Food, The Slow Cook

Death by Lemon, a recipe

Lemon poke cake with lemon curd and cream crease

‘Death by Lemon’ doesn’t sound as appealing as ‘Death by Chocolate’, does it? If anything, Death by Lemon actually sounds like it could be a real thing.

I can’t say I ever felt sorry for the lonesome piece of lemon cake in the shop window. Nobody wanted it even when it was the last piece of cake remaining. It’s sad, really. But understandable, given the competition.

How can a little limboo compete with sinful chocolates, creamy cheesecakes and bright red velvets?

Over the last decade, I’ve been through a lot of phases and the cakes I obsessed over those years are a reflection of my character at that time. My chocolate cake phase started when I was a teenager, so sure of my likes and dislikes that I was unwilling to try anything beyond what I already knew. Red velvet came around in my early to mid 20s when I was riding every new fad – cupcakes, donuts, cronuts, the works! – convinced that I was worldly, witty and wise. The cheesecake era was an on and off again affair depending on how well I did in yoga class – I treated myself to blueberry cheesecake the day I achieved my first assisted handstand, so let’s just say cheesecakes were like crack for most of my late 20s.

Through all of this, that humble slice of lemon cake was never given a chance. Even when I was desperate for a fix and it was the last remaining item remaining in the shop.

But then one day I opened my cupboards to find that I had run out of cooking chocolate. Even the cocoa was sparse. All I had were the basics for cake – sugar, butter, flour and eggs – and a whole lot of lemons rolling around the veggie tray.

Why not? I thought. At least I’d have something to take along to this dinner we were invited to the following day. So I laid out all the ingredients, grated and juiced a whole bunch of lemons and baked something called a ‘Lemon Poke Cake’.

This cake comprises of a lemon sponge that, as the name suggests, has had holes poked into it with a toothpick and are then filled in with lemon curd. The cake is then chilled until the curd sets and then frosted quite generously with lemon flavoured cream cheese.

The end result?

Death by Lemon – the ecstatic kind, not the actual thing. A bite of this cake and everything I had ever eaten over the last 10 years paled in comparison! The sponge was light and lemony. The curd, sweet and sour, hit me right in the face but not too hard because the soft and subtle lemon cream cheese restrained it just in time.

Today, I stand before you, a lemon lover for life. It’s not as intense a love affair as the one with chocolate or cheese. I don’t ache for it at every waking hour. It’s more of a happy, comfortable sort of love, the kind that gives you butterflies in your tummy and, in my case, gets my creative juices flowing.

I don’t have intense affairs with cake anymore. I try to sample new and interesting things on the menu all the time. But if ever I come across a slice of lemon heaven in cake shops or cafes, I choose it above all else because to me it represents the kind of love you didn’t know you were capable of. Love that you didn’t even know you needed.

Love…. that makes you realise that even the simplest of things have the capacity to change your perspective and show you that you’re capable of so much more.

Death By Lemon

  • Difficulty: medium
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For cake: makes one layer of cake in a 9” baking pan

– 1 cup all-purpose flour

– 1 tsp baking powder

– ½ tsp salt

– ¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

– ¾ cup sugar

– 2 eggs

– 1 tsp lemon zest

– 3 tsps lemon juice

– ½ cup yogurt (or sour cream if you have it)

Lemon “curd” topping

– ½ cup (4 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

– ¼ cup lemon juice

Lemon Cream Cheese

– ½ cup (8 ounces) cream cheese

– ¼ cup fresh cream

– ½ cup powdered or confectioners’ sugar

– 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


For Cake

Pre-heat oven to 175 degrees C; grease your baking pan with butter (unless it’s a silicone mould in which case, don’t worry) and set aside.

– Have the flour, baking soda and salt ready in a small bowl.

– Add sugar to butter and beat on medium with an electric mixer for 1 minute.

– Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 30 – 45 secs each.

– Mix in lemon juice and zest and beat for another 30 seconds.

– Add the flour little by little and mix it up by hand. Stir in yogurt/sour cream and mix until just incorporated.Batter should be pale yellow by now.

– Pour into pan and let stand at room temperature for 5-7 minutes before putting in the oven.

– Bake for 22-23 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean.

– Let it cool in the pan itself until it’s lukewarm before adding the curd topping.

– If you want a nice, smooth surface to work with (I did) slide the bulgy bit off the top of the cake.

– You can crumble these into tiny little crumbs with the sharp edges of a fork. Keep in fridge and maybe consider adding it as a dry topping once the cake is iced.

For curd topping

– Mix together the condensed milk and lemon juice.

– Invert cake on a plate and poke holes with a fork and spread the topping all around the top. Holes should be dug only halfway through the cake, not all the way.

– Let it seep in a little then poke some more holes on the top so the mixture seeps in better.

– Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Lemon Cream Cheese

Beat the cream cheese, fresh cream and lemon juice together.

– Add sugar little by little, tasting as you go along so that the sweetness is to your liking. I used a little less than ½ the cup.

– Beat until all the ingredients are nice and smooth and then frost cake top and sides.

– Spread evenly over cake and then store in fridge until it’s ready for consumption.

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