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.
This lemon layer cake recipe is adapted from the most popular cake recipe on our website: lemon blueberry cake. Lemon blueberry cake has been in our top 10 recipes for the past 4 years. It’s moist, sweet, buttery, and loaded with fresh lemon. Since its publish date, we’ve received many questions about leaving out the blueberries to make it plain. We 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, milk, and flour. We 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.
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. Just like we found in our 6 inch citrus cake, cake flour is too light for this lemon cake; our 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 our set of sifters. Love them. We’re using the medium one in this photo.
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 our lemon cupcakes recipe. They taste identical to the cake!
Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream
We were torn between cream cheese frosting and lemon buttercream, so we 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 we know you’ll love!!! Look at this stuff!!!
Glides on effortlessly.
- Homemade whipped cream (I used Wilton 8B piping tip)
- Food-safe or edible flowers
- Lemon slices
- Fresh berries
- Fresh herbs
- Candied citrus
You could also add a filling between the layers: this raspberry cake filling would be delicious!
The cake stand you see in my pictures is the brand Juliska. I can’t find it anywhere online anymore! Here is a similar one.
Others I love:
- Wood slice cake stand
- Stoneware white cake stand
- Marble cake stand (pictured with coconut carrot cake cupcakes and strawberry cake)
- Glenna cake stand
- Glass covered cake stand
If you love lemon cake, you’ll adore my lemon bars and lemon meringue pie!Print
Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 4 hours
- Yield: serves 10-12
- Category: Cake
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
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.
- 3 cups (354g) 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) whole milk, 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*
- 4 and 1/2 cups (540g) confectioners’ sugar
- 2 Tablespoons (30ml) fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- pinch salt, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 8-inch 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.)
- Make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.
- 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 milk, 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.
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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).
- Refrigerate for at least 30-45 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.
- 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.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): KitchenAid Stand Mixer | Zester | Sieve | 8-inch Round Pans | Icing Spatula | Piping Bag (disposable or reusable) | Ateco #849 Closed Star Icing Tip | Cake Stand
- Flour: Sift all-purpose flour before measuring.
- Whole Milk: You can use lower fat or nondairy milks in a pinch, but the cake won’t taste nearly as rich and moist.
- Recipe updated in 2022: The amount of leaveners are now 2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. (Increased from 2 teaspoons and 1/4 teaspoon respectively.) The amounts listed above amount help provide extra rise, which creates a lighter cake. I also now recommend whole milk instead of buttermilk so the cake batter is slightly less acidic.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 9×13 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.
Keywords: lemon layer cake with lemon cream cheese buttercream
Reader Comments & Reviews
Can the recipe for the best lemon cake be used for a 3 tier (2 2inch layers per tier (4″tiers) . Is it best to use all purpose flour as in recipe for cake flower in your tips?
Hi Dianne, this cake holds up well (with dowels) as a tiered cake. See our wedding cake post for tips on tiered cakes if needed. We recommend sifted all purpose flour in this recipe.
Hi! I absolutely love this cake and have made it for many a family celebration. I am making a cake for a friends bridal shower and we settled on this recipe! However, there will be 30 guests. I planned on making this recipe as is then adding a smaller tier on top. Would you suggest a 2 or 3 layer 6” round tier? Or do you think that the original recipe cut in small party sized serving pieces would be enough for 30 guests?
Hi Connie! You should be able to get 30 small servings from one 9 inch layer cake (this page is helpful for details: https://www.whimsycakesbydee.com/cake-servings). For larger slices, we would make a three layer 6 inch cake from our lemon cupcakes batter as the second tier (more on making 6 inch cakes from cupcake recipes). And always be sure to use the proper supports for a tiered cake – more on that in our homemade wedding cake post. Happy baking!
We used this recipe for 2 – 8” round by 2” tall pans fitted with bake even strips. Both cakes sunk after taking them out of the oven. Do you think it’s the change in pan size or maybe over mixed the butter and sugar? I finished mixing by hand after adding the lemon juice.
Other than pan size and maybe longer than specified mix for butter and sugar and after adding eggs we followed the recipe. Thoughts?
Hi Lynn, we’re happy to help troubleshoot. If you have 9-inch round pans, that’s the best option if looking to do 2 layers. The sinking was probably from a bit too much batter in your 2 8-inch pans. Overmixing and under baking can also be contributing factors. All easy fixes for next time!
