Maida Heatter's Lemon Buttermilk Cake

April  8, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten
Author Notes

This light, moist, lemony cake is genius for so many reasons: It’s powerfully puckery. It’s got both more fresh lemon juice and zest than you’d expect or normally see in a recipe, and the flavor holds up under heat. It’s given even more flavor because it’s soaked—really soaked—with a lemon and sugar syrup that seeps into the cake slowly and provides moistness, a little more keepability, and a lot more lemon intensity. Adapted slightly from Maida Heatter’s New Book of Great Desserts (Knopf, 1982). —Genius Recipes

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: The Genius, Foolproof Lemon Cake Dorie Greenspan Swears By. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Maida Heatter's Lemon Buttermilk Cake
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Serves 12 to 15
  • Fine, dry bread crumbs, for dusting pan
  • Finely grated rind of 3 large lemons (juice will be used below for Glaze)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 2/3 cups (354 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound (226 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pan
  • 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • Glaze
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
In This Recipe
  1. Adjust a rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F. You will need a tube pan with a 10-cup capacity (that is generally 9 inches in diameter); it can be a pan with a design or a 9 x 3 1/2–inch tube pan without a design. If you use a pan with a design, butter it (even if it is nonstick) and then dust it all over with fine, dry bread crumbs. If you use the plain 9 x 3 1/2–inch tube pan, butter it, line the bottom with parchment paper cut to fit, butter the paper, and dust all over with crumbs. With either pan, tap to shake out excess crumbs over a piece of paper. Set aside.
  2. Place the lemon rind and juice in a small cup and set aside.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.
  4. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft. Add the sugar and beat until well mixed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients in three additions and the buttermilk in two, beginning and ending with the dry. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula, and beat only until smooth after each addition.
  5. Remove from the mixer and stir in the lemon rind and juice.
  6. Turn into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a cake tester gently inserted into the middle comes out clean and dry. The cake will be deeply golden brown and will have begun to pull away from the sides of the pan.
  7. While the cake is baking, make the glaze: Mix the juice and sugar and let stand, stirring occasionally.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven and let it stand in the pan for 5 minutes. Then cover it with a rack and very carefully turn over the pan and the rack and place it over a large piece of foil. Remove the pan. If you have used a paper lining, peel it off now.
  9. With a pastry brush, brush the glaze over the top, sides and tube of the hot cake.
  10. Let stand until completely cool.

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Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink cooking tropes. They're handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacy. They get us talking and change the way we cook. And, once we've folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too. Watch for new Genius Recipes every Wednesday morning on our blog, dug up by Food52's Creative Director Kristen Miglore.