size wedge right out of the oven because the smell was driving me crazy, and, it was wonderful.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Pam, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Sounds like a lovely afternoon 🙂

  8. Sandra Lea

    I made this with orange and it is absolutely delicious.

  9. danielle

    Lovely! Wondering if flax eggs would be ok in this recipe to keep it vegan?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Danielle, I haven’t tried but I’m thinking they might not work here – in the past I’ve had more trouble substituting recipes that call for 2 or more eggs. Of course, let me know if you give it a go 🙂

      • Julie

        You could try aquafaba (liquid in a can of chickpeas). One egg = about 3 Tbs of the liquid. I’ve had luck with other cakes.

  10. Oh, oh, oh, lemon cake!!
    Looks like I can get all the ingredients here in Spain, where I live during winter time, as well, so this recipe will be used tomorrow for the Sunday tea:-)

  11. Maria from almostproperly.com

    I love the awareness you are raising with No Kid Hungry. Hunger and the fear of hunger is reality for many – even in our country. Its so visible in impoverished international communities but much less visible here. I love Julia Turshen’s recipes and this one looks wonderful, but I really just want to thank you for raising and bringing awareness to the reality of so many kids and families.

  12. Addison S

    I didn’t have a round cake pan so I made these in a muffin tin. I used 9 out of 12 and got quite a bit of rise out of them but not a lot of color on the top. So I would either cut back on the baking soda or make them in the same tin but spread them out into all twelve muffins. Kept at the same baking temp. Checked every minute after 11 minutes of baking for a total of about 14, rotating half way through. Any thoughts on if this would work with a loaf pan or other tips if not baking in a round cake pan?

    The flavor is great and well suited in a muffin format for the presentation and bite sized nature.

  13. Aleksandra

    That’s probably the best cake I’ve made (and eaten) in a decade or so! The substitutes I used:
    – tigernut flour instead of almond flour (it’s cheaper where I live)
    – an orange instead of a lemon
    – 1 tsp of orange blossom water instead of vanilla extract
    – almond flakes instead of powdered sugar for topping
    Additionally: 1 tsp of ground cinammon & ca. 50 g chopped dark chocolate added to the dry ingredients.

    Now I’m planning to experiment changing the proportions of tigernut flour vs spelt flour and using lemons instead of oranges. In the lemon variant, chopped rosemary should work amazingly (maybe instead of dark chocolate).

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you loved it! Ooh, chopped rosemary sounds delicious 🙂

  14. Cordula

    This sounds absolutely delicious and I would love to bake it for tomorrows tea :). However I have a quick question: I would like to make a 9″ springform cake. What should the measurements be? I think the 8″ might be too little for us! Thank you, much appreciated.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Cordula, the cake will be more flat in a 9″ pan, I’d use an 8-inch regular (non-springform) baking pan if you have one. If you want more cake, I’d recommend just making 2 🙂

  15. Hemal Shah

    Hi…!! Wont to try without eggs..any idea how it’s works and what’s the substitute for eggs ..
    Photography is so clear and perfect you use perfect light great

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Hemal, I’m not sure this one will work without eggs.

  16. Hi the lemon cake was a great addition to my moms tea.i had to use pecans.no almonds.it came out great thanks.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you enjoyed!

  17. Heather

    Fantastic. Made it for a light dessert and it is oh so good. Easy to make too.

  18. Tatiana

    Ohh, thank you for sharing! its delightfull!

  19. I adore lemon cakes. I haven’t tried baking one with the almond meal in it so I’m keen to try this recipe. It looks delicious. Thanks for sharing.

  20. elgoog from thedigitalbridges.com

    This is a great recipe! Thank you so much for sharing! Lemon cake is one of my favorite desserts. I will definitely be trying this out!

  21. I cannot wait to make this! It’s a beautiful, yet simple dessert and perfect for spring and summer! <3 Thank you for sharing!

  22. Mattie

    This was AMAZING!!! So good and light. Will definitely be making it again. Husband said he had a love/hate relationship with this cake. He loved it (and ate most of it), but he hated it because it had fruit (I guess lemon zest and juice counts as “fruit”) in it which makes it healthy, which means its not really dessert. Men.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Ha! I laughed so hard at this comment, thank you! I’m so glad you both loved the cake 🙂

  23. Aline from novodocelar.com

    I just made this cake (1/2 recipe like I usually do for cakes when it is only for me and my husband) and it is delicious! I regret making only 1/2 recipe 🙂
    Thank you so much for sharing.

  24. Aline from novodocelar.com

    New comment because I forgot to rate it 😉

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Thank you! I’m so glad you both loved it!

  25. Aina Sebastià

    I just did it yesterday and it didn’t last 24h!!! It has become ont of my favourites, thanks for sharing 🙂

  26. Sahar Gerstel

    Hey! I just wondered how was the spelt flour, and was it white or whole? Would love to use spelt instead of ap but wondered if it got less fluffy

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Sahar, I used whole spelt flour (the Arrowhead Mills brand), and it was delicious.

  27. Chris

    I made this cake for a pregnant co-worker who is not supposed to have too much sugar. I followed the metric ingredients carefully and used the original recipe(w/ orange). I did not make any alterations to the recipe except for using a 9inch springform cake pan as it was all I had. I swirled in bonne maman rasberry jam and added the almond extract as advised in the “spinoffs.”

