This cake recipe is out of the River Cottage Everyday cookbook, which, if I could only own three cookbooks, this would be one of them. The recipe needs no alteration, it’s perfect just the way it is. This cake is delicious while still warm as a tea cake, but just as good cold. It’s the perfect combination between sweet and sharp.
175g unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
A splash of milk (optional)
Grease a large loaf tin, 1 litre capacity, and line the base and sides with baking parchment. Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat together with a hand-held electric beater, or using a freestanding electric mixer, until very pale and fluffy – at least 5 minutes; up to 10 if you can manage it. This makes all the difference to the lightness of the finished cake.
Add the grated lemon zest and then beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of flour with each (to help prevent the mixture curdling). Sift the remaining flour and salt into the mixture and fold in lightly using a large metal spoon. Add a little milk, if necessary, to achieve a good dropping consistency – i.e. the mixture should drop fairly easily off a spoon when you tap it on the side of the bowl.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smooth the top gently and place in an oven preheated to 170°C/ Gas Mark 3. Bake for 45–50 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Put the icing sugar in a bowl, add the lemon juice and stir together until smooth. Leaving the hot cake in its tin, use a fine skewer to make lots of holes all over the top of the cake, going quite deep, but not right through to the bottom.
Spoon the lemon icing slowly over the cake so that it all soaks in. Leave in the tin until cool, then turn out and serve in slices.