Candied Lemon Cake with Vanilla Icing

I am very, very pleased with how this cake turned out. It is bright, sweet, sticky, and so pretty. A most ladylike cake. It’s a good thing I never, ever defenestrate cakes any more. It all started on my twenty-first birthday. Malcolm and I had been dating for two months. I, naturally, had never had a drink before that night, and yet, managed to comport myself with complete decorum and grace. Somehow, my feelings ended up hurt, because of some perceived transgression. Boyfriends are hard, you guys. And so, back in my fourth-floor dorm room, I very deliberately opened my window and pushed a perfectly round, lovingly decorated, homemade birthday cake to the ground. Thus, a tradition was born. Throwing a cake from the window on your birthday is a great way to get over any birthday angst that may be building. I’ve always had a tendency to become a bit of a birthday brat, and a quick defenestration breaks the tension. It’s cathartic. Nobody gets hurt. It sends off the old year with a thud and prepares the window of your soul for what lies ahead. I wouldn’t advocate doing that with this cake, as it is far too delicious to destroy. I would recommend serving it in the afternoon with tea or coffee.

Candied Lemon Cake with Vanilla Icing
Adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart


For the cake:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled) plus more for the pans
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 2 sticks unsalted, softened butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 large eggs plus 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum

For the vanilla icing:

  • 1/4 cup virgin coconut oil
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 4-6 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


For the cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare 2 8-inch cake pans with butter and flour.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. In the bowl of a stand mixer cream butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Incorporate eggs and yolks, one at a time, then 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Alternate adding dry ingredients and buttermilk, starting and ending with flour mixture. Don’t overmix! Pour batter evenly into pans. Bake 30-35 minutes.

While the cake bakes, prepare candied lemons. In a small saucepan bring to a boil 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. Add lemon slices, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, 25 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup lemon juice and rum. Remove lemon slices to a wax paper covered plate. When the cake comes out of the oven, turn onto cooling racks. Use a toothpick to poke holes in both cakes. Spoon them with syrup. When the cakes have cooled completely, drizzle with icing and arrange candied lemon on top.

For the vanilla icing:

In the bowl of a stand mixer cream coconut oil, then add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Spoon in the milk and add remaining sugar until desired consistency is achieved.


Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.


  1. I’m totally down with the cake throwing thing. I like it. This cake looks much too lovely to dump though. Really beautiful. But back to the cake dump thing…you know how on babies birthdays people by a ‘smash’ cake just for the little darling? I think now that I’m 40 a dump cake is in order. I know what you mean about being a birthday brat. Long ago I was labeled The Birthday Beastie and have no intention of surrendering the title. I will leave you with a sage bit of advice given to me years ago by a very annoying person. “A little cake makes the day go better.”

  2. Boyfriends are hard! But this cake looks awesome. I love lemon and am always looking for new things to do with lemon other than lemon squares and other ‘dense’ desserts. Your photography is making me really hungry actually…

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