Spring Lemon Cake

A beautiful cake for Easter and Spring. Bit of Easter food history too and the tale of Molly Grimes.

Easter Spring Time Bake

Well I don’t know what happened to January and February, do you? It only seems five minutes since the Christmas decs’ came down and here we are running up to Easter. Eastertide, being a movable festival, this year falls just over a fortnight away and is nearly as early as it can be.  Easter Day is on the first Sunday after the full moon occurring on or after the spring equinox on 21st March. If the full moon is on a Sunday, then it is chosen for the following Sunday.

There are many foods traditions associated with this time of year - Easter Eggs, Hot Cross Buns, Fish on Good Friday and Spring Lamb. Figs used to play a much larger part on Palm Sunday, with Fresh figs, fig pies and puddings being consumed in vast quantities. In fact, in some counties it was called Fig Sunday, with Fig Fayres being held on the Saturday too.

Hot Cross Buns have been made and baked for centuries on Good Friday, the cross having obvious symbolic Christian meaning.   Hot cross buns were believed to hold miraculous curative and magical powers, with housewives hanging buns from their kitchen ceilings to protect the household from evil for the year to come. They were also dried and used in powdered form to treat all sorts of illnesses. One old custom was to bake 13 buns, 12 were eaten and the 13th was dried. If a family member was ill over the forthcoming year, the top was scraped off the bun and mixed with milk and given at bedtime, this allegedly did the trick. I’m not responsible if you try this at home!

Centuries ago many of the rich left their money or part of it to be distributed annually on Good Friday, some odd customs have sprung up around such legacies. One such local story relates to the 13th century parish church of Glentham in West Lindsey, home to a figure known as “Molly Grime”. Every Good Friday seven maids of the parish were paid to wash her with water from nearby Newell’s Well. The terms in the will stated that after this had been done the maids would receive one shilling each. Sadly this custom came to an end in 1832, when the land was sold and the payment of seven shillings ceased. It is thought that the name “Molly Grime” is a corruption of the word “Malgraen” which means “holy image washing”. Rarely heard now, to call a child “Molly Grime”, was a Lincolnshire saying for a child who was dirty and needed a good wash!

There are many superstitions surrounding Good Friday, next to Halloween it is supposed to be the day when we are most vulnerable to evil spirits and witches. People used to cut a branch of Rowan and bring it into the house to protect themselves and their family. It was thought the day was of special significance to witches with covens meeting in secret to exchange spells and perform magic. It was also seen as unlucky to do any housework or washing on this day (fine by me). Apparently for all you gardeners and farmers, it is a lucky day to plant your “tates”!
Easter Sunday marks the end of Lent and a day of celebration and feasting, in the Hirst household this involves eating your own body weight in chocolate eggs.  It is only relatively recently that Easter eggs have been exchanged as gifts. Originally they were large glossy, elaborately decorated affairs and only for the rich.  Victorian mechanisation onwards enabled the mass production of chocolate eggs and in turn the price dropped and their popularity soared.

To counterbalance the looming chocolate frenzy, I have chosen a recipe that is a beautiful light springtime cake. I’m hoping by the time you read this that the weather forecast is wrong and we not up to our necks in snow! The cake is flavoured with lemon and vanilla and is ideal for any springtime occasion. It seems right that the eggs form the backbone of this recipe, as I use my eggs as the base weight for my sugar, flour and margarine. This tip was passed on to me from my Mum, whom it was given to many years ago by my childhood next door neighbour in Woodhall Spa – the late Mona Marfutt. This method never fails and I use it for any cake that calls for the creaming method, such as a classic Victoria Sandwich. The use of syrup adds another lemony layer to this cake and also keeps it moist for longer. Due to the use of double cream in the icing and filling, you do need to store this cake covered in the fridge and consume within three days.

Spring Lemon and Vanilla Cake

  • 3 local free range Eggs at room temperature, weigh them and use this as your base weight for Sugar, Marg and Flour. Mine weighed 200g.
  • Egg weight in Caster Sugar.
  • Egg weight in Stork (in a tub) at room temperature.
  • Egg weight in Self Raising Flour.
  • Seeds from one Vanilla Pod or 1 tsp of good quality Vanilla Bean Paste.
  • Zest 1 large, unwaxed  Lemon.
  • 5 tbsp Evaporated Milk.
  • 5 tbs Water.

Lemon Syrup

  • Juice from zested Lemon, pips sieved out.
  • Same weight as juice in Caster Sugar.

Filling and Icing

  • 300ml pot of Double Cream.
  • 4 tbsp of good quality or homemade Lemon Curd (my recipe on website).
  • 4 heaped tbsp sieved Icing Sugar.
  • Seeds from one Vanilla Pod or 1 tsp of good quality Vanilla Bean Paste.


  • Grease 2 x 7 ½  inch /18 ½ cm sandwich tins (I sprayed mine with cake release spray).
  • Preheat oven to 170c fan.
  • Lightly whisk the eggs in a jug and add in vanilla seeds or paste.
  • Zest lemon and put to one side.
  • Put 5 tbsp of evaporated milk together in a little cup with the 5 tbsp of water.
  • Start beating the stork until it starts to go pale and then add in your sugar.
  • When the stork and sugar are pale and fluffy add egg in a little at a time, keep beating.
  • When all of the egg is incorporated, sieve in the flour and gently fold in.
  • Add in the lemon zest and milk/water mix, fold in well.
  • Divide mixture between 2 tins and bake centre shelf of oven for 25 – 30min.
  • The cake is ready when it is a golden brown colour and springy to the touch.
  • Cool in the tins for 5 mins before turning onto a cooling rack, with underside at the top.

Lemon Syrup

  • Whilst the cake is baking, put the juice of your zested lemon into a small saucepan.
  • You should get between 50 -70ml from a decent sized lemon, whatever juices you get, match it with caster sugar, so 50g – 70g
  • Put the sugar in the pan with the juice and melt together on a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, then take off the heat.
  • When your cakes are out of their tins and cooling on the racks, brush your syrup all over the underside of the cakes until it is all used up.
  • Do this whilst the syrup and cakes are still warm.
  • Allow the cakes to cool completely before icing and filling.

Icing and Filling

  • Whip up the double cream until it can stand in peaks.
  • Add in the lemon curd, vanilla and sieved icing sugar, mix well and chill in the fridge until needed.
  • This is enough to generously fill the cake and cover the top.
  • If you are making this cake for Easter, you can decorate with mini eggs, I used Smartie ones. Edible spring flowers or sugar craft flowers would look lovely too.
  • Store in the fridge and consume within three days.

I wish you all a happy and peaceful Easter. Happy Spring Baking!
Sadie Hirst is a member of Select Lincolnshire and The British Society of Baking and is passionate about preserving our food heritage and traditions.  Sadie’s previous Target food column recipes can be found at www.rjhirstfamilybutchers.co.uk Twitter Sadie Hirst@RJHirstfamilybutchers email sadiehirst@btinternet.com



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