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!

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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)
  • 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
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 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 (affiliate links): 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: Buttermilk helps produce a supremely moist cake. If you don’t have buttermilk, use whole milk instead. You can use lower fat or nondairy milks in a pinch, but the cake won’t taste nearly as rich and moist.
  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. I also reduced the eggs from 4 to 3, which helps guarantee a lighter crumb.
  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

635 Comments

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  1. Sally, I made this for my two year old son’s birthday in March, and we all loved it. My daughter is turning 8 on Sunday and asked it I could make this cake but instead of lemon could I use orange to make it orange flavored? I wasn’t sure if that would work so my daughter said, “Mom, just ask Sally in the comments!” Thanks for all the amazing recipes. You are a household name around here! 🙂

  2. Donna Gardner says:

    I dont have 9 inch pans can I use 2 8 inch pans and make 4 layers. Or use 4 7 inch pans. Would the frosting in your recipe be enough to cover a 4 layer cake. Thank you

  3. This is Super delicious recipe. I have tried in my cooking channel inspired by Sally, I have a make a plain lemon cake and I couldn’t make layers but seriously it’s really really awesome. I have made little changes to the recipe because of the unavailability. It came out really Delicious.
    Thank you Soo much Sally for this Delicious Recipe

  4. Lezlie Arnold says:

    I made this today for my daughter’s birthday. I followed the directions exactly, and it was so simple and delicious!

  5. Absolutely delicious! One of the best cakes I have ever made. The tips are very helpful.

  6. Made this cake for my own birthday and it was excellent; the only person who didn’t like it was a five year old who believes cakes in flavours other than chocolate just have no reason to exist. We hope his palate will eventually mature, and in the meantime we’re happy to eat his share. An easy recipe to follow – thank you for being very clear and specific about the flour measurements and sifting. A very pleasant texture, moist without being sticky or cloying, and a good balance between sweet and tangy flavours. I made two layers because our oven isn’t big enough to bake three at the same time and all up they took about 40-45 minutes. Perhaps because there were fewer layers than in the original recipe I had a fair whack of icing left over, but I intend to freeze that and put it on cupcakes later, not a problem. Chilling overnight helped the cake to firm up and slice neatly. A very enjoyable cake which I hope to make again.

    1. This is the best cake I’ve ever made. I followed the recipe exactly. Thank you so much for sharing your genius : )

      1. Hi Sally, or fellow bakers,
        Has anyone made this recipe with different icing? I wonder if it would taste good with only whipped cream and fresh berries?

      2. Hi Sabrina, I have– it’s incredible with the decoration/assemble of my fresh berry cream cake.

  7. Does anyone know if I can make this cake and refrigerate the whole thing overnight so we can eat it tomorrow?

    1. I think she mentions in the bottom that it can be made and stored in the fridge overnight and just to thaw to room temperature before serving

  8. Such a delicious combination of tart and creamy! I made this for a friend’s birthday and there was not a single crumb left. Will definitely be making this again. Thank you Sally

  9. Muneeba Ateeque says:

    This is THE BEST lemon cake I have ever had. I will never even search for another lemon cake recipe after this.

  10. Awesome recipe! The icing is truly the “icing on the cake”. It takes it over the top. Made the layers the night before and then iced it the next day which made it easier.

  11. Cake is delicious! It’s light and very lemony! Sadly, the frosting is waaaayyyyyyy too sweet 🙁 it ruined the cake. Regardless, I love the cake recipe and will use it from now on, but probably with another kind of frosting.

    1. Hey, we thought the frosting was too sweet so added more lemon juice, probably about half a tablespoon. Its now perfect, gets your salivary glands going! Otherwise this cake is amazing. One of the best cakes I’ve made and I bake a lot. Not sure how it’s gonna last until tomorrow evening for the birthday girl – we’re desperate to eat it! The crumbs did not satisfy! Too good.

  12. I followed the instructions carefully. My cake turned out too dense as it was undercooked. The baking time is definitely not enough. Even when the toothpick came out clean, it really wasn’t done. I should have used the touch test instead. Everyone ate it and liked the flavor, although it could have been a little more lemony.

  13. Sally can a lemon cake be made with your white cake base? I really love the crumb of that cake base – thoughts on creating a lemon rosemary cake with your white cake base 🙂

    1. Hi Amber, though I haven’t tested my white cake as a lemon cake before, you could try replacing 3-4 Tbsp of the milk with 3-4 Tbsp of lemon juice, then add the zest of 1-2 lemons.

  14. I am making it again but the first time it was a little crumbly but the frosting was delious.I am hoping for a even better cake this time.

  15. I absolutely love the cake texture and flavor. I followed the recipe to a T! I think the icing could have been cut in half from this recipe. I let my cake cool for an hour and refrigerated it for 2 hours before icing, and the entire top layer broke apart. I was so upset! Aside from it losing its name of a 3 layer cake and becoming a 2 layer cake, this cake recipe is quite fantastic. I would advise cutting the amount of icing in half, I love sweets beyond belief, but it was a little too much for my family and I.

