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:

4.9 from 51 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. Andrew Betrix

    I made this, I have many lemons & needed something to make. , this is delicious, I made lemon curd & wanted to put it on something, perfect 😋

  2. Rose

    Lovely recipe! Has anyone tried freezing it? Does that work?

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)

      Hi Rose, I think this cake would freeze great!

  3. Victoria

    If I were to do this gf what flour would you recommend?

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)

      Hi Victoria, we haven’t tested a gf version of this recipe, so I’m not 100% certain how it would turn out, but you could try using any 1-for-1 gluten-free flour blend, such as Bob’s Red Mill’s.

  4. Nicole

    Would it be possible to swirl in the blueberry compote recipe from this site rather than raspberry jam? I’m not sure because my compote is a much thinner consistency than a jam.

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)

      Hi Nicole, I think swirling in 1/4 cup compote would work fine, but we haven’t tried this, so I can’t guarantee the results. If you try it, let us know how it goes!

      • Nicole

        The blueberry compote worked beautifully!

        • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)

          Yay! So glad it came out well for you.

  5. Christine

    Hi! Can I use a 9-inch cake pan instead of an 8-inch pan? Thank you!

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)

      Yep, the bake time will likely be a bit shorter because you’ll have a slightly thinner cake.

  6. Jessica

    Can I make this without the lemon? Silly question, since it’s a lemon cake, but the recipe itself lends much closer to a simple cake recipe that I am looking for. Accessible ingredients and a mix of gf flour and spelt flour.

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)

      Hi Jessica, We haven’t tried this, so I can’t guarantee the results. You would definitely need to replace the lemon juice with an equal amount of liquid, such as milk or water. I might also suggest increasing the vanilla as the citrus supplies a lot of flavor here.

  7. Oceane

    Such a great light cake! Easy to make and super tasty. I added the zest of one more lemon and the flavor was just perfect.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you loved it!

  8. pilar

    Great recipe! It was perfect, like every recipe i’ve done from this page. .
    Thank you so much
    Pilar from Uruguay

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I”m so glad you loved it!

  9. pilar

    Great recipe! It was perfect, like every recipe i’ve done from this page. Recomend vegan muffins and coconut mango muffins as well.
    Thank you so much
    Pilar from Uruguay

  10. Sue-b-doo

    P.S. Although we eat a vegan diet, we allow egg whites b/c of no cholesterol.

    • Bea

      Wait, did it work with just egg whites to replace the eggs?
      What did you do exactly.?
      Im curious since I prefer baking with just egg whites.

      • Susan Collison

        Yes, just substitute egg whites for the total liquid of a regular egg. I just glug it in since eggs come in various sizes anyway! Merry Christmas! =)

  11. Sue-b-doo

    My husband requested a vegan lemon cake for his birthday ~ this was PERFECT! Not too sweet, low carb w/ the almond flour. So I’m making another one today, but adding fresh blueberries ~ I LOVE lemon & blueberry together! It’s in the oven now…can’t wait! =)

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

    • Marianne

      Hi there, did you make it vegan by using a powdered egg replacer? One of our family is vegan but another has asked for a ‘not too sweet’ lemon cake for their birthday. I’d like to make one cake for all of us. Thanks!

      • Susan Collison

        Hi Marianne, It has been a while since I’ve made this recipe, but I most likely used Bob’s Red Mill egg replacer. We do allow egg whites in our diet now, so if your family doesn’t mind, that would work well. I remember that the cake doesn’t rise a lot, but it sure is delicious! Enjoy! ~Sue

        • Marianne

          Thanks so much, Sue! Yes I use Bob’s quite a bit when a flax egg would change the bake too much. I’m hoping that all will enjoy it! Thanks again.

  12. Danielle

    I know I would eat this entire cake if I let myself. So amazing. Beautiful photos!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

    • Susan

      Is this true that flax eggs won’t work?

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

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.