Recipe: Lady bird lemon cake

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Recipe: Lady bird lemon cake

If any wife of a U.S. president was going to be known for making lemon cake, how delightful (for naming purposes) that it should have been Lady Bird Johnson. This smart and accomplished First Lady’s recipe has been passed around thousands of times over the decades, and though I doubt I began with her exact version, it was pretty close. When I tried it, I understood why it was famous. It’s luscious and delicious. I’ve tweaked it a bit, eliminating any mention of margarine or food colouring and upping the lemon quotient a smidge. But the essence of it, I like to think, is just what Mrs. Johnson had in mind.



  • 3/4 cup (287 g) butter, at room temperature, plus melted butter for greasing the pan
  • 2-1/2 cups (325 g) cake flour, plus more for dusting the pan
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/4 cups (250 g) granulated sugar
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • lemon icing (see recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C /gas 3). Brush the inside of a 10-cup (2.4-L) Bundt pan thoroughly with the melted butter and dust it lightly with flour. (Use a pastry brush to help distribute the flour and tap out any excess.)

2 Whisk together the flour with the baking powder and salt in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined.

3 In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter with the sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until they are light and lemon-coloured, then add them to the butter-sugar mixture and beat until just blended.

4 With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture (in three increments) alternately with the milk (in two increments), beginning and ending with the flour and beating until thoroughly incorporated after each addition. Add the vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice; beat for 2 minutes.

5 Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for about 1 hour, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for about 15 minutes in the pan on a wire rack, then invert the cake onto the rack and let it cool completely. Pour the icing over the cooled cake and serve.

Serves 10–12.

Lemon Icing

  • 2 cups (185 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup (57 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons heavy cream (or more as needed)

Combine the confectioners’ sugar with the butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, and cream in a small bowl and stir vigorously until the mixture is smooth, thick, and pourable.

2 Add more cream if needed to obtain the desired consistency.

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Excerpted from Cake Simple, Copyright © 2011 by Christie Matheson. Photography by Alex Farnum. Excerpted by permission of Chronicle Books. All rights reserved.



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Recipe: Lady bird lemon cake