This sunshine citrus cake cures the cold weather blues with bright flavor, a light and springy cake crumb, and creamy whipped frosting. Be sure to set aside enough time to prepare the lemon curd in advance.
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 large egg
- 2/3 cup (134g) granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoon lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
- 1/3 cup (80ml) fresh lemon juice (about 2–3 lemons)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 6 Tablespoons (86g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 and 3/4 cups (219g) all-purpose flour (spooned & leveled)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons citrus zest (combination of lemon, orange, and lime or other, see note)
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (120ml) whole milk, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup (80ml) freshly squeezed citrus juice (combination of lemon, orange, and lime or other, see note)
- 6 ounces (170g) block full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature (not cream cheese spread)
- 3/4 cup (90g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 and 1/2 cups (360ml) cold heavy cream or heavy whipping cream (very cold!)
- optional: sliced citrus fruits or citrus twists to garnish
- Make the lemon curd: Fill the bottom pot of your double boiler with 1-2 inches of water. (Or use the DIY double boiler method listed in the notes.) Place on high heat. Once the water begins to boil, reduce to low heat to keep the water at a simmer. Place egg yolks, egg, granulated sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt into the top pot of your double boiler. Using a silicone whisk (avoid metal because it leaves an aftertaste), whisk until completely blended and then continue to whisk as the curd cooks. Whisk and cook until the mixture becomes thick and is the consistency of hollandaise sauce or a really thick soup, about 10 minutes or when an instant read thermometer reaches 160°F (71°C). If curd isn’t thickening, turn up the heat and constantly whisk. Remove pan from heat. Cut the butter into 6 separate pieces and then whisk into the curd until butter has melted and combined. Pour curd into a jar or bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top so it is touching the top of the curd. This prevents a skin from forming on top. The curd will continue to thicken as it cools. Place in refrigerator to speed up cooling. Once cool, the plastic wrap can be removed. Refrigerate the curd for up to about 10 days or for longer storage, you can freeze the cooled curd for up to 3-6 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before enjoying. Makes 1 heaping cup.
- Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 6-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. (If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.)
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula and then add the citrus zest. Beat on medium-high speed until combined and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla extract. Beat on medium-high speed until combined. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl and beat again as needed to combine. Add half of the flour mixture (just eyeball it), half of the milk, and half of the citrus juice. Beat on low speed until mostly combined, and then add the remaining flour mixture, milk, and citrus juice. Beat on low speed until combined. Do not over-mix. You may need to whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no large lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be slightly thick with some small lumps. You will have between 3.5 – 4 cups of batter.
- Divide and pour batter evenly into cake pans. If batter appears to have bubbles, give the pans a light tap on the counter to pop them. Bake cakes for 18-21 minutes or until baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done.
- Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove cakes from the pans and set them on a wire rack to cool completely. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
- Make the whipped frosting: In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl and beat again as needed until creamy. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract, and then beat on medium speed until combined and completely smooth (absolutely no lumps), at least 2 full minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl and beat again as needed to smooth out. Switch to a whisk attachment (if you haven’t already been using it). Turn the mixer to low speed and with the mixer running, carefully pour in the cream in a slow and steady stream. After all of the cream has been added, turn the mixer up to high speed and whip until thick and stiff peaks form, about 1-2 minutes. Do not walk away during this time and do not be concerned if your frosting takes longer to whip. You’re looking for a thick, airy consistency with stiff peaks. If your frosting appears soupy now or at any point you are working with it, it needs more whipping to introduce more air. If your frosting appears chunky or curdled, it’s over-whipped. To fix, stir 1 Tablespoon of heavy cream into the frosting by hand to smooth out again. You will have about 3.5 cups of frosting.
- Make lemon curd frosting filling: Spoon 1 cup of frosting (about 240ml) into a separate bowl. Stir in 3 heaping Tablespoons of cooled lemon curd. This will be your filling for the cake. Enjoy remaining lemon curd drizzled on the cake slices or as a topping on other baked goods.
