Moist, buttery, soft lemon bread made in one bowl, no mixer required! After months of testing, I finally mastered a thick & soft recipe inspired by the Starbucks lemon loaf!
What is the Starbucks lemon loaf?
Starbucks’ website describes it as a “citrusy, buttery, moist lemon pound cake topped with a sweet icing.” It’s basically just cake with your breakfast coffee and I’m not one to argue about that. Coffee cake…but better.
Why I LOVE this Copycat Lemon Loaf
- Very close to Starbucks! It took me 7 tries and 2 months to achieve this moist, slightly dense, lemon-packed lemon loaf recipe. It wasn’t enough for me to just make a good lemon bread…I wanted that moist & tender Starbucks texture! I will say that Starbucks’ version, on a good day, is a tiny bit moister due to fancy preservatives most chains add to quick breads, but I’d say this is a 90% match and it’s DANG good for being homemade!
- One bowl, no mixer! Oh yes, I said it. You don’t need an electric mixer for this recipe. In fact, I recommend against it in order to achieve a tender, dense texture.
- Simple ingredients: You’ll need some lemon extract & one fresh lemon, but other than that, this recipe uses simple ingredients you probably have in your pantry! Some lemon bread recipes use lemon cake mix or pudding mix…but we’re going full-on homemade here. Other lemon pound cake recipes also use a simple syrup, which you could totally make to make it even moister, but I’m all for ease and that’s just an extra step I’m not going to do, ha!
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
This is just an overview, click here to jump down to the full recipe card for the recipe amounts and condensed recipe instructions.
- Lemon Extract: I tested this recipe using just the fresh lemon juice & zest but felt like it didn’t maintain a strong lemon flavor after baking (the acidity of the lemon juice also caused it not to rise as much). So, adding the 1-2 tablespoons of lemon extract is a must if you want that strong citrusy flavor like Starbucks. 1 tablespoon if you like a more subtle lemon & 2 tablespoons if you like a pretty strong lemon flavor. I just used the $3 Kroger brand and I actually liked the taste much better than my expensive bottle of Nielsen Massey (which kind of has a strong alcohol/lemon Pine-Sol taste). All that said, if you don’t have access to lemon extract, I suggest adding 1 tablespoon lemon zest (about 2 large lemons) to the batter for a light citrus taste.
- Cornstarch: Using cornstarch essentially turns your flour into a DIY cake flour, giving the bread a finer, more tender crumb. I don’t recommend omitting it, as it also helps make and keep the bread super moist! But if you absolutely don’t have it or are allergic to corn, you can leave it out.
- Milk: I used whole milk but 1% or 2% is also fine. At first, I tested this recipe using sour cream but ultimately felt that it made the texture too dense and the milk gave it the tender, fluffy texture I wanted. I also know not everyone keeps sour cream in the fridge, so this was also a win-win for ease!
- Baking Powder: This is different than baking soda and allows the loaf to rise. That said, note that this won’t rise into a super tall & fluffy loaf.
- Vegetable Oil: Again, I tried this recipe without oil (using sour cream instead) and wasn’t able to achieve the tight, tender, moist crumb. We’re only using 1/4 cup but it does make a big difference!
Tips for Success
- Use a light-metal pan with parchment: For an even bake, I recommend using a 8×4″ light metal loaf pan (they’re cheap!) and lining it with parchment paper. If you only have a dark metal pan, reduce the temperature to 325°F and use a toothpick to test for doneness around 45 minutes. If you only have a glass pan, you will want to reduce the temperature to 325°F and likely bake for an extra 10-15 minutes.
- Mix by hand with a spatula: For ease & to keep the loaf dense, I recommend mixing this by hand! In doing so, you only need one bowl for the batter with minimal cleanup.
- Soften butter: Since we’re mixing by hand, this is one recipe you’ll want softened butter. If grabbing straight from the fridge (what I do), just microwave the stick standing up (not laying flat) for 15-20 seconds. You don’t want it melted but you do want it soft enough to be able to mix with a spatula. All that said, if you start mixing the butter with the sugar and it’s not soft enough, you can pop the whole bowl (if microwave-safe!) in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds to soften OR you can use a mixer for this step until it’s combined. It’s okay to see little specks of butter in the batter but you don’t want large chunks.
- Top might crack: It’s normal for the top of the loaf to crack. It will be a little crevice for all that scrumptious glaze.
How to Make Copycat Starbucks Lemon Loaf:
This is just an overview showing step-by-step photos, click here to jump down to condensed, printable recipe card with exact instructions.
Step 1: Make Lemon Batter
Before you begin: I recommend mixing this by hand with a spatula, not an electric mixer! Since this is essentially a pound cake that we want to have a tight, slightly dense texture, we don’t want to whip too much air into it!
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together 1/2 cup softened butter (1 stick), 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon extract, and 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon zest (optional). This will infuse the butter and sugar with the lemon flavor.
- Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, then mix until incorporated.
- Add 1 1/4 cup flour and 2 tablespoons cornstarch and mix until just combined.
- Lastly, add 1/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup vegetable oil and stir until combined.
Step 2: Bake & Cool
- Grease an 8×4″ light-metal loaf pan and line with parchment paper (see image below for how I create a parchment sling; I put one long skinny peice on the short sides and 1 larger sheet on the long sides). Pour batter into pan, then tap against the counter to release any air bubbles.
- Read these baking instructions carefully! Bake at 350°F for 60 minutes total, but when there are 15 minutes left, tent a piece of foil on top to prevent the top from overbrowning. This will allow the inside to finish baking without overbaking the top. Allow the loaf to FULLY cool before adding glaze.