  16. I made some homemade sprinkles and wanted to turn this into a lemon firework Funfetti cake for the forth, any thoughts on how the sprinkles will affect the cake. I could make a regular funfetti but I am always down for a lemon cake!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      How fun, Kelly! You can add up to 3/4 cup (142g) sprinkles.

      1. Thank you for your swift response, didn’t even have time to change my mind for the 100th time. This cake is also secretly my birthday cake to myself I am calling the forth of July cake so my family doesn’t get upset I’m making my own party cake. Little secret to myself…hehehe.

      2. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Haha – happy birthday!!

  17. Monique C. says:

    This is the 2nd time I’ve made this cake. The 1st time it cake out quite fluffy and thick, it was very light and the frosting was thick and creamy! The 2nd time the cakes came out more dense and flat, the frosting was a bit thin even after adding more powdered sugar. I’m not sure what I did differently, followed the recipe the same way both times, but both cakes were absolutely phenomenal! Everyone loves this cake! Thanks you!

  18. I made this lemon cake for my daughter-in-laws birthday. I added poppy seeds to it. I baked the 3 layers for 26 minutes as I used the “touch method” to see if it was done. Sadly, the cake was dry. No one said anything but next time I will take it out of oven after 22 or 23 minutes. I did add 2 TB more of lemon zest. On a 90 degree, warm summer day this lemon cake was refreshing. All ages enjoyed it!
    My grandson & I made a flag on top for 4th of July using Black berries & red raspberries. I will make this cake again. I would love it it if you could recommend a less sweet frosting for this lemon cake. Thanks so much.

  19. Hi! I love this recipe, would like to sub the lemon with milk and omit the zest for a vanilla cake instead. Would that work?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Z, For a three layer vanilla cake I suggest following the recipe for this Best Vanilla Cake.

  20. How about changing to a gluten free all purpose flour? Will that work?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Annie, We haven’t tested this recipe with gluten free flour but let us know if you try!

      1. Hi Annie,
        Did you try this with GF ingredients yet? I’m afraid to risk it for a group, but want so much to have a good GF lemon cake recipe!

  21. Hi! Will one recipe of your lemon curd suffice if I want to add lemon curd between the layers?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Yes, you would use one full recipe of lemon curd. To assemble, evenly cover the top of the first cake layer with a thin layer of frosting, then half of the lemon curd. Top with 2nd cake layer and evenly cover the top with a thin layer of frosting, then the remaining lemon curd. Finish with the third cake layer and spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. Enjoy!

  22. Morgan Steinberg says:

    The outcome in this lemon cake recipe is so-so. The cake itself is VERY buttery. I would add about two tbsp less. Without the buttercream, the cake is kind of gross. Also, the buttercream was delicious I just think lemon zest and more lemon juice would be perfect. It needs a better lemon taste to compliment the cake! All together this cake was AMAZING!! But there are definitely a few minor mistakes. Easy to fix too! Great job Sally

  23. Hi Sally!
    If I wanted to half this recipe, are there any changes that I could make?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lillian, you can cut this recipe in half.

  24. I have a baking business and always go to your blog when I am in need of a new recipe. I used the recipe above as a base and made slight changes which resulted in an excellent cake and wonderful cupcake with a nice lemon taste and delicious crumb. My variation was to use 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup vegetable oil so it would be moister. I didn’t have buttermilk on hand and I don’t like the milk/vinegar substitute, so I used 3/4 cup regular plain Greek yogurt + 1/4 cup milk. For the flavouring, I used 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp lemon extract, zest and juice of 1 lemon. The cake was excellent. I will definitely use it for my orders.

  25. This was a delicious cake, my only problem was that it was slightly too dense. It was missing that fluffy texture that I was wanting, but I probably just overmixed it. Also, I was also hoping for a stronger lemon flavor, so next time I might add some more lemon zest and juice. Overall, good recipe and will try again!!!!

  26. I tried this recipe last weekend for my husband’s birthday. The cake tasted so delicious!! I added only 4 cups of sugar in the frosting and it was sweet enough. The frosting did not have a strong lemon flavour, so I added about 3/4 cup of lemon zest. The cake was a bit dense though, how can I make my cakes super moist and fluffy?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Ana, I’m glad you enjoyed the flavor of the cake! For a lighter crumb be sure you are sifting your flour before measuring – this will definitely help! Also don’t overmix your batter. You can find more tips in the post on how to prevent a dry or dense cake.

      1. I definitely sifted the flour and only mixed the ingredients till just incorporated so as not to overmix. Do you think cake flour would be better for this recipe?

  27. Laura Slason says:

    Has anyone added a raspberry or strawberry filling?

  28. Melissa Povlsen says:

    I made the cake as instructed. Perfection!
    Then a few days later I made a limoncello cake. “From another site. Also awesome.
    Tonight I’m incorporating the 2 cakes,”sort of”.
    The limoncello frosting is cheesecake like with a lemon curd in the middle. My sister had an allergic reaction to the eggs in the sponge though! She is fine with Sally’s cakes though. So I’m doing your lemon cake with the frosting of the limoncello cake, and using the lemon simple syrup in the middle. Hope it turns out good.

    1. Did it end up good?

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