How Do You Feel When You Think of Lemons?

What emotions do you feel when you eat something lemony? Any food featuring lemon has always appealed to me, but I know most people pucker their noses at the idea.

It’s lemon season here in northern California and they are plentiful. Here are some of my favorites: lemon chicken, lemon pie, lemon muffins, lemon bars, lemon anything.

I was thinking about lemon cake as I finished listening to the audiobook, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Amy Bender. The author was asked if she had a recipe for Lemon Cake and she did. Here’s what she had to say about her lemon cake and her book:

This is a recipe for lemon cake, similar to the one in my book, but different in some crucial ways. So, the cake in my book is also a lemon cake, but it comes packed with other stuff — the main character, Rose, requests a lemon cake for her ninth birthday, and I liked the idea of her wanting a type of cake that is sweet and sour at once. As soon as she bites in, that cake wakes up a certain new capacity in her, where she can taste the unknown feelings of the chef in the food prepared, and what is normally one of the most lovely and innocent parts of childhood comes packed with complication. 

And so begins Rose’s odyssey through the world of food tastes. Her brother’s friend George, a science geek, helped Rose experiment with food and her feelings. He took her to various restaurants, had her taste the food, and tell him what the cooks were feeling when they made the food. Then he asked the cooks what was happening when they were preparing the food. Their answers always matched Rose’s. Rose’s childhood was marred by her strange affliction. The only comfort she found was in manufactured food.

I’m sure most readers of this book have done what I did – tried to guess the cook’s feelings as we tasted various foods. Nothing happened for me, thank goodness. My feelings remained with the ingredients. I decided to try Amy Bender’s Lemon Cake recipe. I sincerely doubted I would feel sad. The result was just the opposite. As you can see, I took the liberty of changing the name of the cake so it tells you how it made me feel.

Happy Lemon Cake


  • 10 tablespoons butter, plus a little extra for greasing the pan
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for flouring the greased pan
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus 1 heaping tablespoon if you decide to make syrup
  • Grated zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup milk, warmed in a small saucepan
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)


  1. Dice the butter and melt it in the microwave at low power.
  2. Use a pastry brush to grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch round cake pan with butter. Sprinkle the pan with flour, turn it all around to spread the flour evenly, and tap out any excess.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  4. Sift the sugar into a bowl. Add the lemon zest. Mix the sugar and zest well with your fingers, then whisk in the eggs. When the eggs and sugar are thoroughly combined, whisk in the melted butter and warm milk. Add the flour and baking powder, whisking constantly throughout.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 8 minutes. Lower the heat to 300°F and cook about 40 minutes more. The cake is finished when the blade of a knife inserted in its center comes out dry.
  6. Remove the finished cake from the oven, unmold it onto a cooling rack, and let cool.
  7. Just after cooking you can, if you like, use a pastry brush to coat the cake with syrup. Just boil 4 tablespoons water with 1 heaping tablespoon confectioners’ sugar for a couple of minutes. Allow it to cool, then stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Brush the syrup on the still-warm cake.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

It really is a happy cake. I didn’t think it needed frosting at all. I hope you’ll gice it a try with all the fresh lemons available right now.

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature at Beth Fish Reads. Click the button below and it will take you there.

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23 Responses to How Do You Feel When You Think of Lemons?

  1. Mary says:

    I love lemons – especially when in a cake. I liked the novel too – much more than I expected to a few pages in. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  2. I love this about a happy lemon cake! LOL I love lemon cake. I was afraid that book would ruin it for me but it only did for a couple of weeks! By the way many lemon trees in Tucson didn’t set fruit this year because of our huge freeze last year. Very sad!

  3. I brought lemons home the last time I went to my mom’s and made a lemon pound cake with them. We could really tell the difference because of the fresh lemon juice.

  4. JoAnn says:

    I never did read that book, but would love to try the ‘Happy’ Lemon Cake! I also love lemon pound cake, lemon squares…

  5. Libby says:

    What a cool concept for a book! How do people think of these things? It reminds me of that “affliction” where people see different colors when different types of music are played. I always wish I had that particular problem. It is a real mental problem – heard about on NPR.

  6. I was just in Italy and was surprised to see so many lemon trees there. It’s not something I necessarily associate with Italy. The lemon cake recipe looks wonderful!

  7. Lemons are my favorite. In sweet or savory dishes. I love Meyers lemons and I stock up and freeze them whole in the winter so I have plenty in the summer. I think that lemon cake would make me happy, too! I’d like to read that book.

  8. Vicki says:

    The only way I like lemons is in lemon cake. Yum!
    Here’s Mine

  9. Belle Wong says:

    I’ve never had lemon cake, but I do love lemon meringue pie. I read once that the lemons in Greece (I think it was Greece!) can actually be eaten on their own, and ever since then, I’ve always wanted to try a real Greek lemon!

  10. Beth F says:

    I would pick lemon over chocolate, so I guess you know how I feel about lemon. Lemon cake is so good and it would make me happy too. And this recipe (buttery rich!) sounds awesome.

  11. Chinoiseries says:

    Lemons make me feel happy 🙂 I adore pasta with a lemon-chili flake “sauce” and lemon-poppyseed muffins. Lemon cake sounds yummy!

  12. Peggy Ann says:

    I love lemons! My oldest son use to eat them like oranges! My brother’s favorite cake is one very similar to this one. Stays so moist it gets better each day! Here’s mine

  13. Love lemons! And loved that book, I thought it was one of the most original concepts for a novel that I’d read for a long time.

  14. Staci says:

    I think the bowl of lemons elicits happiness from me. I love lemons and your recipe sounds wonderful….next time take a picture of it!! 😀

  15. Nan says:

    I love anything lemon from cakes to squares to frosting to cookies. I begin my day with lemon juice in hot water, and my end-of-the-day cocktail contains the juice of a lemon. They are the fruit of my daily life.

  16. I love lemons — especially in the winter. The color is so cheerful. That sounds like a wonderful cake!

  17. jama says:

    I love lemons and have been dying to read this novel. I can tell I’ll have to make the lemon cake after I finish reading it. 🙂 My dad (age 97) is a lemon meringue pie freak. I could eat lemon bars every single day!

  18. Annie says:

    For me, lemon is sun : I like it and I like too cook with it. Yesterday I prepared artichokes and lemon spaghettis, and endives with lemon juice, olive oil and gratted parmesan.
    Thanks for the Happy lemon cake recipe !

  19. stacybuckeye says:

    I’m not a huge fan of lemons but they really are cheerful 🙂 I listened to a little bit of this book but then had to return it. I need to check it out again.

  20. Christine says:

    I love ANYTHING made with fresh lemons. I always have at least one on hand at all times. Would you believe I tasted a Meyer lemon for the first time a few weeks ago? So juicy and flavorful.. perhaps a little less tart than regular lemons.. I think because they are more closely related to oranges? I think. Don’t quote me on that. Anyway, my friend recently bought me at least a dozen Meyer lemons. I was thinking of making lemon curd with them, but perhaps this Happy Lemon Cake might just fit the bill. 😉

  21. TheBookGirl says:

    Lemon is one of my favorite dessert flavors…I have started buying Meyer lemons at Costco which I use in alot of baked goods and find that I really like the taste much more than the ordinary lemons from the grocery store.

  22. kaye says:

    I think lemons are refreshing. I love them. I’ll have to give this recipe a try.

  23. Tami says:

    I LOVE anything lemony. And if I wasn’t trying to take off a few pounds I would be baking this cake right now.

    I’ve had this book on my TBR list since it came out. Thanks for the reminder to get around to it.

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