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Milk Street Recipe
Milk Street Bowtie Amalfi-Style Lemon Cake

Amalfi-Style Lemon Cake

1 hour 25 minutes active, plus cooling

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Amalfi-Style Lemon Cake

Free

Giovanna Aceto, whose family owns a generations-old lemon farm on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, showed us how to make torta al limone, a simple lemon cake popular throughout the region. Naturally, Aceto used farm-grown lemons, a variety called sfusato amalfitano that mature to the size of softballs; the fruits are wonderfully fragrant and have a subtle sweetness. Lucky for us, in recipes such as torta al limone, regular supermarket lemons work perfectly well, as their tartness can be offset by adding a little more sugar. Lemon zest perfumes the cake, then a lemon syrup is poured on after baking to keep the crumb moist and add a layer of tangy-sweet flavor. We use a Bundt pan as a substitute for the conical fluted pan that Aceto uses for her torta. The fastest, simplest way to prep the Bundt pan is with baking spray, which is similar to cooking spray, but with added flour. Alternatively, mix 2 tablespoons melted butter and 1½ tablespoons flour, then brush the mixture onto the pan, making sure to coat all the peaks and valleys.

10 to 12

Servings

Tip

Don’t forget to grate the zest before juicing the lemons; grating is much easier when the fruits are whole. Also, don’t allow the cake to cool for more than about 10 minutes before the first application of syrup. Absorption is better and more even when the crumb is warm. But after pouring on the second half of the syrup, don’t let the cake cool for longer than 30 minutes or it may be difficult to remove it from the pan.

1 hour

25 minutes active, plus cooling

428 grams (2 cups) white sugar, divided
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest, plus ¾ cup lemon juice
260 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
198 grams (14 tablespoons) salted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
Ingredients
  • 428

    grams (2 cups) white sugar, divided

  • 2

    tablespoons grated lemon zest, plus ¾ cup lemon juice

  • 260

    grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour

  • 2

    teaspoons baking powder

  • ½

    teaspoon table salt

  • 198

    grams (14 tablespoons) salted butter, room temperature

  • 3

    large eggs, room temperature

  • ½

    cup whole milk, room temperature

Directions
  1. 01
    Heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Mist a 12-cup nonstick Bundt pan with baking spray. In a small saucepan, combine 214 grams (1 cup) of sugar and the lemon juice. Cook over medium-high, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, 4 to 5 minutes. Pour into a 2-cup glass measuring cup or small bowl; you should have about 1¼ cups syrup. Cool while you make and bake the cake.
  2. 02
    In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the remaining 214 grams (1 cup) sugar and the lemon zest on medium until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the bowl once or twice. Add the butter and beat on medium-high until the mixture is light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as needed, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. 03
    With the mixer running on low, add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Increase to medium and beat until well aerated, about 3 minutes. With the mixer running on low, add about one-third of the flour mixture followed by about half of the milk. Next, add about half of the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining milk and finally the remaining flour mixture. Mix on low until just combined, about 1 minute. Fold the batter a few times with the spatula to ensure no pockets of flour remain; the batter will be thick.
  4. 04
    Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and spread in an even layer. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake about 2 inches from the edge comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.
  5. 05
    Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Poke the cake with a toothpick every ½ inch or so, inserting the toothpick as deeply as possible into the cake. Slowly pour half of the syrup evenly over the cake, then let stand for about 5 minutes to allow the syrup to soak in.
  6. 06
    Slowly pour the remaining syrup onto the cake, then cool for 30 minutes. If the cake looks stuck to the sides in any spots, including the center tube, carefully loosen those areas by inserting a thin-bladed knife between the cake and the pan. Invert the cake onto a platter, lift off the pan and cool to room temperature.
Tip: Don’t forget to grate the zest before juicing the lemons; grating is much easier when the fruits are whole. Also, don’t allow the cake to cool for more than about 10 minutes before the first application of syrup. Absorption is better and more even when the crumb is warm. But after pouring on the second half of the syrup, don’t let the cake cool for longer than 30 minutes or it may be difficult to remove it from the pan.
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In the store
Reviews
Vicki J.
August 4, 2022
Lemony goodness
Made this cake and while it was delicious and super lemony, I also agree with some other reviews here in that I would add half the lemon syrup while in the cake pan, then add the rest after I've inverted the cake onto a pan. Didn't get the syrup to go all the way through the cake and it made the bottom half really mushy. Also agree that on day 2 the cake had a strong egg flavor that wasn't great. That being said, I added a lemon glaze/frosting to pretty it up a bit for a birthday celebration and the flavor was lemon-puckery good!
Kimberly H.
June 28, 2022
Nice Lemon Cake
I made it and took it to the office. Everyone enjoyed it but wished the delicious simple syrup was soaked into both sides of the cake. I used a kabob skewer to make numerous deep holes so that wasn’t the issue. Next time, I will pour half the syrup per the directions, cool the cake, put it on a serving plate, poke it with more holes, and pour the other half of the syrup on top. If that works, this recipe is a keeper.
John G.

