Lemon Sour Cream Pound Cake

This week I stopped at Starbucks and bought a piece of their famous lemon pound cake. The texture was dense, tight crumbed and kind of heavy (a slice weighed 1/4 pound!), but what I liked best was the strong lemon flavor. I think they use lemon oil, so I wanted to see if I could duplicate that lemon flavor at home by grinding lemon zest with sugar and getting the natural oil from the lemon. Plus I’d also been looking for an excuse to try a pound cake recipe called “Smoothest Southern Pound Cake” from my newest Southern Living Book, Southern Living: 40 Years of Our Best Recipes: Over 250 Great-Tasting, Tried-and-True Southern Recipes — which I highly recommend. I’ve been cooking out of it like crazy this past week and love the historical background they give for each recipe.


For this cake, they marveled at its texture, which resulted from an unusual mixing method. Flour is added before the yolks, next come the flavorings and sour cream, and the final step is to fold in the egg whites. The original recipe is vanilla, but I used my new lemon grinding method and got just as much lemon flavor as I’d hoped. As for the cake’s texture, it was great – not like Starbucks because it was softer and lighter, but still very tight crumbed and dense. It’s interesting to see how cake flour pound cakes compare to all-purpose flour pound cakes.  As much as I prefer cake flour in cakes, pound cake is a type of cake where the extra gluten in all-purpose really helps the structure. But I tend to lean towards pound cakes with cake flour or  better yet, White Lily. It’s also interesting to see the differences between butter and shortening.  Sheesh, I really wish I had a job in a test kitchen, but I can only do some much on my own here and in my spare time.  And then there’s all the clean-up!  But I’d like to make about 60 pound cakes with ingredient variations and just see how they compare.

Lemon Sour Cream Pound Cake
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A lemon pound cake that gets its flavor from ground lemon peel and sour cream. This one is adapted from Southern Living's "Smoothest Southern Pound Cake".
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Serves: 18
  • 2 large lemons
  • 3 cups (588 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks (230 grams) unsalted butter, cool room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (omit if using salted butter)
  • 3 cups (300 grams) sifted cake flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream
Lemon Icing
  • 2 tablespoons (28 grams) butter
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups (230 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10 inch tube, 12 cup Bundt or 2 loaf pans.
  2. With a knife, cut the yellow part off the lemons. That is, shave it so you don’t get too much of the rind underneath. You should be left with two lemons covered in white. Squeeze the juice out of the lemons and reserve 2 tablespoons.
  3. Put half of the lemon peel shavings in a coffee grinder, spice grinder or mini chopper with ¼ cup of the sugar. Grind well and pour into a bowl. Repeat with remaining lemon and another ¼ cup sugar. Combine lemon sugar with the rest of the sugar and set it aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter for 2 minutes until it is very creamy. Gradually add the lemon/sugar mixture at medium speed. Increase speed and beat for about 7 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, combine sifted flour and baking soda. Reduce mixer speed to low and add cake flour mixture, 1 cup at a time. Batter will be very thick. Add egg yolks and stir until mixed, then add vanilla and reserved lemon juice and stir well. Stir in the sour cream.
  6. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they are just about stiff (but not too stiff, or they’ll be harder to fold). Fold in1/3 of the beaten egg white to lighten batter, then fold in remaining.
  7. Pour into pan and bake at 300 for 2 hours. If you are using loaf pans, bake for 1 ½ hours. Let cool for 30 minutes in the pan, then carefully remove from the pan and let cool completely.
  8. To make the glaze, put the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat until it is melted. Stir in the lemon juice, then add a couple of spoonfuls of powdered sugar and stir until smooth. Keep adding sugar, stirring well, until the icing is a good drizzling consistency. To test, hold some in a spoon and let it fall back into the cup. Hold the measuring cup of the cake and drizzle it decoratively down sides.
This pound cake was really good, but if you plan on making it in loaf pans, you should know that it probably won't have a big dome in the middle. It still tastes good, but I think this is batter is better suited for a tube pan or Bundt pan.


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  1. Beverly says

    I have got to try this. I have been on a quest to come up with the Starbuck’s Lemon Pound Cake for years. Having tried all the copy cat versions as well as the better- than- Starbuck’s recipes, all of which, by the way, were no where close and even made me question if those bakers had even had the Starbuck’s Lemon Pound Cake! Now I have to get some slices from Starbuck’s to stash in the freezer for testing and comparisons, because they are switching to a new bakery source and the Lemon Pound Cake won’t be the same:-( So many recipes and so little time…..

  2. says

    Bev, definitely try grinding the lemon zest up with the sugar. It’s much easier than using a zester and I think you get more of the lemon oil. However, this recipe isn’t like the Starbucks one in texture. There’s is stiffer and denser, while this one is really soft and doesn’t have as much structure. This recipe would be perfect for a tube pan or Bundt or cake that is inverted, since it doesn’t dome much.