    There was no problem with the size of the cake pan and the cake had a good rise to it. I just checked it after 15 minutes but it needed the full 20 minutes in the oven. I didn’t have any baking paper so I buttered and floured the pan and it came out easy and I let it rest for over 12 hours. Cakes definitely need a resting period.

    It was gorgeous by itself but very suited to go with a cup of tea. My pregnant coworker had 2 slices, one for her and one for the baby!

    This recipe is a keeper!

  28. Sue

    Easy, delicious, and dairy-free (if you grease the pan with non-dairy). I’ve made it several times exactly as written, always comes out well and is well received by family and friends.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Sue, I’m so glad the cake has been a hit!

  29. Marilee

    This cake is excellent! I used ground raw almonds and added 1/2 tsp of almond extract — so delicious. It is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee.

  30. Carol

    Moist and light but a little bit on the salty/sour side vs sweet and lemony. Not as sweet so the powdered sugar on top helps, and the almond flour gives it a bit of a meal-y texture. I think it’s missing icing or frosting.

  31. Rachel

    Thank you so much for posting this recipe. I was looking for a lemon cake which was light and fluffy but wasn’t full of sugar and it seemed as if this one would fit the bill. It certainly did!
    I did tweak the recipe though, by using plain white flour and omitting the nuts. However, it’s good to know I can make it with wholegrain flour, which in general I prefer to do.
    Less sugar means the lemon flavour really stands out. Delicious!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Rachel, I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe!

  32. Katerina

    I found this cake very oily and very sour at the same time. I followed the exact amounts of ingredients as set out in the recipe.. This seems really strange, since all your recipes so far have been a huge success…

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hmm, so many people have made this one with success, I’m not sure what might have gone wrong. So sorry you didn’t enjoy it as much as we did.

  33. Cassie

    I’m going to make this for my girlfriends 30th birthday 😁

  34. Leah

    This recipe is calling my dad’s name (and mine!!) and his birthday is right around the corner! Do you think I could sub coconut sugar for the sugar?
    Thank you for this wonderful recipe, I cannot wait to make it 🙂

  35. Adriana M

    This cake was delicious! I have never made an olive oil based cake, and it was amazing. I used lemon as the citrus and walnuts as the nut. I didn’t have an 8 inch pan, so I used a 9 inch springform and it was a little thinner but still baked well at 25 minutes. I also added the 1/2 tsp of almond extract even though I used walnuts because I love the flavor.

  36. Lucas

    You can never go wrong with Lemon cake! Thanks for sharing!!

  37. Annabelle

    Good morning Jeanine,

    I baked your lemon cake with my 7-year-old daughter yesterday. We loved it, it was light and so tasty. Thank you so much for this recipe!

    Kind regards,

  38. Avery

    hi! just made this cake and it barely rose, it’s about 1 inch tall. not sure what i did wrong but it was still delicious! also, are there any nutrition facts i can look at?

    • Stacy

      This also happened to me. I used baking soda that’s only been opened for a month (or is that too long?) and used 180 g of AP flour, otherwise I followed the recipe. I didn’t whip the eggs, is that maybe why it didn’t rise as much?

      • Jeanine Donofrio

        It’s a pretty short cake, that’s how mine was too. If you wanted it taller, you could use a smaller pan and bake it a tad longer.

        • Michelle

          I happened to be craving lemon cake and had all the ingredients in my pantry. This was easy to make and deliciously comforting. It smelled so good out of the oven, I couldn’t wait till it cooled to cut myself a slice! It’s light and lemony with a nice crumb. Definitely a keeper recipe!

  39. Amy

    Is this cake robust enough to stack? I was thinking of making 2x 8″ rounds and putting raspberry jam or buttercream in the middle

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hmmm… it’s very short and a little bit dense, so I’m not sure this one will be the light and airy two layer cake you might be envisioning.

  40. Flynn

    Thank you for this recipe the other websites either had too many calories or I didn’t have the ingredients. I used 80 grams of yoghurt (with a tiny bit of baking soda) then 40 grams of oil to make it a bit less calorie-dense. I made two cakes and made a layered cake with Italian meringue. Everyone liked it and now this is my new favourite cake.

    • Flynn

      I think the yoghurt and baking soda made bubbles so it wasn’t as dense as when I made it the first time.

  41. Ann

    Best textured dairy free cake I’ve made! The olive oil gives such a sophisticated taste. Really wanted to make it vegan but read comments that flax eggs don’t work which was a bit of a disappointment. Injected some fresh strawberry compote and coated with a honey glaze. Easily one of the tastiest and most unique cakes I’ve made, thank you!

  42. Oriana

    Hello. I made this cake yesterday and am so pleased with it. It’s quick and easy and comes out with a lovely, light taste. Not too sweet. The “texture” of the cake is perfect and I think it would be overpowered by a frosting. Only change I’ll make next time is to add extra lemon zest. Thank you so much.

  43. Nat

    I don’t know what I could have done wrong but mine came out bread like. The batter was way thicker than pictured. And I did every little thing to the T, by weight because it’s typically far more accurate than by US cups. I’ll try again another day, but so far I’m not too happy.

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.