06 Sep 2020


Lemon Cake | Photo by Stephan Andrew
Lemon Cake | Photo by Stephan Andrew

In a country where lemon tarts are available at almost every bakery, it is surprising that there is very little fondness for lemon desserts in general. In the last five years, in my experience of baking and working in bakeries in this country, I have found that most Pakistanis prefer the idea and nostalgia of the lemon tart rather than the actual flavour of lemons and would like their tart to be more sweet than tangy. But I have found kindred spirits, who like me, love a lemon dessert that makes you pucker up in delight. My favourite is lemon bars with a crisp shortbread base covered in lemon cream and a heavy dusting of icing sugar on the top for that perfect balance of sweet and sour. However, that is just an aside, and not today’s recipe.

A friend of mine who loves lemon desserts, celebrated a milestone birthday recently and, thanks to Covid-19, the gathering was quite small: five socially-distanced people in a large room and a few others on Zoom. I was racking my brains trying to figure out what to make. Eventually, I decided that a special birthday calls for a cake, and so I settled on this lemon cake and decorated it with sugar paste daisies for a pretty finish. You can make it with or without the decoration, but be prepared for a deliciously moist sponge imbibed with lemony sweet syrup, a decadent lemon curd filling and a light lemon buttercream finish that will give even your favourite chocolate cake a run for its money.

This lemon cake has four elements: sponge, syrup, lemon curd and lemon buttercream. I recommend making the sponge, syrup and lemon curd the day before, and then doing the buttercream and assembly on the day of serving.

Lemon sponge


300g butter
300g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Zest of 3 lemons
1 teaspoon lemon essence
6 eggs
300g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder


Prepare the cake tins (I use three shallow eight-inch tins, you can make the whole sponge in one deep eight-inch tin) by greasing them and lining the base with butter paper. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. In a small bowl, mix the flour and baking powder and set aside. In another small bowl, lightly whisk the eggs with a fork and set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium high, mix the butter, caster sugar, lemon zest and salt for three to five minutes until pale and fluffy. Add the lemon essence and the eggs in a steady slow stream while constantly beating the mixture. Once it is well-mixed, use a spatula to fold in the dry ingredients. Put the batter in the cake tin(s). Your baking time will depend on the type of tin you are using. My shallow tins take about 15-20 minutes; if you are using a deep baking tin, it may take up to 30 minutes or more. Be sure to test with a skewer to check for doneness; the skewer should come out clean.

Tired of the typical chocolate cake? Consider adding some tangy goodness to your next celebration

Lemon syrup


100ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
100g caster sugar


Make the syrup while the sponges are still in the oven. Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan on medium heat and stir constantly until it just boils. Remove immediately from the heat and cool slightly.

Once the sponges have baked, let them cool on a wire rack in their tins for 10 minutes and then brush them liberally with the lemon syrup. Once the sponges are completely cool, wrap the cake tin in cling film and refrigerate for use the next day. Make sure you reserve the leftover syrup.

Lemon curd


5 egg yolks
2 eggs
Zest of 2 lemons
110ml lemon juice
110g sugar
60g cold butter (cut in cubes)


Put a small saucepan filled with a little water on the boil and let it simmer. In a stainless steel bowl (which will fit on top of the saucepan without touching the water), combine the egg yolks, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar. Put the bowl on the saucepan and use a spatula to mix constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spatula. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the cold butter until it is totally dissolved. Sieve the entire mixture to remove any lumps that may have formed during the cooking. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

(P.S. Leftover lemon curd tastes great on toast!)

Lemon buttercream


160g unsalted butter
160g icing sugar (sifted)
Pinch of salt
80g lemon curd (cold)
Lemon yellow colour (optional)


Combine the butter, sugar and salt in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer for three to five minutes until pale and fluffy. Using a spatula, fold in the lemon curd. You can add a few drops of lemon yellow colour if you desire.


Remove the sponges from the cake tins and level the tops with a serrated knife for a perfectly balanced cake. If you made one sponge, you will need to slice it into three thin layers. Put a small dab of buttercream on your cake plate or board, and place the first layer of sponge on it. Brush liberally with the lemon syrup and then add a thin layer of lemon buttercream. Create a small well in the centre of the buttercream and add 20-30g of lemon curd. Cover with the second layer of sponge, and repeat the process and then cover with the third layer of sponge. Coat the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of buttercream (called a crumb coat) and freeze or refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes. Then use the remaining buttercream to frost the cake one more time. Add any decorations that you may have made and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.

The writer is a professional pastry chef and holds a diploma in pastry from Le Cordon Bleu

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 6th, 2020