One-Bowl Lemon Cake With Citrus Glaze

January 18, 2023
31 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 6 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • makes 1 8x8 cake
Author Notes

I’ve been making lemon snacking cakes since back in the day. And I’ve been eating them for even longer than that. As a child, my grandmother used to make me a “lemon velvet cake.” Her cake was assembled in a 9x13-inch pan, and although I am a firm believer that such a pan delivers a sheet cake, and not a snacking cake, for the sake of my story, I’m throwing accuracy to the wind. Sitting at my grandmother’s plastic-covered dining room table (the plastic only came off for company—IYKYK), as a little kid, swinging my legs, as my feet were yet to reach the ground, and enjoying slices of her lemon snacking cake is one of my earliest and best food memories. Such a good one in fact, that I even developed my own version of my grandmother’s cake, which you can check outhere. So like I said, lemon snacking cakes and I go way back.

Here, however, I shake things up and add some ricotta to the mix, which results in a fluffier cake, than one without the cheese, that is sweet, but not too sweet and deeply lemon-y due to copious amounts of zest and juice. I also like to add a little lemon extract, for extra zing, but if extracts are not your jam, by all means leave it out. The recipe calls for what I consider to be a generous amount of ricotta and when first developing it, I used much less, thinking that I could just substitute the ricotta one-for-one for the dairy I would typically add to a lemon snacking cake. But I was underwhelmed. A little ricotta cake research ensued, and lo and behold I realized when peeps go ricotta, they go big or go home. I basically doubled the amount (and added an extra egg) and honestly I could not be more excited about this cake (my first foray into ricotta baking, if you must know…). The glaze is sweet, so consider yourself warned, and if you want to pull back on that, reduce the sugar—just know that less sugar means a thinner glaze and probably a disdainful, sideways glance from my grandmother (she liked things sweet). —Jessie Sheehan

What You'll Need
  • Cake
  • 3 tablespoons lemon zest (about 3 large lemons)
  • 1 1/4 cups (247 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (99 grams) vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract, optional
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 to 3 large lemons)
  • 1 1/4 cups (284 grams) full-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (180 grams) cake flour
  • Glaze
  • 1 cup (113 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center of the oven. Grease an 8x8x2-inch baking pan with cooking spray, or softened butter. Line the bottom with a sheet of parchment paper that extends up and over two opposite sides of the pan.
  2. Rub the zest into the sugar in a large mixing bowl until fragrant. Whisk in the oil and extracts; and then the eggs and yolk, one at a time, whisking after each. Whisk in the juice and ricotta. Whisk in the baking powder, soda, and salt, one at a time. Place a sieve over the bowl and sift the flour directly into it. Gently fold it in with a flexible spatula. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating at the halfway point, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a moist crumb or two. Let the cake cool on a rack until you can safely lift it out of the pan by the parchment overhang without burning yourself (about 20 minutes). Let cool to room temp before glazing, about 30 minutes.
  3. To make the glaze, vigorously whisk the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl until smooth, adding more or less of one or the other in order to achieve your desired consistency and flavor. Gently pour the glaze over the cake, spreading it with an offset spatula so it drips over the cake’s edges. Let the glaze set before serving, about 20 minutes. The cake will keep tightly wrapped in plastic wrap on the counter for 3 days and is even better the second day.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • CLK
  • MMH
  • Taylor Stanton
    Taylor Stanton
  • Robyn C.
    Robyn C.
  • Barbara Pauly
    Barbara Pauly
Bio: Jessie Sheehan is the author of The Vintage Baker and Icebox Cakes. Her new easy-peasy baking book, Snackable Bakes, hits shelves in spring 2022. She contributes to the Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Food Network, and the Kitchn, among others.

