When I say “lemon loaf cake,” my guess is that a very specific slice of cake comes to mind. In my experience, when asked about the Starbucks lemon loaf, most people look both ways before admitting in a hushed tone that it’s one of their favorite treats. I get it—it feels a little scandalous to admit how delicious that loaf slice is. Deliciously moist, soft and fluffy, the lemon glaze adding the perfect mouth-puckering flavor. It’s an all-round dessert.
But for all of my lemon loaf girlies out there, take heart: you don’t have to make a Starbucks run every time the craving strikes. In this edition of our Bake-Off series, I tested seven recipes to find the best lemon loaf cake recipe out there. As to be expected, some were better than others. And while my taste testers agreed that none of these held a candle to the deliciousness that is the Starbucks holy grail (though one came very close), we did find a few options for you to whip up at home to satisfy that sweet-and-tangy tooth.
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Rules of the Road
As always, all recipes are followed exactly as written without any adjustments for personal taste or flavor preferences. Loaf cakes were all baked and glazed the same night and tasted the following day.
- Flavor: Lemon is the name of the game, so we wanted a lemon-forward flavor. The cake itself should have a lemony feel that gets enhanced by a lemony glaze. The flavor shouldn’t be too sweet but should taste like a dessert.
- Texture: When comparing to the Starbucks lemon loaf cake, we were looking for a moist cake that was a little fluffy, a little bouncy, and definitely not dry in texture.
While we did rank these in order, each cake also stood on its own, so we’ve provided tasting notes so you can make the loaf cake most aligned with your preferences. Keep reading for the results of our lemon loaf cake bake-off!
The Best Lemon Loaf Cake, Ranked
7. Barefoot Contessa: Lemon Yogurt Cake
Recipe Notes: Yogurt was used to add moisture. Instructions did not ask to rub the lemon zest into the sugar, unlike other recipes. Recipe uses both cooked lemon syrup and lemon glaze on top
I know, we were all shocked at this recipe ranking so low. While the texture of the loaf itself was a bit bouncy, it did lean slightly on the drier side compared to the others (even though it used lemon syrup and glaze). The flavor was also a little too subtle for a lemon cake. Some tasters mentioned it was more like a yellow cake than a lemon cake, and others said it was just bland. Overall, a fine cake—just not what we were looking for from a lemon loaf.
6. The Kitchn: Copycat Starbucks Lemon Loaf
Recipe Notes: Uses sour cream and vegetable oil instead of butter. The recipe also utilizes lemon extract in the cake in addition to lemon juice and zest
Given the name of this recipe, you can bet my hopes were high. And while I did think in terms of texture that this was about as close as we could get to the Starbucks loaf, that’s where it ended. Some tasters however, thought the texture was too spongey, and not fluffy enough. The flavor was not only bland to some, but almost artificial to others. (This was likely due to the use of lemon extract.) Next time, I might try baking this without the extract and just using extra zest to help the flavor a bit. But the glaze on top? Excellent.
5. Benjamina Ebuehi: Classic Lemon Drizzle Cake
Recipe Notes: This recipe used the most eggs of all the loaves (4). It used the creaming method of butter and sugar to create a light texture and rise from aeration. This version mixes all the dry ingredients with the wet and calls for the milk to be added after all is combined.
Overall, our tasters ranked this loaf in the middle of the pack. The texture itself was a bit on the denser side. It almost reminded me of an olive oil or almond flour cake, and most testers found this cake to be moist. The cake does use a heavy helping of lemon syrup for when the cake comes out of the oven. The flavor, however, was a bit mild for us and we just wanted to punch up the lemon. I would bake it again, but use an extra lemon or two.
4. Cloudy Kitchen: Lemon and Sour Cream Loaf Cake with Lemon Glaze
Recipe Notes: Uses sour cream for moisture and tang. This was the only loaf cake to use almond flour in the dry ingredients.
I would describe this recipe as yielding a subtle lemon loaf. In terms of texture, it was definitely on the denser side, and baked up as a pretty hefty loaf. The texture itself was moist and had a bit of a crumb thanks to the use of almond flour. And while I didn’t mind the almond flour and could taste it in the loaf, others who could also taste the almond flour didn’t like that they could taste it. Overall, this would be a nice slice of cake to have with tea.
3. Ravneet Gill: Lemon Loaf Cake
Recipe Notes: The recipe uses double cream in the batter. It’s topped with lemon syrup and a glaze.
When it came to our top three recipes, they were all pretty close. All in all, these rankings came down to minute details. This recipe used double cream (heavy cream) in the batter, giving it a very rich texture. Testers thought the texture was nice for a standard dense loaf, but very moist as well. In terms of flavor, it was a good lemon loaf with plenty of tang and just enough sweetness. We’ll be making this one again.
2. Broma Bakery: Lemon Loaf (Starbucks Copycat!)
Recipe Notes: The recipe uses sour cream and milk in the batter. It called for the least amount of eggs (2). Recipe boasted a rich glaze with cream and butter.
When it comes to a Starbucks Copycat, we really liked this one. While texturally it wasn’t an exact match to Starbucks, it was lighter and fluffier—which we almost preferred. The flavor was also nice, with lemon closing out each bite, and was only made better with the rich lemon glaze that was sweet and tangy at the same time. This was a close second for the best lemon loaf cake.
1. Butternut Bakery: Iced Lemon Loaf Cake
Recipe Notes: The recipe uses a reverse creaming method for texture. Calls for both vegetable oil and butter.
Our winner just edged out the others thanks to its texture. This recipe uses the reverse creaming method, in which you cream the butter into all of the dry ingredients with the sugar instead of just creaming the butter and sugar together first. This was indeed voted overall best and had the closest texture to the Starbucks loaf. It was dense but light at the same time. (Paradoxical, I know, but you’ll understand when you try it.) And the flavor was perfectly lemony thanks to the glaze, reminding people of a pound cake with lemon. I might add some extra zest next time just to really go all the way with the citrus. But overall, we really enjoyed this one.
Did we try your favorite? What recipes should we try in our next bake-off? Sound off in the comments!