How should this cake be stored if not eaten immediately? And for how long?

Lynn C.

Hi John -

You can store the cake wrapped in plastic at room temperature for several days. Since it's soaked with a simple syrup it actually stays moist for quite a while. At least 3 days, we would say.

Best,
The Milk Street Team

John G.

Something went awry! I'm hoping you can pinpoint the culprit(s). I'll preface by saying the flavor turned out great with tons of lemon flavor. However, the cake just did not rise much and the texture was somehow both dry and wet at the same time. I followed the instructions on pouring the syrup and when I did flip the cake out onto a dish, a decent amount of the syrup slowly oozed out of the cake and onto the plate. I suspect it is because it did not rise enough and therefore did not absorb the syrup like it should have.

1. My baking powder was pretty old, but I read that you can test if the powder is still good by pouring boiling water on a couple teaspoons of baking powder. If it fizzes (which mine did, heavily), then it is still good.
2. It turns out my bundt pan was only 9 cups. However, watching your video with the 12-cup pan, the finished cake only partially filled the pan. So I thought maybe my cake would just be a bit taller. I baked it a few extra minutes but it didn't seem to help with rising any. Toothpick test came out clean.

Is it likely the baking powder, despite passing the fizz test, was still just too old? Would the size of the bundt pan - 9 cup vs 12 cup - make that big of a difference? Anything during the mixing process that could have caused it?

John G.

Something went awry! I'm hoping you can pinpoint the culprit(s). I'll preface by saying the flavor turned out great with tons of lemon flavor. However, the cake just did not rise much and the texture was somehow both dry and wet at the same time. I followed the instructions on pouring the syrup and when I did flip the cake out onto a dish, a decent amount of the syrup slowly oozed out of the cake and onto the plate. I suspect it is because it did not rise enough and therefore did not absorb the syrup like it should have.

1. My baking powder was pretty old, but I read that you can test if the powder is still good by pouring boiling water on a couple teaspoons of baking powder. If it fizzes (which mine did, heavily), then it is still good.
2. It turns out my bundt pan was only 9 cups. However, watching your video with the 12-cup pan, the finished cake only partially filled the pan. So I thought maybe my cake would just be a bit taller. I baked it a few extra minutes but it didn't seem to help with rising any. Toothpick test came out clean.

Is it likely the baking powder, despite passing the fizz test, was still just too old? Would the size of the bundt pan - 9 cup vs 12 cup - make that big of a difference? Anything during the mixing process that could have caused it?

Lynn C.

Hi John -

It's hard to know exactly what went wrong, but I don't think it was the baking powder. Since you did the test to confirm, it seems like it was still active. I don't think it was the size of the pan, per se, but pan size changes can affect the amount of time it takes to bake a cake. In the case of a smaller pan it actually takes *longer* to bake since the cake is technically going to be higher and thicker. Is it possible you didn't bake it long enough? Did you confirm it was done by using a toothpick inserted in the cake 2 inches from the edge came out clean? If you went strictly by timing, it would likely have been under-baked. Another possibility is that you didn't beat a) the butter and sugar enough to be light and fluffy, b) the eggs after each addition to allow them to thicken and emulsify before adding the next egg, and c) the batter for a full three minutes until it was well-aerated and very fluffy. All of these would lead to a cake with less rise. Lastly, if you let the cake cool longer than 10 minutes and/or don't poke the cake enough the syrup will not fully absorb. Hope something here helps pinpoint where things went wrong!

Best,
The Milk Street Team

Cheryl B.

Made this cake in a regular cake pan since I don't have a bundt pan yet. Very good and will make again. Cake without the lemon syrup has great flavor and with the lemon syrup it is outstanding.

I needed to let it cook a bit more since the middle was underdone. I just cut out the middle circle and it looks like a bundt cake now.

I will make this again.

One request is can you provide the weight of sugar, flour, etc in ounces as well as grams? For good or bad, in the US our systems are in ounces (e.g. scales) and when trying new recipes, I want to make sure I have the best chance of it working.

Even though I use metric in the lab, having to do the conversions for different ingredients causes some worry and waste of time and takes away from some joy of trying new recipes.

Lynn C.

Hi Cheryl -

We are glad to hear that the recipe worked OK despite using a different pan than the recipe calls for. We use grams for baking due to the precision necessary for successful baked goods. Most bakeries - regardless of location - do this since baking relies so much on a delicate balance of ingredients. Almost all kitchen scales today have the option to display measurements in either ounces or grams so there shouldn't be a need for conversions if you are weighing your ingredients.