Step 3: Make & Add Glaze
- In a small bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon softened butter, 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon milk. If your glaze is too thick to pour, add a bit more milk.
- Stir until smooth, then pour over the cooled loaf. To prevent it from pooling on the sides, I sometimes like to pour half on at once, allow it to set, then add the second half.
Tip: The butter helps cut the sweetness of the sugar, as well as thicken up the glaze so that it’s not see-through when you pour it on.
Step 4: Enjoy!
I’m a little packaging nutjob and love gifting homemade treats! After allowing the glaze to fully set, I cut into thick slices, slipped them into these brown paper treat bags, and attached on the cute little gift tag.
Free Printable: You can get these free printable tags by joining the June baking challenge! It’s free to join and the printable tags will be emailed to you.
Storage & Freezing
Storing: I like to store quick breads in a gallon-sized ziploc bag to stay moist. Alternatively, you can keep it in the pan and cover with plastic wrap. I don’t recommend covering with foil, as it will dry out quicker.
Freezing: If possible, it’s best to freeze this before adding the glaze (as the glaze will “sweat” and become sticky when defrosted). Regardless, wrap bread in plastic wrap and freeze in an airtight container for up to 2 months. Allow to thaw to room temperature before slicing.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Do I have to use lemon extract or can I use fresh lemon juice?
In my testing, fresh lemon juice and zest just didn’t achieve a strong citrusy flavor in the bread. The fresh lemon juice in the batter is also acidic and caused the loaf to not rise as much. So I highly suggest using the lemon extract but if you’re okay with a very subtle lemon flavor, you can omit it and replace with 2 tablespoons lemon zest in the batter.
Can I omit the cornstarch?
You can, but it won’t be as tender of a crumb. I highly suggest cornstarch, as it gives quick breads (just like my moist banana bread) such a tender, moist texture!
Be sure to read my ingredient substitution section above for why I used all these particular ingredients!
Can I make this gluten-free?
You’re in luck because I tested this gluten-free and am thrilled to report it worked great! It’s a tiny bit more crumbly & didn’t rise as much as the regular one… but it’s still so soft and delicious – you’d hardly know it was gluten-free!
I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free 1-to-1 All-Purpose flour and made no other adjustments.
Copycat Starbucks Lemon Loaf
The BEST moist, tender, buttery, lemon bread made in one bowl, no mixer required! After months of testing, I finally mastered the Starbucks lemon loaf recipe!
- ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick) softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon extract, to taste tablespoon, not teaspoon! See notes below.
- ½ tablespoon lemon zest (about 1 large lemon) optional but recommended for a more citrusy flavor.
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder not baking soda!
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ cup milk whole milk is best but 1-2% will work
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter softened
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
Before you begin! If you make this, will you do me a huge favor and leave a review and rating letting me know how you liked this recipe? This helps my small business thrive so I can continue providing free recipes and high-quality content for you.
For best success, be sure to read the tips & tricks in the blog post above! I recommend mixing this by hand with a spatula, not an electric mixer.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together softened butter, granulated sugar, lemon extract, and fresh lemon zest (optional) until smooth and no more butter chunks remain. This will infuse the butter and sugar with the lemon flavor.
If your butter isn't incorporating easily, it's too cold. You can pop the bowl in the microwave in 5 second increments until it's easy to stir.
Add vanilla extract, eggs, baking powder, and salt, then mix until incorporated.
Add flour and cornstarch, then mix until just combined. Lastly, add milk and vegetable oil and stir until combined.
Grease an 8×4″ light-metal loaf pan and line with parchment paper. Pour batter into pan, then gently tap against the counter to release any air bubbles.
Read these baking instructions carefully! Bake at 350°F for 60 minutes total, but when there are 15 minutes left, tent a piece of foil on top to prevent the top from overbrowning. This will allow the inside to finish baking without overbaking the top.
* Because ovens bake differently, use a toothpick or skewer to check for doneness around 45 minutes. If you're using a dark metal pan, you will want to check for brownness earlier around the 30 minute mark. You will also likely not need to bake for the full 60 minutes.
Allow the loaf to FULLY cool before adding glaze.
In a small bowl, mix together softened butter, powdered sugar, salt, fresh lemon juice, and milk. If your glaze is too thick to pour, add a bit more milk.
Stir until smooth, then pour over the cooled loaf. To prevent it from pooling on the sides, I sometimes like to pour half on at once, allow it to set, then add the second half.
After allowing the glaze to fully set, cut into thick slices and enjoy!
Last Step! Please leave a review and rating letting me know how you liked this recipe! This helps my small business thrive so I can continue providing free recipes and high-quality content for you.
Lemon extract: Depending on how strong of lemon flavor you like, you can use 1-2 tablespoons of lemon extract. Some brands of lemon extract taste stronger and more like alcohol than others, therefore you may want to use 1 tablespoon the first time you make this and then decide if it’s strong enough for your liking.
I tested this recipe using Kroger brand and thought the flavor matched the Starbucks lemon loaf well. However, I also tested this with the more expensive Nielsen Massey lemon extract and 2 tablespoons was too strong with that brand (partly because that brand is more potent and has more of an alcohol/Pine Sol lemon flavor, in my opinion).
All that said, flavor this to taste based on your experience with the brand of extract you’re using and how strong of lemon flavor you like. I know 1-2 tablespoons sounds like a lot but a lot of the flavor will bake out in the oven. With 1 tablespoon of Kroger brand, the bread itself (without the glaze) has a very subtle flavor but the glaze will add a good lemon punch.
If you omit the lemon extract entirely, use 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest. The flavor will be more subtle but it will work.