August can be a tricky old month: it feels like the whole world apart from you is on holiday (if you’re reading this and are in fact on holiday: what are you doing? Get back to the sun lounger!), and the supposed hot, sunny pay-off of staying in Britain for late summer is, well, a damp squib. Not the cathartic downpours of Autumn proper, but unpredictable showers that catch you on the hop, wearing optimistic sandals and without an umbrella. Sylvia Plath had it right: ‘August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.’ Plums aren’t quite ready, apples and pears are still ripening on the trees; the best raspberries and strawberries are gone. Rhubarb is a distant memory.
Call it nominative determinism, but a lemon drizzle cake is perfect for disappointing, drizzly weather. It’s cheering: brightly flavoured, and packed with zest, but still comforting, filling your home with a warm citrus scent as it bakes. It’s also a more enjoyable food-based activity than picnics or barbecues when winds are high.
A lemon drizzle cake is really just a pound cake – equal quantities of butter, sugar, eggs and flour – that’s then spritzed up with zest and juice. But it’s a pretty glorious one, managing to be both zingy and sweet, light and sticky. The key to a superlative lemon drizzle is packing in as much citrus as possible: mixing the sugar and lemon zest together before adding other ingredients bashes up the zest a bit, helping to release the fragrant oils and, once baked, the cake should be drizzled with the lemon syrup while still warm – and pierced with a chopstick or skewer to let the tart syrup penetrate. It might take a couple of goes for all the syrup to be absorbed, but it’s worth the time to get a real lemony slap in the face; lemon drizzle is not the place for subtlety. Using a chunkier sugar (Demerara, or granulated) than in the sponge means that you’ll end up with a crystally crunchy crust on the top of the cake, which I love.
Lemon drizzle cake
Makes: 1 large loaf cake
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 1 hour
For the sponge
200g self raising flour
½ teaspoon fine salt
3 lemons, zested
2 lemons, juice
For the drizzle
2 lemons, juiced
80g demerara or granulated sugar
- Preheat the oven to 160°C and line a 2lb loaf tin with two strips of greaseproof paper, with enough overhang that you can grab the ends.
- In a large bowl, mix together the sugar and lemon zest until the sugar begins to looks like damp sand, and you can smell the lemon. Cream the lemony sugar with the butter until it is noticeable paler and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, combining each fully before adding the next. If it looks like the mixture is going to curdle, add a tablespoon of the flour and continue.
- Fold in the flour and salt until combined into the mixture, and then stir through the lemon juice. Pour the cake batter into the lined loaf tin.
- Bake for an hour, but check after 40 minutes, and if the top is starting to brown, cover with a layer of tin foil.
- While the sponge bakes, mix together the lemon juice and sugar. Don’t worry: the sugar won’t all dissolve.
- While the sponge is still warm, poke lots of holes in the top of the cake with a skewer or a chopstick. Spoon the syrup and any undissolved sugar onto the top of the cake, making sure to go right to the corners of the tin. Take it slowly if the syrup is pooling, and allow it to absorb before adding some more: the cake can take the whole amount. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.