Perhaps this isn’t the showiest of cakes but in spite, or perhaps because of this, it’s one of my favourites, and seems to be almost universally popular. Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s ‘Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake’ in her book ‘How to Be a Domestic Goddess’ I have made this maybe about 50 or 60 times now. I have tried using lemons only, limes only and even adding the Italian Limoncello liqueur as she suggests, but I have found the absolute best combination is 50/50 lemon and lime.
You will need a metal loaf tin (and liner if possible) and a skewer plus:
125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
175g caster sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon and 1 lime (unwaxed if possible)
175g self-raising flour
a pinch of salt
4 tablespoons milk
For the syrup you will need:
2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of lime juice (approximately one lemon and 2 limes)
100g icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan and either butter and flour your loaf tin or use a paper case as I have done. Make sure that the loaf case you use comes above the sides of the loaf tin if you can, as this will save difficulty later on when you are pouring the syrup over (the ones I used here were a little small as I later realised.)
I must admit I generally am not organised enough to take the butter out of the fridge beforehand in time to allow it to come to room temperature, so I usually heat it in a suitable bowl in the microwave on defrost for a couple of minutes. You might find some of the butter has melted and some it still a bit solid but if you give it a good beat for a minute it should end up the right consistency. Cream together the butter and sugar with either a wooden spoon or a mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each one, and the lemon and lime zest and beat well. Sieve in the flour and salt then fold in gently. Add the milk. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for around 45 minutes, keeping a close eye on it for the last ten minutes as ovens do vary. About 10-15 minutes before the cake is ready, make the syrup and make sure you have a skewer handy, preferably a metal one.
Put the lemon and lime juice into a small saucepan and add the icing sugar. Heat and stir them together until the sugar has dissolved. Check the cake is ready by pressing the top of the cake with your finger. It should be springy to the touch. If it leaves an indentation then it is not ready.
When it is ready, take the cake out of the oven and put it on a board. Stab the cake all over with the skewer (good fun if you have had a trying day!), then pour the syrup evenly over the cake, trying not to just let it all go down the edges which it will be inclined to do. If you are using a paper liner, make sure the icing does not go over the edge of the liner, or it will not get absorbed by the cake.
Leave it in the tin (if you can) until it is completely cold. If you have not used a liner it is best to ease a rubber spatula carefully round the edges of the tin before turning it out. Otherwise you can just lift out the cake using the paper liner. Feel free to experiment with different citrus fruit to see which you like best.