Aged 18, I used this cake to impress a girl. A picnic first date, I believe a couple of slices of this lemon cake did more to secure a second than my wit and charm ever could. But it could have gone very differently. Once I’d got home, my parents kindly informed me that when they had a couple of slices after work, they bit into a couple of lemon seeds hidden inside. And no matter how moist and delicious a cake is, lemon seeds are bitter and will undo all the good the cake has done.
My own haste was the culprit, and though I’d picked out a couple of stray seeds that had fallen in from the freshly squeezed lemon, a few had gone unnoticed into batter. That relationship, based on cake, lasted a year and half, but now I’m meticulous in checking for spurious pips whenever I make this cake. It’s the cake I make most often, since lemon is always a favourite and it seems pretty foolproof too!
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/160°C and grease or line with greaseproof paper a 1lb-loaf tin – I like to use pre-made liners, because life is too short and I’m quite inept and cutting out the right amount of paper.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth. I use a wooden spoon and do it by hand, mostly because I don’t have much choice, but an electric mixer will do the job too. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, finely grate the lemon zest and add it to the batter with the two eggs and mix in thoroughly.
Add the baking powder and approximately a third of the flour and fold this into the batter gently until all the flour is combined, using the juice from half the lemon to loosen the mixture. Then add the second third of the flour and the juice from the other half of the lemon and fold in before adding the remaining flour and folding in, adding a small amount of milk to loosen it if necessary (this will depend on how juicy your lemon is) – the batter should be thick, but fall off a spoon quite easily.
Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake for 35-50 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven. To check it is cooked, push a wooden skewer into the centre of the cake and it should come out clean or with a few small crumbs clinging to it, if the batter is still raw, put it back in the oven and check again in 5 minutes. Cool it on a wire rack before you cut into it, though it is quite nice warm with a bit of cream.