79 Reviews

CLK January 26, 2024
One of the best cakes I have made, I used limes instead of lemon (I have a lot of limes!) It is a brilliant recipe.
Jessie S. January 28, 2024
thank you so much!!!!
Patti S. January 24, 2024
Amazing! I inquired about using low-fat ricotta because that’s what I have and lo and behold, it was perfect. So delicious. I didn’t make the glaze because the snacking began and I hadn’t made it yet. Oh, and I didn’t have cake flour, so for each cup of flour, I took out a tablespoon and replaced it with a tablespoon of cornstarch. Thank you so much for the amazing cake!
Jessie S. January 24, 2024
yay yay yay! so glad low fat worked - and i figured it would . . . and yay for snacking!!! also, yes to the cake flour hack!
MMH January 24, 2024
Has anyone tried nondairy ricotta?
Jessie S. January 24, 2024
i have not - but if you have used it before in baking recipes with good results, i am sure it will work here - this is a very simple, forgiving recipe.
Floras D. January 8, 2024
Delicious!! So easy to make and it lasts for a good few days. Delicious with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream. I was so happy to see Meyer lemons in my local farm shop. I’m in the UK and love Meyer lemons but have only ever had them when visiting California. I used them to make this cake and that Meyer lemon fragrance and flavour ran through the cake beautifully. Many thanks for the recipe. I’d like to try it with likes next time.
Jessie S. January 8, 2024
you're so welcome and SO SO glad you liked it!!!!
Taylor S. April 11, 2023
Hands down my new favorite cake!!! It is so bright, tangy, and squidgy (from the ricotta) - a perfect welcome for spring. This stays good for a few days and is equally as delicious when eaten cold out of the fridge.
Jessie S. April 11, 2023
Yay for favorite cakes!! So happy you like this one. And love the word squidgy. 🥰
lety-south April 6, 2023
Everyone loved this cake the first time I baked it at home. Tall and soft, lemony and nice. My daughter ate it with pleasure, and she is a picker eater. Now at my mother's in-law house, I baked it again, and it came out flat and with a brownie-sort-of consistency. I used a canola oil she uses for cooking in general, so I'd like to know if the oil quality had something to do with it, if I should use a different oil, or if I put too much lemon juice (didn't have measures at hand). She wants me to try again, this time double since the whole family is here. Conditions will be similar, so I fear the result could be the same. Any tips to avoid the flat-brownie-consistency cake are welcome! :)
Jessie S. April 6, 2023
So sorry about that. My two tips are use a scale and buy an oven thermometer. Usually when a recipe doesn’t work in a different oven, it’s cause the oven is not calibrated correctly and when a well tested and well loved recipe does not work at all it’s usually because the measurements were off. Is it possible you did t use the correct leavening called for ? I’d it siding rise and was chewy and dense like a brownie that sounds like a baking soda or powder issue. Maybe you reversed the amounts? Hope it works out better the next time. And sorry.
lety-south April 6, 2023
Thank you for the tips! All your points are right on track. It might have been the baking powder (I used one that was open; I don't know when). I used the scale as much as I could, but with the Tbsp and Tbs, it's more difficult. Still, it might have been a baking soda/powder issue. I will report back after the new attempt! Thanks again, and no need to be sorry! It is a fantastic cake! :)
lety-south April 13, 2023
Dear Jessie, on the second attempt, everything worked just fine! Big success with the extended family! Thank you so much! Happy that I tried again in a challenging environment. Your tips were right on point. Thanks!
Jessie S. April 13, 2023
so happy to hear this!!! yay yay yay. XO
Rodda March 22, 2023
Really moist and delicious! My top was quite brown, but the flavor was fine. I added extra lemon juice and folded in frozen raspberries and my whole family loved it. This is a keeper.
Jessie S. March 22, 2023
A keeper! Yay!!
scrambled E. March 20, 2023
Do not hesitate to make this lovely lemon cake. Super easy to put together and end result is oh, so good! Happy Spring!
Jessie S. March 20, 2023
Love reading this! Yay!
Robyn C. March 18, 2023
I’ve made a lot of lemon cakes/loaves (my go-to has always been Ina), but this recipe (and my two teenage daughters and husband can attest to) is by far the best. The most moist lemon cake ever. And I even forgot to sift the flour and didn’t have lemon extract. Didn’t matter. It was lemony, moist, creamy and delicious and is now added to our dessert repertoire. I did add vanilla beans to the frosting to add a little depth to the sugar.
Jessie S. March 18, 2023
thrilled to hear this!! yay yay yay! better than Ina?? i'm dying!
Robyn C. March 18, 2023
Yes and I have a whole household of very particular, finely tuned palettes. Their one note-more lemon…we are making it again today and I will be back with more notes. Not using extract but more lemon zest. We will see!
Jessie S. March 18, 2023
Barbara P. March 15, 2023
Great cake, I loved the moist consistency, but in my opinion it was not lemon-y enough (that said, I m a sucker for lemons, I used to eat them like oranges as a kid). I used three tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 3-4 tablespoons of lime juice, plus loads of lemon zest and lemon extract but still, I found it too sweet and not tangy enough. Next time I reduce the sugar and amp up on the lemon juice and zest, hoping it will not change the consistency too much. Maybe I will also experiment with sour cream instead of ricotta. Overall, a very good start into a perfectly moist and tender cake experiment
Jessie S. March 15, 2023
Extra Lemon flavor for the win!
Barbara P. March 16, 2023
Lemon Ricotta Cake update: even if it's hard/impossible to achieve: this cake tastes so much better the next day. More moist, more lemon-y. Just, how am I supposed to wait????
Jessie S. March 16, 2023
Yay - oil-based cakes are often better the next day.
Doug R. March 14, 2023
Question: Could this be cooked in a Bundt pan?
Jessie S. March 15, 2023
you'd need to double the recipe, but i imagine it would work - though i've never done it - also the bake time will be longer.
Lisa March 12, 2023
Question for the bakers: have you ever tried mixing lemon and orange zest? I wonder how it would be for this cake...
Jessie S. March 12, 2023
I have not - but that sounds delicious.
Smaug March 13, 2023
Couldn't hurt, but I'd do it as an addition, not a replacement. I have found that with lemon dishes a small amount of orange or tangerine flavor can add a surprisingly strong floral note.
Cookie March 12, 2023
Sounds great, I have been looking for a good citrus cake recipe and love that you tested this recipe in different ways. Do you think there is room, either in the cake or the frosting, for a glug of limocello?
Jessie S. March 12, 2023
yes to limoncello! maybe in the glaze too?
Lovisa W. March 12, 2023
That’s where I would add it too
Jessie S. March 13, 2023
Ma_Faldine March 15, 2023
Limoncello sound like a great idea. I would prick the top of the cake and drizzle the limoncello beforehand, then the glaze. Just don't let the kids get, glazed...
Jessie S. March 15, 2023
vincenism March 12, 2023
Great recipe! I recently just moved to another country and have not bought a mixer. Was looking for a cake recipe without the need of a mixer and came across this. This recipe is so simple but the final product is so good. Cake is very moist and I loved the ‘lemoniness’ of it. I put more lemon zest than recommended and loved the extra ‘lemoniness’ of it. Thank you!
Jessie S. March 12, 2023
yay! so happy to hear.
cablanke February 28, 2023
Wow - this cake is fantastically moist and lemony! I used the zest from 3 large lemons and a couple teaspoons of lemon compound, for me there is no such thing as too much lemon! It will also be a nice breakfast treat with fresh berries!
Jessie S. March 1, 2023
so happy you enjoyed!
kjh February 26, 2023
Substituted gluten free flour and the ricotta gave it a wonderful texture. Also used half the sugar for the glaze and poured over cake when it was still warm (and first poked holes with cake tester). Delicious!!
Jessie S. March 1, 2023
all this sounds great! glad you enjoyed.
kjh March 12, 2023
And, fwiw, I used Meyer lemons - zest from 3 and juice from 1!
Jessie S. March 12, 2023
Sasha R. February 26, 2023
Made this snacking cake - I love saying that - for a BBQ with friends and everyone really liked it. Made and iced it the night before and then next day it was still moist and delicious. Didn’t have lemon extract and it still came out nice and lemony. To add to the lemon convo - no two lemons are the same. I used zest of 3 lemons and juice of 2 lemons.
Jessie S. February 26, 2023
Glad u liked and thank u for contributing to the lemon convo!
Livia February 25, 2023
I was wondering if you cut the cake up do you think it would freeze well?

