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 this guy, but just as fabulous. 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 layer 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

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!

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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)
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 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, 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. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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

339 Comments

  1. Just made this cake recipe and it did not disappoint! I made 2 6×3 cake rounds filled about 2/3 full and baked at 350 (using 2 oven thermometers) for about an hour. I think next time I might need to bake it 5-10 mins longer but it is absolutely delicious! Thank you so much for this recipe.

  2. Question: if I make this in a beehive shaped pan (maybe like a bundt) are there modification I need to make other than baking time or temp? What temp and time would you suggest?

    1. I have never made a cake that large! Doubling it sounds like it should work for each layer – but be very careful doubling this recipe. It’s a lot of batter to work with at once and it’s easy to over or under mix!

      1. Great! I am making two cakes for my twin granddaughters – one wants lemon and the other lime. I figured switching the lime for lemon should work. I plan to add green food coloring to the lime cake (extra fun) but wondering if the lemon cake will color purple if I put in purple food coloring?? Guess I can try because I’m assuming this cake basically makes a yellow cake not pure white. If pure white then for sure would be purple but might be a little off since finished cake more on the yellow side. One granddaughter loves purple!

  3. I love your site!Made the cake, now for the buttercream,do you also sift your confectioners sugar? And if so , should I sift it then measure , as with the flour, or does it matter?
    Thanks

  4. I have an old fashioned sifter that was my mother’s. It has the handle that you turn to sift the flour. Is this just as good as the sifters you use? Or should I buy one like you use?

  5. Just made this cake with the frosting. Overall it was a great find and I got great responses to the frosting. My only issue is that I thought the cake was a little more dense than what I wanted. Is there a way to make it a more lighter in texture? Thanks

    1. Dense cakes are often the result of over-mixing the batter. Be sure to mix gently so that you do not over-develop the gluten.

  6. Hi Sally – Sorry if you have already answered a similar question, but I want to make three layer cake but in 6×2 rounds. I figure I could either (1) cut the recipe down or (2) keep the recipe as is and make four 6×2 rounds, and use the extra round for cake pops or something. What do you think? I’m thinking option (2) would be the best bet. Is there a minimum or maximum level the rounds should be filled? Like 2/3 full each or something?

      1. Good news – I managed to fill all four 6″ rounds about 2/3 full (about 350g each). Baked at 350F for just under 35 mins, and the cakes turned out beautifully! 🙂

  7. For thicker layers, would doing this in two 8-inch pans and then halving the recipe for a third layer work? I realize the bake time would need to be adjusted.
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Erin! You could certainly use 8-inch cake pans for thicker layers. No need to make additional batter, simply divide this batter between 3 8-inch pans.

  8. Very good recipe overall. I added 2 teaspoons of lemon extract because I love a more tart lemon flavor. I also added a bit of lemon zest to the frosting for the same reason. The next time I make it I’m going to try it with half cake flour and half AP flour to see if it will yield a lighter cake. It is a bit dense for my liking.

    1. Update: the lemon zest in the frosting was not wise. I added 2 teaspoons of lemon extract instead and it was perfection!
      I also added a layer of lemon curd before frosting the bottom layer. It gave an amazing lemon flavor! I really love lemon… does it show?!

  9. I made this for our admin assistant for her birthday…just made a lemon buttercream frosting because she doesn’t like cream cheese. It was beyond delicious…just a beautiful tasting cake.

  10. Hey Sally – I want to decorate this cake with rosettes all around. Does this cream cheese icing hold up well to piping?

  11. Hi can a fully decorated cake sit in the fridge for 2 days before eaten? Or is it best to do the day before and refrigerate if making in advance?

    1. For best results, make it the day before. You can cover and refrigerate it, but bring as close to room temperature as possible for serving.

  12. Do you think I could get away with only four cups of confectioner’s sugar in the frosting? Five cups is an awful lot…I don’t want the frosting too be too sweet, as I’m going to use this cake to make a lemon layer cake with lemon bavarian cream that also has lemon curd in the layers, and that’s already plenty of sweetness. Is this possible? And should I then decrease the amount of butter by a few tablespoons or so? If I can’t do that, I’ll simply add it all and live with it; I’ll just spread the frosting in a thinner layer. Thanks, Sally!

    1. Feel free to play around with the recipe! This recipe yields a lot of frosting, but you can reduce the sugar and butter so there’s less frosting. The frosting will look a little curdled without the proper balance of confectioners’ sugar and fat.

    1. Hi Kara! How large are your pans and how high are you filling them? This recipe yields a considerable amount of cake batter.

  13. Question – I’ve tried so many different lemon recipes and each time I make anything lemon, it always comes out dense and sort of gummy. I never have that issue. I’m so gentle when folding as well. I don’t know what the issue would be.

  14. I just made this cake for Easter and received many compliments. I would like to make a few comments to help other bakers. ( I make all my cakes from scratch so baking is not foreign to me.) I used three 9″ cake pans for this recipe. My layers came out 3/4″ thick, which was thinner than I had expected, even tho I sifted the AP flour twice and alternated adding dry & wet ingredients to the batter. All my ingredients were at room temperature. The cake was also denser, not quite to a pound cake denseness, than I had expected but it was not dry and the texture was very nice. The denseness actually suited the frosting much better than if the cake had been light & spongy. (The layers will not turn a golden brown on top so be careful not to overbake them.) If you are looking for a very tart lemony cake layer then you will need to adjust the recipe. As is, the cake layer gives a pleasing hint of lemon but it’s overwhelming. I added a thin layer of lemon curd over each layer and let it set before adding the frosting. I think this addition really helped make the cake a success. The frosting is an excellent blend of lemon and sweet and spreads nicely. (I made a double batch, but a batch and a half would have been plenty.). After frosting the cake, you will need to refrigerate it to help the frosting to set well. If you have trouble frosting the sides of the cake, then refrigerate it after spreading on a thin layer, then add more frosting and refrigerate again. After frosting, my cake was 3.25″ tall with frosting layers at least 1/4″. Bring the cake to room temp before serving. It slices nicely. I will make this cake again.

  15. I woke up on Easter morning, a day after we got married and received a marble turntable for cakes, and decided I wanted to make a lemon cake. I had a bunch of lemons left after making the lemon bars and lemon meringue pie last weekend. All I needed for this recipe was the cream cheese so I sent the new hubby on his way to the store while I made the cake. Friends came over and were so impressed by the taste of this cake that I am now the designated baker for all future gatherings. I love it!

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