Hi! Quick question: I have made Sally’s lemon cupcake recipe (that yields 12 cupcakes), and it was delicious. I’m very excited to make this 3-layer cake version. I know you say it’s the same great flavor, but I do notice that the cupcake recipe calls for the same amount of lemon juice and more lemon zest than the 3-layer cake recipe, even though the cupcakes amount to way less batter than the cake. (Cupcake recipe = 1.5 TBS zest and 1/3 cup juice, and 3-layer cake recipe = 1 heaping TBS zest and 1/3 cup juice). I trust you all, but I’m concerned the cake recipe won’t be as lemony as the cupcakes were, since there’s less lemon to batter. Do you recommend that I add a little more zest or juice to the cake recipe, or can you explain why the cake recipe calls for less zest and the same amount of juice than the smaller cupcake recipe? Thank you!
Hi Emily! This lemon layer cake is paired with a lemon frosting, which adds to the lemon flavor. Our lemon cupcakes are paired with vanilla frosting, so all the lemon flavor comes from the cupcakes themselves (though, you could always use lemon frosting there as well!). You can certainly add more lemon zest to this batter if you would like! We would not add more lemon juice as it will change the consistency of the batter. Happy baking!
Very helpful, thanks, Trina!
I am preparing to make 100 cupcakes and this cake for a wedding lol. Just wondering if it’s okay to make the batter the night before baking it, and then planning on doing the decorating/icing the day after that for a 3 day process. Is it okay to refrigerate the batter overnight?
Hi Katelyn, We don’t recommend it. The leaveners are activated once the wet and dry ingredients are mixed together, so it’s best to bake right away otherwise the rise and texture will be compromised.
Is there a trick to making the lemon cake more yellow?
Hi Paula! A little gel food coloring could definitely help produce a more vibrant yellow here.
My girlfriend really loved this, this was her birthday cake and she loved it. Had to use Limes since lemons are nonexistent in my country apparently
I have just a question about the recipe. My cake turned out like a pound cake (still really good) and took a lot of time to bake, the bottom got burned. I am unsure if it was the baking soda being around 2 months old (bought in march for another recipe, made lemon cake recipe in may) or because i used a bundt pan and used the whole batter. Any ideas?
Hi Diego, we’re happy to help troubleshoot. If the baking soda was not expired and within three months of opening, it should be good to use. How many cups of batter does your Bundt pan hold? It could be that it was overfilled and caused it to bake unevenly. Overly dense cakes can often be the result of over mixing—this post on how to prevent dry and dense cakes will be a helpful resource. Hope this helps and thank you for giving this recipe a try!
Not sure how to know how many cups it holds. My bundt pan is completely round, i put the whole batter and i’d say it took 4/6 of it of raw batter lol I know that doesnt sound very explanatory
However, I may have overmixed the cake, first time using a mixer that much (used to just do it by hand with a fork). The deacription in the page does match how I felt the batter was before using it so that may have been it, thanks!!!
I am about to make this cake with 2 9-inch cake pans. How much longer should I bake them for?
Hi Meredith, Bake time will be longer; use a toothpick to test for doneness.
I think this looks awesome !
Hi! I was just wondering if the Cream Cheese Buttercream frosting is good for decorating and piping? Thanks 🙂
Hi Autumn, cream cheese frosting isn’t always the best for super intricate piping (as it can get soft quickly), but you can certainly use it for more basic piping. You may want to refrigerate the frosting for about 30 minutes or so before piping to help firm it up even more, and feel free to pop it back in the refrigerator throughout decorating if you find it warming up too much.
I’ve been looking for the perfect lemon cake recipe for many years. I’ve been disappointed in the past (even by an earlier version of this recipe, so thank you for continuing to tweak it), but my search has officially ended with this moist and delicious cake. Everything about it is perfect, from the cake texture and flavor to the creamy and delicious frosting. The only change I made was to increase the amount of frosting by 25% because that’s my preference. That yielded enough for 1 cup between each layer, 1.5 cups for the top and 2 cups for the sides. This is a great cake to make ahead and travel with. You could make the whole thing ahead, but if you’re worried about it getting damaged in transit, you can do as I did . I assembled the cake and gave it a crumb coat, froze it unwrapped, then wrapped it well and froze it for a few weeks. I then travelled with it frozen and completed it at my destination after it thawed. It was a big hit and I’ll definitely make it again.