- Assemble & crumb coat the cake: First, make sure you have enough room for the cake inside your refrigerator because it must chill at the end of this step and briefly in the next step as well. If the cake layers aren’t flat on top, carefully and slowly level them off using a large serrated knife. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand, cake turntable, or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with 1/2 of the lemon curd frosting. Top with 2nd cake layer and evenly cover the top with remaining lemon curd frosting (if you have extras, just use it on the exterior of the cake). Top with the third cake layer. Spread a very thin layer of regular whipped frosting on top and all around the sides of the cake to create a crumb coat. A bench scraper and small icing spatula are handy for this. Refrigerate uncovered for 30 minutes.
- Add remaining frosting on chilled crumb-coated cake using a small icing spatula or a larger flat icing spatula. Use a bench scraper, if desired, to smooth out the sides. Refrigerate the decorated cake uncovered for at least 30 minutes to help set the frosting. After that, if you used a cake turntable, you can carefully transfer the cake to a cake stand or serving plate using a couple flat spatulas.
- After 30 minutes in the refrigerator, the decorated cake is fine to slice and serve or sit out at room temperature for a few hours. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.
- Make Ahead Instructions: To make the lemon curd ahead of time or to freeze it, see end of step 1. The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Making the frosting ahead of time can be tricky because it doesn’t sit well in the bowl overtime. Instead, make the frosting and use it immediately on the cake. After you finish decorating the cake in step 9, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes as instructed. You can extend this time up to 1 full day. After 2 hours, though, I recommend lightly covering the cake. (Note that covering this frosting can get messy and I haven’t found a workaround for that.) Let cold cake sit at room temperature for about 1 hour before serving.
- Freezing Instructions: Frosted cake or unfrosted cake layers can be frozen up to 2-3 months. To freeze the frosted cake, refrigerate for at least 1 hour to set the frosting, and then cover and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw your cake at room temperature.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Electric Mixer (Handheld or Stand) | 6-Inch Round Cake Pans | Double Boiler | Silicone Whisk | Citrus Zester or Microplane | Citrus Juicer | Cake Turntable | Bench Scraper | Small Icing Spatula | Large Flat Icing Spatula
- Eggs & Citrus in the Lemon Curd: I typically prepare lemon curd using 4 egg yolks, however I find the final consistency thicker when using 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg– that is reflected in the recipe above. You can make the lemon curd as written, but if you’d like to switch citrus flavors, I recommend a 1:1 substitution with lime juice and zest. If you want to make grapefruit or orange curd, I recommend only substituting half of the lemon juice/zest. Make sure you use fresh-squeezed citrus.
- DIY Double Boiler for Curd: If you do not own a double boiler, you can simply place a small heatproof glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water– you will cook the curd in the top pot/bowl.
- Best Citrus to Use in Cake: This cake is best with just lemon, just lime, or a combination of both or either of those with another citrus such as orange, blood orange, or grapefruit. I don’t recommend skipping the lemon or lime because other citrus flavors don’t come through very much on their own. I like using an equal combination of lemon, lime, and orange.
- Cream Cheese in Frosting: Do not use cream cheese spread and do not use the entire 8 ounce block– you only need 6 ounces. Make sure it is full fat. I have best luck with Philadelphia brand cream cheese in this frosting.
- Amount of Cake Batter & Other Size Cakes or Cupcakes: This recipe yields between 3.5 – 4 cups of batter, which is helpful if you need it for different Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions. Because of its light yet moist texture, this cake is best as a layer cake or as cupcakes. I have not tested this as a 1 layer 9-inch cake. For a 3 layer 8-inch cake, I recommend making this lemon layer cake instead and scaling up the frosting by using one 8-ounce (225g) block cream cheese, 1 cup (120g) confectioners’ sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1 and 3/4 cups (420ml) heavy cream. Keep the lemon curd amount the same since this recipe makes plenty. Feel free to use a combination of citrus in that cake, but be warned that no flavor comes through quite like lemon. I strongly encourage you to keep that cake as a lemon flavored cake. For 1 dozen cupcakes, fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 18-22 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean when they’re done. After cupcakes cool, carve a hole in the center (like I do for these chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes) and fill with 1 heaping teaspoon lemon curd. Top with whipped frosting. Feel free to mix some lemon curd into the frosting, too.
Keywords: citrus cake