Imagine this: a totally vegan cake that is sweet but not too sweet, lemony but not sour, with a light texture and a good crumb. Am I describing a dream I once had? Some sort of illusion that came to me in this perpetual summer heat wave?
While you’re right that all my dreams are filled with lemon cakes, this one is very much a reality.
I’ve been using this recipe for a few years, actually. I took a few things here and there from a few different vegan cake recipes to create it, and eventually it evolved into this reliable one. I’ve baked it in sheet pans, two small circles, as cupcakes, or as mini cakes (like in the photos here). All you have to do is adjust the baking time depending on the vessel.
Here’s what I love about this cake:
- It actually rises. A lot of vegan cakes are missing the fluffiness that the eggs provide, so they don’t get very tall or fluffy. This one uses basic chemistry – lemon juice (acid) plus baking soda – to create air bubbles, and therefore lift.
- It doesn’t taste too sweet. I’m not afraid of sugar, and this is a cake, dammit. But this cake isn’t overpoweringly sweet, which does two things: it allows you to control the sweetness via the glaze (which is optional), and it lets this cake feel appropriate any time of day. It’s nice with tea, or for dessert, or…for breakfast.
- There’s no weird ingredients you have to hunt down. Everything on the ingredient list is what I consider to be a kitchen staple. There are no “unusual” vegan substitutes.
- It’s visually appealing. The cake is a nice light yellow colour, and when baked in small cake form like I’ve done here, the tops crack in a really pleasant way. Note that when I’ve made this cake in 9×9 pans, the top didn’t crack. I think this is just a cupcake-y feature.
And as if that isn’t enough to love, you can be pretty versatile with the topping. I’m not a big icing fan, but if you are, you can whip up my vegan vanilla icing to dollop on top of this cake. I prefer to take a rather traditional lemon loaf route by making a sugar glaze to pour overtop.
This glaze is super simple. Like, two ingredients simple. Icing sugar and almond milk.
I’m not going to yammer on about the importance of including a protein when structuring icing again (I did enough of that in the vanilla icing recipe). But since this is a glaze, it doesn’t need the fluffiness that a protein-based milk would provide. Thus, the almond milk. It’s what we always have in the fridge, it’s easy, and it tastes neutral. It’s a win for me.
One thing I’ll note is that when making the glaze, it doesn’t look super white until it reaches the right consistency. It’s sort of an almond-milk-coloured off white for a while. So don’t be discouraged. I didn’t add anything like vanilla to it because I didn’t want to make it an even creamier colour, but I suppose that could be done if you wanted it to taste of vanilla for some reason. Follow your heart.
Also – why did I call this “charming” lemon cake? I did it because that’s what I said when I popped the cakes out of their molds – they’re just charming to look at! I like adjectives, okay?
Charming Lemon Cake + Glaze
For the Cake:
- 1 1/2 cups white flour
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 3 tsp lemon juice
- 5 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup water, divided into 1/2 cups
For the Glaze:
- 2 tbsp almond milk
- 1 cup icing sugar
For the Cake:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients: the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. Stir to combine.
In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, combine the wet ingredients: the lemon juice, oil, vanilla, and 1/2 cup of water. Reserve the other half of the water. Whisk together.
Combine the wet ingredients with the dry, mixing to combine. Once the wet ingredients have been added, you can start adding extra water from the remaining 1/2 cup. Add until you've achieved the right texture for pouring into a cake pan - silky, but not too runny.
Spray your pan to ensure the cake does not stick. I used a large 6-muffin tin to create 5 small cakes with this amount of batter. You should be able to adequately fill 2 8-inch round pans, or whatever other shape you prefer.
Bake for approximately 20 minutes. The time may vary a few minutes in either direction depending on the pan you use. Check with a toothpick of skewer to see if the inside of the cake is done. If it comes out clean, your cake is baked.
Allow to cool before you put any glaze or icing on top.
For the Glaze:
Pour the almond milk into a bowl. Start adding the sugar a couple tablespoons at a time, and mix thoroughly with a whisk or fork until the sugar dissolves. Continue to do so until you reach your desired consistency. More sugar = a thicker glaze, more milk = a runnier glaze.