I have made it can’t wait to have a piece.
Jessie S. February 26, 2023
Yes! I think it will freeze great. Sliced or whole. Freeze on sheet pan and then wrap in plastic and foil.
Devious February 24, 2023
I have a question!
The recipe looks good, and I plan to make it. But the recipe call for 3 tbsp. of lemon juice and you suggest that would require 2-3 large lemons. I have been baking for a long time (!) and normally plan on 4-5 Tbsp. from one large lemon…
Why would we need 2-3???
Jessie S. February 24, 2023
great to hear about the baking for a long time - love that. why don't you do what feels right to you then? seems like there is some disagreement about the amount of juice and zest that comes from one lemon and am so sorry that my measurements are not matching up with yours.
Smaug February 9, 2023
Due to insanely inflated prices and inventory problems, ricotta wasn't happening so I used cottage cheese (full fat, small curd) instead- not sure how much difference that made, but I'd guess not much. I also used lemon oil (1/2 tsp.) in place of extract- best I remember extracts run about 18-20% oil. I used a soak in glaze of 2Tb. lemon juice+ 2 tb sugar (this was for 1/2 recipe), simmered very briefly and brushed on the cake right out of the oven. Too many changes to really evaluate the original recipe, but it came out an excellent cake- very moist with a subtle lemon flavor. If I do it again, I think I'll try with some nutmeg in the glaze, but I liked the overall balance and level of sweetness. I'd also recommend sifting together the dry ingredients before adding them- just a more dependable way to get the small amounts evenly incorporated. Half the recipe fit nicely in a 6 1/2" springform.
Jessie S. February 9, 2023
great changes!
Robyn C. February 24, 2023
Yes no ricotta here and wondering if I can use sour cream?
Smaug February 24, 2023
I gave it another try with a mix of cottage cheese and sour cream; came out pretty well; I think it was a little more dense.
Jessie S. February 24, 2023
not sure straight up sour cream will work as the cake calls for a lot of ricotta, but I like the cottage cheese/sour cream idea . . .
Jessie S. February 24, 2023
good to know