  3. thesweetestpea says

    When I make lemon pound cake or lemon zucchini bread, I poke holes in the top of loaf with a wooden skewer and make a very intensely flavored lemon syrup (no recipe, just fiddle with it until it’s right) and pour over the loaf while still hot and let it cool in the pan for 30 minutes. Then glaze as you normally would — now talk about lemon!!! And of course, it’s very moist. I also have purchased the lemon powder from King Arthur’s website and it is very lemony and has sweet and savory applications — try it in your spice blend when roasting chicken.

  4. Mela says

    Whenever I bake Cream Cheese Poundcake it always comes out dense and tight crumbled. Maybe just adding lemon zest and extract to it will be like Starbucks Lemon Poundcake, hmmm…I’ll try it next time.

  5. d says

    I actually made the Top Secret Recipe’s version of the Starbucks Lemon Loaf this week and really liked the flavor. It was moist and yummy but mine sunk in the middle a bit. I am at 3500 ft, so sometimes the altitude makes it sink. I have never tasted the Starbucks version so I can’t compare. I’m excited to try yours. I hear Barefoot Contessa also has a good recipe. This is the recipe that I made, with my notes at the end – FWIW :)

    Starbucks Lemon Loaf –

    This is a Top Secret recipe version of Starbucks Lemon loaf.

    1 1/2 cup(s) FLOUR
    1/2 tsp BAKING SODA
    1/2 tsp BAKING POWDER
    1/2 tsp SALT
    3 EGGS
    1 cup(s) SUGAR
    2 TBS BUTTER; Softened.
    1 tsp VANILLA
    1/3 cup(s) LEMON JUICE
    1/2 cup(s) OIL

    Lemon Icing Ingredients:
    1 cup POWDERED SUGAR; Plus 1 Tablespoon.
    2 TBS WHOLE MILK; I Used 2%.
    1/2 tsp LEMON EXTRACT

    Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
    Use a mixer to blend together the eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, lemon extract and lemon juice in a medium bowl.
    Pour wet ingredient into the dry ingredients and blend until smooth.
    Add oil and mix well.
    Pour batter into a well greased 9×5-inch loaf pan.
    Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a toothpick stuck into center of the cake comes out clean.
    Make the lemon icing by combining all the icing ingredients in a small bowl with an electric mixer on low speed.
    When the loaf is cool, remove it from pan and frost the top with the icing.
    Let the icing set up before slicing.

    Sept 2013- I made this without reading any reviews. I didn’t like it all that well when it was warm, but after a few hours it was really a moist dense, yummy lemon loaf. I would add the zest of a lemon to the cake base when I make it again. I did crisco and sugar on 9×5 pan and it came out fine. I only baked it 40 minutes and the toothpick came out a bit moist but no crumbs on it. It sunk a little bit. The top was golden brown. I wouldn’t want to bake it longer because I liked how moist it was with only 40 mins. Might have to put in the mini loaf tins. Great flavor and texture, just sunk a little.

  6. says

    Thanks for the recipe, Darla. Mine isn’t at all like Starbucks. It has loads of lemon flavor, but the sour cream gives it a more tender, dense yet light, texture. The Starbucks lemon cake is kind of heavy. Each piece has 500 calories and weighs a little over 4 oz. If you want to clone the Starbucks recipe, you should look for a recipe that has lemon oil, lemon zest, a ton of sugar, lots of butter and some vegetable shortening. The next lemon pound cake on my list is actually Maida Heatter’s 62nd Street Lemon Cake. I’m not sure it’s like Starbucks, but people love it.

  7. d says

    Ya, I don’t think I’ll make any other Starbucks Clone recipes for the lemon loaf. Your recipe sounds better, so I’m going to give it a try. More lemony and it sounds like the cake flour gives it a better texture. I’ll be watching for your review of Maida Heatter’s lemon cake.

  8. says

    D, Bev pointed out that the Maida’s cake is more like a 1234 cake (1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, 4 eggs) and not really a pound cake. The one you posted is probably closer to theirs, now that I think about it.

  9. says

    Thanks for sharing this. Can’t try for another week or so as I’m away from all my baking stuff. Wanted to share some sour cream cake recipes I’ve had great success with and can be flavored in all kinds of ways (coconut, lemon, chips, cinnamon sugar and pecans or walnuts, etc. Just not chocolate. Not a good chocolate cake. Though I’m working on it. All the recipes are here: http://susiecambria.blogspot.com/p/recipes.html

    You’ll see the lemon sour cream cake calls for lemon extract. I now us lemon oil and reduce the amount. And other changes/mods that make for good lemon cake: 1) 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup marscapone and 2) layering batter with Penzey’s Raspberry Enlightenment. To the latter: not sure how much I use since when I make this, I use five small loaf pans. I probably use 2 tbsp in each cake (batter, raspberry, batter) but more can be used, trust me!

  10. says

    Thanks Susie! I downloaded it off your blog. I really need to pick up some lemon oil today because as much as I like using fresh lemons, the lemon oil is what gives cakes that lemon drop flavor.

  11. CB says

    Speaking of Starbucks, have you ever tried their Pumpkin Loaf? It is amazing, heavy and dense and moist…have you ever tried to make that? Would love to find a recipe to replicate since most of the California Starbucks do not carry it anymore, they have La Boulange baked goods…

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