When I first moved to New York, about once or twice a year my mom would send me a loaf of lemon bread. It was my favorite thing. The bread itself is a tender buttery loaf studded with lemon zest and pecans. It’s pleasant enough but not obvious in its charms. But what takes this bread over the top (and makes you reach for slice after slice) is the tangy and sticky glaze, which sweetly shatters with each bite.
The glaze is made with sugar and lemon juice and it’s generously spread all over the loaf after it’s cooled. The bread then goes into the refrigerator for a spell, which not only allows the bread to absorb some of the juice but also hardens the glaze. Each slice of bread is then sweet and tart with the glaze lending a satisfying crunch.
While I feel like I’ve been eating this bread all my life, I don’t think that’s the case as the recipe wasn’t passed along to my mom until I was in high school. We were on our way to Baylor for a spring school visit, and we stopped at my great-aunt Mary’s house in Bryan along the way. As we sat at her kitchen table listening to stories about Aunt Mary’s lively days as a Baylor Belle, she passed around slices of the lemon bread for us to enjoy.
Perhaps a recipe was exchanged that day or maybe my mom asked for it soon after, but it wasn’t until after that visit that she started making the bread in our own home. The bread is very sweet, so at first it was only served on special occasions, such as Christmas morning. Then she started making it for birthdays but because our family loved it so much, before long there was almost always a loaf in the refrigerator, waiting to be sliced and enjoyed along with a cup of coffee for breakfast.
When I moved away from Texas, I collected a host of recipes and kitchen tools but I somehow didn’t get a copy of the lemon bread recipe. I told myself it was because you had to be a certain age in order to have the honor of making this very special bread—though I’m not sure if this is true or not. In hindsight, I could have just been saying this only to make the recipe more elusive and interesting in my mind. And since my mom sent me loaves often enough, there was no need to actually bake it myself as there was usually a loaf of lemon bread in my freezer, each slice carefully doled out.
A few years back my grandma gave me a binder filled with recipes and there it was—the family’s lemon bread. Because I’d lifted the bread to such mythic heights, I was a little surprised that the recipe was given to me without any fanfare. Instead, it was simply tucked into a book. But I didn’t mind, as simply seeing the recipe reminded me of watching my mom and my grandma in the kitchen baking loaf after loaf, coating them in that outrageous glaze, and then wrapping them in foil to either give as gifts or save for future breakfasts at home.
My family enjoys cooking and some of my fondest memories are of hanging out in the kitchen watching them create something for us to eat. I know I’ve said this before but it’s only because I believe it to be true—one of the finest gifts we can get from our parents and grandparents (and dear friends) are beloved family recipes. So I share this treasured lemon bread, which has brought my family much joy, with you.
The important thing, if I haven’t been clear enough, is the glaze. As you mix it together it will appear soupy, but don’t fret. Just place the cooked bread on a sheet of foil, which will catch any that runs off the bread as you spread the glaze onto the loaf. You’ll then wrap up the loaf, place it in the refrigerator, and as the glaze hardens, any that ended up on the foil will find its way onto the bread. You’ll want to serve this bread cool, as that way the glaze will stay crisp. While I like to eat it for breakfast, it’s also a good afternoon snack, and makes for a fine dessert, too.
Ingredients for the bread:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 heaping tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup pecans, chopped coarsely
Ingredients for the glaze:
6 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cups granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease and flour a 9×5 bread pan, lining the bottom of the pan with parchment paper or wax paper.
Stir together the buttermilk and the baking soda and set it aside. Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat together the eggs and slowly add to the creamed butter. Stir in the buttermilk and then slowly add the flour. Mix until a smooth batter is formed. Stir in the lemon zest and the pecans.
Pour in the batter and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan on a rack for 30 minutes.
As the bread is cooling, mix together the lemon juice and sugar for the glaze. To apply the glaze, tear out a sheet of foil large enough to contain the loaf when wrapped. Remove the loaf from the pan by running a knife along the edges and gently tapping it out onto the sheet of foil.
Spread the glaze evenly over the top of the loaf and on the sides. Don’t worry that the glaze is runny, just be sure to contain it all when you wrap the bread with the foil.
Place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Serve cold. It will keep refrigerated for one week and it also freezes well.