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This cake comes with a story. So, although I am dying to jump right in with just how fabulous it tastes, I think a little info into its genesis is in order. What follows is essentially how I ended up developing a key lime cake, so sit back and listen up—it’s a fun one.

In January, Chowhound published my recipe for lemon snacking cake. I posted a picture and a link to the recipe on Instagram (as one is wont to do) and included my location: Red Hook, Brooklyn. Well, my neighbor, the famous Steve of Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie, happens to pay attention when folks tag Red Hook, and he reached out to me. He dug the lemon snacking cake, he explained, and wanted to know if I’d like to try a lime version. 

Related Reading: What Is the Difference Between Limes and Key Limes?

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Well, long story short, he invited me to his key lime pie factory in Red Hook, gave me a quart of freshly squeezed key lime juice and a paper bag full of key limes, then proceeded to teach me everything I’ve ever wanted to know about key limes. I went home, created a key lime tea cake, and am feeling tickled pink (lime green? Sorry!) about the whole thing.

Jessie Sheehan

The cake is super simple to assemble. Yes, the prep was particularly easy for me, as the lovely Steve provided me with freshly squeezed juice. But squeezing your own is not so painful. However, if you just cannot bear the thought of squeezing the tiny, delicious, floral, juicy, and otherworldly key limes, by all means swap them for Persian ones (aka the larger limes you typically find in the grocery store). They may not be as fragrant or flavorful as key limes, but they are brilliant in a pinch—and I promise I won’t tell Steve. 

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Plus, once you’ve squeezed the limes, the rest of the recipe is smooth sailing. It’s practically a one-bowl recipe, and the cake bakes in about 45 minutes. I love to finish it with a lime and confectioners’ sugar glaze because it adds an extra tart- and sweetness to the cake. But you can leave it out if you wish.

OK, story time is over. Now, please go make cake.

Key Lime Tea Cake Recipe

Two final cake tips: The cake sinks slightly when you pull it from the oven—do not be alarmed—and I give you the option of including lime zest in the cake, but again if you do not want to zest key limes (or even Persian ones), it can be optional.

Key Lime Tea Cake

  • For the Cake: 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 Tbsp key (or Persian) lime-zest, optional
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1 yolk
  • 6 Tbsp freshly squeezed key (or Persian) lime juice
  • 6 Tbsp buttermilk
  • For the key lime glaze: 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
  • 1 Tbsp, 2 tsp freshly squeezed key (or Persian) lime juice
  1. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350∞F and grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray or softened butter. Line it with a strip of parchment paper that covers the pan's bottom and goes up the two shortest sides.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar and the zest, if using, and with your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla and oil and whisk to blend. Add the egg and yolk, one at a time, whisking after each.
  4. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, and using a flexible spatula, very gently fold the dry into the wet.
  5. Add the buttermilk, another 1/3 of the dry, the juice, and then the final third of the dry, gently folding to incorporate after each addition.
  6. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs. The cake will sink slightly when you remove it from the oven.
  7. Set the loaf pan on a wire rack and let the cake cool until you are able to touch the pan with your bare hands. While the cake cools, make the glaze.
  8. Place the confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl along with the lime juice and whisk vigorously until smooth.
  9. Invert the cake onto the rack and let cool completely. Pour the glaze over the cake and let rest until the glaze is set.
  10. The cake is super moist and will keep tightly covered at room temp for 3 to 5 days. This cake is one of those that tastes even better on day two, if it indeed lasts that long...

Header image by Jessie Sheehan.

Jessie Sheehan is a cookbook author, food writer, recipe developer, and baker. She is the author of "The Vintage Baker" (one of the Washington Post’s best cookbooks of 2018 and beloved by Oprah and Nigella) and the co-author of "Icebox Cakes" (both published by Chronicle Books). She has developed recipes for many cookbooks, besides her own, and has contributed recipes, written and/or created video content for Better Homes & Garden, Rachael Ray Everyday, the Washington Post, Fine Cooking, Yankee Magazine (October 2020) Epicurious, Food52, The Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family Show, The Feed Feed, The Kitchn, TASTE, Chowhound, Yummly, Spruce Eats and Little Sous, among others. Jessie blogs at and can be found on Instagram at @jessiesheehanbakes.
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