Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Time for another layer cake! Not quite 14 layers like my no-bake s’mores cake or Smith Island cake, but just as fabulous as both. If you’re a lemon dessert lover like I am, meet our crowning glory.

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

This lemon layer cake recipe is adapted from the most popular cake recipe on my blog: lemon blueberry cake. Lemon blueberry cake has been in my top 10 recipes for the past 4 years. It’s moist, sweet, buttery, and loaded with fresh lemon. Since its publish date, I’ve received many questions about leaving out the blueberries to make it plain. I decided a plain lemon cake needed its own separate blog post. Enveloped with lemon cream cheese buttercream and garnished with whipped cream, this towering beauty stands up to its blueberry studded sister!

Behind the Recipe

Besides the flavor and texture, this cake is loved is because of its ease. Very basic ingredients including a base of creamed butter + sugar, eggs, lemon, buttermilk, and flour. I love the additional tang buttermilk gives the cake, but you can use whole milk or 2% milk instead. I left out the brown sugar and replaced with more granulated sugar. No rhyme or reason here– just didn’t feel like reaching for both types of sugar this time. Between the cake and frosting, you’ll need 2-3 lemons. Both the juice and zest.

Lemon zest for lemon layer cake on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Let’s chat about the flour for a second.

The key to this recipe is using sifted all-purpose flour. Sifting the flour aerates it, creating an overall fluffier cake. Cake flour is too light for this lemon cake; my cakes were squat and flimsy. All-purpose flour is great, sifted all-purpose flour is much better. Sift flour in a large bowl, then measure 3 cups. Whenever the word “sifted” comes before an ingredient, that means you sift before measuring. (Alternatively, if the word “sifted” comes after an ingredient, sift after measuring.) Here’s my set of sifters. Love them. I’m using the medium one in this photo.

How to sift flour on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Lemon cake batter on sallysbakingaddiction.com

The lemon cake batter is velvety and thick. Divide between 3 9-inch or 8-inch cake pans– roughly the same bake time for both sizes. For a 2 layer cake, divide batter evenly between two 9-inch cake pans. Bake time will be longer, but you can use a toothpick to test for doneness. This lemon cake batter will fit into a 9×13-inch pan. Bake time will be close to 40 minutes. And while we’re on the subject of different size cakes, this recipe yields at least 30 lemon cupcakes. For 1 dozen cupcakes, here is my lemon cupcakes recipe. They taste identical to the cake!

Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream

I was torn between cream cheese frosting and lemon buttercream, so I combined the two by adding 8 ounces of cream cheese and a little extra confectioners’ sugar to lemon buttercream. The result is an infinitely CREAMY and BUTTERY lemon cream cheese frosting that I know you’ll love!!! Look at this stuff!!!

Creamy rich lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting made with butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and lemon juice. Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Creamy rich lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting made with butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and lemon juice. Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Glides on effortlessly.

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Optional Garnishes!

The cake stand you see in my pictures is the brand Juliska. We received it for our wedding and I can’t find it anywhere online! Here is their line of cake stands.

Others I love:

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

If you love lemon cake, you’ll adore my lemon bars and lemon meringue pie!

Print
Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours
  • Yield: serves 10-12
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This 3 layer lemon layer cake is made completely from scratch with real lemons. It’s deliciously moist and light and is remarkable paired with tangy cream cheese buttercream.


Ingredients

  • 3 cups (345g) sifted all-purpose flour* (spoon & leveled)
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)

Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 8 ounces (224g) full-fat brick style cream cheese, softened to room temperature*
  • 5 cups (600g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.
  3. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract on high speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients just until combined. With the mixer still running on low, add the buttermilk, lemon zest, and lemon juice and mix just until combined. You may need to whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be a little thick.
  4. Pour batter evenly into cake pans. Bake for around 21-26 minutes or until the cakes are 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. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling. The baked cakes are fluffy, but they are not thick– about 1 – 1.5 inches.
  5. Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the cream cheese and beat until completely smooth and combined. Add confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin, more lemon juice if frosting is too thick, or add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet. (I always add a pinch of salt!)
  6. Assemble and decorate: Using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand, cake turntable, or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with about 1 cup of frosting. Top with 2nd cake layer and evenly cover the top with about 1 cup of frosting. Top with the third cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. I like to top mine with homemade whipped cream (I used Wilton 8B piping tip).
  7. Refrigerate for at least 30-45 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
  8. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead Instructions: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Let the frosting sit at room temperature to slightly soften for 10 minutes before assembling and frosting. Frosted cake or unfrosted cake layers can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before decorating/serving.
  2. Special Tools: KitchenAid Stand Mixer | Love is Love Spatula | Zester | Sieve | 9-inch Round Pans | Icing Spatula | Icing Bags | Ateco #849 Closed Star Icing Tip | Cake Stand
  3. Flour: Sift all-purpose flour before measuring.
  4. Buttermilk: Whole milk or 2% milk can be substituted for buttermilk. I don’t recommend lower fat or fat free milk.
  5. Dense Cake: *Updated in 2019* The current amount of baking soda this recipe needs is 1/2 teaspoon, which I increased from 1/4 teaspoon. This extra amount helps with extra rise and a less dense texture.
  6. Vanilla Cream Cheese Buttercream: For a vanilla cream cheese buttercream, replace lemon juice with milk or heavy cream in the frosting. Add an additional 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.
  7. 2 Layer Cake: For a 2 layer cake, divide batter evenly between two 9-inch cake pans. Bake time will be longer; use a toothpick to test for doneness.
  8. Lemon Cupcakes: This recipe yields about 30 lemon cupcakes. Bake for 18-22 minutes. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. For 1 dozen cupcakes, here is my lemon cupcakes recipe. They taste identical to the cake!
  9. 9×13-inch Cake: This batter will fit into a 9×13-inch pan. Fill 2/3 full. If there’s extra batter, you can make a few cupcakes. Bake time will be close to 40 minutes; use a toothpick to test for doneness.

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

627 Comments

  1. I’d like to make the cupcakes with a lemon curd filling.
    Would it be lemon overload, or more like the holy grail using both the lemon curd and the lemon buttercream frosting?
    You say that the cake is dense, would adding the curd make them worthy of a paperweight?

    1. If you love lemon, that’s not lemon overload. The lemon curd filling would actually lighten up the cupcakes. They won’t taste dense at all.

  2. Agh! I doubled the recipe with the intention of making a 6-layer cake for my daughter’s tall birthday cake for tomorrow but just filled 3 pans. Did I totally overfill each pan since it should’ve filled 6 pans? Will each one just rise twice at tall and then I don’t have to make 6 anyhow? Or do I have to forlornly try to pour 1/2 of each of my 3 pans of batter back into the bowl to make 3 more for a total of 6? I will be so grateful for help asap!!

    1. Hi Jennifer, Did you use 9 inch pans? Cake pans should not be more than 2/3 full to give the cakes room to rise. If you over filled them they may have too much batter to bake evenly and be too heavy to rise properly.

    1. Hi Kassie, this batter yields around 6-7 cups. I recommend measuring the exact amount you have and dividing it into 3 portions.

  3. Hi Sally,

    Lemon cake looks very beautiful and yummy.. I am baking for the first time for my husband’s birthday.. After referring so many other websites i felt ur recipe is more easily understandable and love the way you explain..
    I will be baking this cake on a 2 6 inch pans.
    I need to know what would be the baking time and do i need to keep the pans beside each other with space in the centre or on 2 different racks?
    I am using the cup cake recipe for my 2 layered 6 inch cake pans.
    Is my below measurements for cream cheese buttercream is correct?
    Unsalted butter – 3/4cup
    Cream cheese – 8oz
    Powdered Sugar – 4 cups
    Fresh lemon – 1 tbsp
    Salt – 1/2tsp

    Thank you

  4. This was amazing! I took it to a gathering and everyone loved it…and asked for the recipe 🙂 I ended up using about 1/8 c. More lemon juice in the cake mix, and I added about 1 T. Zest to the frosting, because I had it left over after juicing and testing 3 fairly small lemons. It had a great lemony zing! I will definitely make this again!! Thanks for the recipe!

