Minimal effort, maximum results: step-by-step instructions for making a cake that always goes down a storm

Although I love all my recipes equally, this lemon drizzle cake has a special place in my heart – feedback suggests it’s gone down a storm with everyone from a mums and babies group in Hackney to a master patissière in Paris – principally, I suspect, because the ratio of effort to results is skewed so heavily in the cook’s favour. Fluffy, yet deliciously sticky, it’s a proper crowdpleaser.

Prep 20 min
Cook 50-55 min
Makes 1 loaf cake

175g butter, softened, plus a little extra to grease
2 unwaxed lemons
175g caster sugar

Fine salt
3 eggs
100g self-raising flour
75g ground almonds
A little milk
100g demerara sugar

1 Prepare the tin

Grease a 2lb loaf tin (ie, one measuring about 23cm x 13cm x 7cm) with butter or oil, and line with greaseproof paper. Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4.

Zest the lemons – if you haven’t got unwaxed (or organic) ones, give them a good scrub with hot water to remove some of the wax first, because this will give a better flavour.

Line and grease a loaf tin, then zest and juice three lemons.

2 Soften the butter

If you’ve forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge, cut it into cubes and leave it near the warm oven or give it a few good whacks with a rolling pin to help it on its way. (Microwaving will just melt the outside, which isn’t ideal.) Put the cubed butter in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a food mixer, with the caster sugar, a pinch of fine salt and half the lemon zest.

3 Cream the butter and sugar

Use electric beaters to beat the butter and sugar mix until it’s really light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary; this should take about five minutes. You can do this with a wooden spoon, but it will take a while, because you want to get as much air into the mix as possible.

Cream the butter, sugar, half the zest and a pinch of salt; get as much air in the mix as you can. Then incorporate the eggs bit by bit.

4 Add the eggs

Beat together the eggs in a jug, then beat them into the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time, making sure each addition is thoroughly incorporated before adding any more. If the mixture threatens to curdle at any point, add a little of the flour to bring it back to a smooth consistency.

5 Incorporate the flour…

Tip the flour into a sieve and sift it on top of the butter and sugar mixture – though this is not vital, it will help to give a lighter, fluffier result, so I’d recommend it. Use a large metal spoon gently to fold in the flour with a slow, figure-of-eight motion, being careful to knock as little air out of the mix as possible.

Sift in the flour, then gently fold it in, taking care to knock out as little air as possible, then pour into the tin.

6 … and the ground almonds and milk

Put the ground almonds in a bowl, give them a quick whisk to break up any lumps, then fold into the batter in the same way as the flour. Gradually mix in just enough milk to thin down the batter to a consistency that will reluctantly drop off a spoon.

7 Pour into the tin and bake

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and gently level the top. Put in the hot oven and bake for about 50-55 minutes, or until the top is golden and risen, and a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean, or at least without any wet batter clinging to it; a few crumbs are fine.

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