Best,
The Milk Street Team

Diana L.

I made this cake yesterday. It is very good. its more for summer type of days. The lemon flavor is delicious and very refreshing. I want to eat the entire thing. Even my picky eater said that it was good. I followed the recipe as is and did not change anything. I baked it for 40 min in my conv oven.

Linda V.

Hello! I am in the midst of slowly pouring the lemon syrup onto the underside of the cake. How important is it to keep it from sometimes falling to the outside edges of the cake? I am having trouble getting all of the syrup "in" and I was wondering how that goes with others? Thanks!

Linda V.

I just completed it! It came out beautifully! I still have some of the syrup that I wasn't able to get into the cake from the underside. Should I paint it onto the outside or just let it go? Much thanks! I made it for an event tomorrow evening, so I am assuming I can leave it in a "cake saver" on the countertop until tomorrow, or do I need to refrigerate it? My thanks!!

Linda V.

In the recipe, it is suggested that one use a thin, flexible knife to assist with getting the cake unstuck from the Bundt pan (if it becomes a problem, which it did not!). I used the suggestions at the top of this recipe (baking spray containing flour) and I also used a new light colored non-stick Bundt pan. The cake dropped (intact), right out when inverted. But what kind of knife would not harm the cake pan and/or the cake? Thanks. Lots of questions for one day!

Kelli H.

This cake was delicious on day one, however on day two the leftovers tasted very strongly of egg yolks, which was quite off-putting. I have been baking for 25+ years but can’t figure this one out. My ingredients were very fresh and I followed the recipe to the letter. Sadly, we had to toss the leftovers.


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Amalfi-Style Lemon Cake

Get Ready to Cook

10 to 12

Servings

1 hour

25 minutes active, plus cooling

Tip

Don’t forget to grate the zest before juicing the lemons; grating is much easier when the fruits are whole. Also, don’t allow the cake to cool for more than about 10 minutes before the first application of syrup. Absorption is better and more even when the crumb is warm. But after pouring on the second half of the syrup, don’t let the cake cool for longer than 30 minutes or it may be difficult to remove it from the pan.

Ingredients
  • 428

    grams (2 cups) white sugar, divided

  • 2

    tablespoons grated lemon zest, plus ¾ cup lemon juice

  • 260

    grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour

  • 2

    teaspoons baking powder

  • ½

    teaspoon table salt

  • 198

    grams (14 tablespoons) salted butter, room temperature

  • 3

    large eggs, room temperature

  • ½

    cup whole milk, room temperature

Step 1 of 6

Make the Syrup

214
grams (1 cups) white sugar
¾
cup lemon juice

Heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Mist a 12-cup nonstick Bundt pan with baking spray.


In a small saucepan, combine 214 grams (1 cup) of sugar and the lemon juice. Cook over medium-high, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, 4 to 5 minutes. Pour into a 2-cup glass measuring cup or small bowl; you should have about 1¼ cups syrup. Cool while you make and bake the cake.

Step 2 of 6

Make the Flour Mixture

260
grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
2
teaspoons baking powder
½
teaspoon table salt
214
grams (1 cups) white sugar
2
tablespoons grated lemon zest, plus ¾ cup lemon juice
198
grams (14 tablespoons) salted butter, room temperature

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.


In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the remaining 214 grams (1 cup) sugar and the lemon zest on medium until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the bowl once or twice.


Add the butter and beat on medium-high until the mixture is light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as needed, 3 to 5 minutes.

Step 3 of 6

Make the Batter

3
large eggs, room temperature
½
cup whole milk, room temperature

With the mixer running on low, add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Increase to medium and beat until well aerated, about 3 minutes.


With the mixer running on low, add about one-third of the flour mixture followed by about half of the milk. Next, add about half of the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining milk and finally the remaining flour mixture. Mix on low until just combined, about 1 minute.


Fold the batter a few times with the spatula to ensure no pockets of flour remain; the batter will be thick.

Step 4 of 6

Bake

Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and spread in an even layer. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake about 2 inches from the edge comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.

Step 5 of 6

Let Cool

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Poke the cake with a toothpick every ½ inch or so, inserting the toothpick as deeply as possible into the cake. Slowly pour half of the syrup evenly over the cake, then let stand for about 5 minutes to allow the syrup to soak in.

Step 6 of 6

Pour the Syrup

Slowly pour the remaining syrup onto the cake, then cool for 30 minutes. If the cake looks stuck to the sides in any spots, including the center tube, carefully loosen those areas by inserting a thin-bladed knife between the cake and the pan. Invert the cake onto a platter, lift off the pan and cool to room temperature.

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