  5. Hi Sally, I’ve really been wanting to try making an orange cake and love all of your recipes, but you don’t have an orange cake recipe. Do you think I could maybe switch the lemon ingredients with orange to make an orange cake or would the proportions be different? Do you know, or should I just try it?

  6. In case anyone needs to know, I used all the batter in a 11.5 x 16″ jelly roll pan. It took 21 minutes to bake. It was delicious and was a great density for cutting and assembling into a fire truck cake I made for my sons’s birthday. Thank you for this recipe!

  7. Hi Sally!
    I’m planning to use this recipe for the 9″ tier of a wedding cake (using your tutorial as a guide, of course!). I’ll be alternating lemon curd and a raspberry filling between layers, and would love to get six layers for each tier. Are these cake layers thick enough to cut in half lengthwise? Or should I increase the recipe by 1.5x? Thanks for the help, and for your incredible recipes. You are my go-to for all things baking.

    1. Hi Jackie, That sounds delicious! Each layer isn’t super thick so they would be very thin to cut in half. I don’t recommend doubling any cake recipe, instead make it twice for the best texture.

  8. My brother wants a blood orange cake for his birthday. Could I use blood orange for this cake instead of lemons? would I need to adjust the sugar and would that mess with the cake consistency? I love your recipes and I only trust your blog for cakes!

    1. Hi Brooklyn, I have not tested this cake with blood oranges. You can certainly try it, but yes they are sweeter and adjusting the sugar would take some recipe testing. You can also make my Glazed Orange Bundt Cake and use blood oranges instead of cara cara oranges.

  9. Hi Sally,

    My mother in law requested this cake for her birthday. For some reason, the only buttermilk I can find at stores around here is a low fat buttermilk. Would you recommend I use that, a buttermilk substitute (like white vinegar mixed into regular milk), or whole milk?

  10. Hi Sally – I’ve made this cake twice now. Once as cake balls with your lemon buttercream and once as a layer cake. Both times a hit!! I’ve had another request for lemon cake – but need to make a 12in round layer for a two tier cake. So after reading your pan conversion article and looking on line at wiltons pan info. I’m thinking a 12 in round would be similar to making in a 9x 13 and use the one batch of batter since a 12 in round takes about 7 cups of batter. Any thoughts? Thanks in advance for any input

      1. I tested it today & thought I’d share the results Incase anyone else wanted to know. I used the entire batch of batter in a Wilton 12×2 in round pan. Bake time was 35-40 min. The cake layer was 1.5 inches tall and baked nice and level – wouldn’t Actually need to level it Love this cake!

  11. Made this cake for my mom’s birthday. Opted for lemon buttercream frosting instead, as she is not a fan of cream cheese. Absolutely delicious!!!! The cake was so moist and full of flavor. I’ll definitely be making this again!

  12. I made it yesterday and my fam do like it very much. Really-amazing delicious..!! Lots of thanks from Bandung-Indonesia, for all your yummy cake recipes, Sally..

  13. I made half of the recipe and baked it in a small copper mold. I may have used a bit more lemon juice and zest. The cake was perfect.

  14. This cake looks so good, can’t wait to try making it tomorrow! I was wondering if the all-purpose flour makes the cake denser? I already have a problem of baking overly dense cakes so would it be better for me to use cake flour, or, as you said earlier, would the cakes be too flimsy?

    1. Hi Anastasia, I do not recommend cake flour for this particular recipe. The key to this recipe is using sifted all-purpose flour. Sifting the flour aerates it, creating an overall fluffier cake. See the above post for details.
      You might also be interested in my 10 Tips for Perfect Cakes.

  15. If I have fresh limes but not fresh lemons could I substitute. Obviously I know it would be lime flavored instead of lemon? My daughter just gave me 5 limes.

  16. I was hoping to bake this recipe with three layers, but only have 2 pans.
    How much batter would you recommend be left aside for the third layer after the first 2 are done?

    Thanks!

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