Steamed Lemon and Vanilla Syrup Sponge

[Photograph: Jason Lowe]

Little more than vanilla sponge cake soaked in lemon syrup, The Complete Nose to Tail bakes it in a bowl, rind and all. The result? Soft, clinging cake with more than a kiss of citrus.

Excerpted from The Complete Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson (Ecco). Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Jason Lowe.

Steamed Lemon and Vanilla Syrup Sponge

About This Recipe

Yield:serves four to six
Active time:25 minutes
Total time:several hours, including baking and cooling
Special equipment:1 1/4 quart heatproof bowl
This recipe appears in: Bake the Book: Steamed Lemon and Vanilla Syrup Sponge


  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 1 lemon
  • 5/8 cup unsalted butter
  • 5/8 cup caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 2/3 cups plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 - 2/3 cup full-fat milk
  • Syrup
  • Juice and grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 2/3 cup water


  1. 1

    Slit the vanilla pod open lengthways and scrape out the seeds, reserving the pod. Zest the lemon. Cream together the butter, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla seeds until light and fluffy, then gradually add the beaten eggs. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in thoroughly. Add enough milk to give a soft dropping consistency, then set aside.

  2. 2

    To make the syrup, put the lemon juice and zest in a small saucepan with the sugar, water and the reserved vanilla pod. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer until the mixture has a syrupy consistency.

  3. 3

    Cut the zested lemon in half widthways and trim off the bottom and top. Place the widest end of one of the lemon halves in a buttered and floured 1 1/4 quart heatproof bowl and cover with the syrup, reserving a little for later. Spoon the sponge mix. Place a round of baking parchment on top, cover the basin with a piece of foil (with a generous pleat in the middle) and secure with string. Put the basin in a deep roasting tin and pour enough hot water into the tin to come halfway up the sides of the basin. Steam in an oven preheated to 320F for about 2 hours, until well risen and firm to the touch (remember to keep the water topped up).

  4. 4

    Turn out into a large serving bowl and pour the last of the syrup over the top. Serve with double cream.


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