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

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
  • 1/4 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 2019* Added 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for extra rise after some readers reported a dense texture. This addition helps!
  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

540 Comments

    1. I’m thinking about making this Lemon cake in a few days for my Birthday I love the taste of lemon thanks for your recipe..

  1. I live in the Chicago area and just had a piece of Portillo’s lemon cake over the weekend. It used to be a regular menu item but they only have it now in summer. I hadn’t had it in years and remembered it being amazing. Now that I bake, I was disappointed. I can’t wait to try your recipe. I know it’ll be just what I was looking for!

  2. Sally, this is so funny because I’m currently making a lemon cake for a coworker! I used the lemon blueberry recipe and left out the blueberries. I also made your lemon curd to go between the layers. Today I’m frosting and I have to decide between lemon buttercream or lemon cream cheese!!

  3. Hi Sally!

    First of all, I made your lemon cupcakes with lemon buttercream for my co-workers several weeks ago and everyone went wild for them. I, personally, was OBSESSED with the lemon buttercream.

    Second, general baking question: if I measure my ingredients by weight, it wouldn’t matter if I sift it before or after measuring, correct? Since weight is weight?

    1. Isn’t the lemon buttercream fantastic? Definitely one of my favorites. The answer to your question may differ between bakers, but I would still sift your flour if you’re weighing it. Sift it to aerate it, then weigh the amount you need.

  4. Oh, how I LOVE lemon. Won’t make anything lemon because I would eat it all. My husband isn’t crazy about it. I sure could eat a big slice of lemon cake right now.It has been a year since I eat a serving of dessert. I have taken a few bites but not a full serving.

  5. This looks amazing, Sally! All the photos are completely mouth-watering. My birthday is in a week and I think I know what I’m making! Totally normal to make your own birthday cake, right?

  6. Hi Sally, I absolutely love lemons! Especially in breads, cakes, cookies, cup cakes & pies. The lemon cup cakes @ my son’s recent wedding were fantastic! I was going to ask if it can be made in a 9×13 pan? Then I reread the recipe & saw you can. I am assuming I wouldn’t have to use the parchment paper? I NEVER make round cakes. Can’t wait to make this cake & lemon buttercream frosting! You are a precise baker like I am. I measure everything exactly & always spoon & level my flour. My mouth is watering just thinking about this cake! Thanks for your time.

    1. If you are planning to serve it in the pan then you can probably skip the parchment. However if you will be turning it out before slicing it still might be helpful to line the pan. Enjoy!

  7. Looks so awesome? Sally what do you think of adding a whiff of coconut – use coconut flavoring or coconut extract? Would it go well together and if so ow much would you add of each? Coconut flavoring being suspended in oil is more intense I think. Thanks!

    1. YES to the coconut! Have you tried this cake? https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2016/03/05/lemon-coconut-cake/

  8. This cake looks amazing Sally, and your decorating skills are on pointe! I don’t usually like naked cakes, but you manage to make them look attractive AND tasty. My personal goal this year is to get better at frosting layer cakes & cupcakes – I’ve definitely gotten better over the years and reading your blog has been a huge help 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Hayley! I’ve definitely become more confident with cake decorating with lots of practice!

  9. I cannot wait to try this one, Sally! Your Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake is my favorite to date! Adding your Lemon Curd between the layers is heaven! ♥️

  10. This cake looks amazing. I just made a lemon pound cake but your cake looks so much better. Can I make it in loaf pans instead? If so what size would you recommend?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Ida! This batter may make a couple loaves; I’m unsure how many or of the bake time. Instead, try my lemon loaf: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2017/01/16/iced-lemon-pound-cake/
      (assuming this isn’t the recipe you tried before!)

  11. Hi say can I use cake flour for this recipe and also your 3 layer funfetti cake since all purpose flour isn’t common where I live and also do I have to use same measurement? Thank you

    1. Hi Titi! Glad you asked this. I actually mention it in the blog post because as I played around with the recipe the other week, I determined cake flour is much too light– my cakes were squat and flimsy. All-purpose flour is great, sifted all-purpose flour is much better. Same with the funfetti cake.

      1. I did not know this. Love to bake and decorate even though I am not good at decorating. Wish there was a cake decorating place close but videos do help. Have some fresh blueberries i picked out of orchard this past week. May put some of them in the cake. Plan to make the cake tonight for a church group tomorrow. Hoping it turns out as pretty as yours.

        Love your recipes

  12. Looks yummy can’t wait to try it, also the picture with the stand mixer paddle, looks like the paint is chipping off.

  13. Usually I’m a chocolate lover…but this lemon cake may convert me! Looks SO good! 🙂

  14. I finally bought a food scale last week, so I’m excited to perfect some more of your recipes, starting with this cake!

    Paige
    http://thehappyflammily.com

  15. I love anything lemon and right now my mouth is watering looking at this cake. The recipe is going on my “to bake” list.

  16. There aren’t many things I love more than lemon cake, but frosting of all kinds seals the deal. This looks amazing – will definitely be (attempting to, at least) making this!

  17. Hi Sally. Do you have a video of you frosting a layer cake? I would love to see how you decorated this one. I’ve never made a layer cake before, this one is gorgeous!

    1. Hi Lee! I don’t have a video for this particular cake, but it’s pretty similar to my naked cake (without the raspberries in the center). I have a video in that post: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2018/03/01/vanilla-naked-cake/

  18. Sally, your pictures get even more gorgeous with every blog post. Literally… you make food look so pretty! And this lemon cake is no exception. I’m going to have to try it soon!!

  19. This cake looks so delicious! Does the frosting make enough for a fully frosted cake or a naked cake? If I made the naked cake would I need to reduce the frosting down so I don’t have too much extra?

    1. Hi Sofia! The amount of frosting written is exactly how much I used in these pictures. The cake has a lot of frosting on top and in between the layers but not as much around the sides. If you want your cake a little more bare than pictured, I recommend reducing the frosting.

  20. I made this beauty today and it did not disappoint! I made 3, 8-inch layers. They baked up perfectly flat for stacking. My layers were about 3/4 inch tall. I forgot the cream cheese so I just made a lemon buttercream. I have baked other lemon cakes that didn’t taste very lemon-y, but this one has lots of delicious lemon flavor! The cake is moist and has a somewhat dense texture, but not too dense, which I love. It’s a keeper for sure! Thank you Sally 🙂

    1. Hi Penny! Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a review. So glad you tried and loved this lemon cake!

  21. I made this cake last night–delicious bake. My layers were so skinny though! I used three 8″ rounds and there was so little batter in them. The layers were only about an inch thick. They were fluffy, so look like they had a rise. Is the cake in the picture pretty small? I am also curious about the whole TABLEspoon of bkg pwdr, and no soda? How do you determine the amount and types of levening in your recipes?

    1. Hi Lisa! The cakes themselves aren’t very tall. For thicker cakes next time, try dividing between only 2 cake pans. I developed this recipe some years ago and as I’ve grown as a baker since then, the recipe could work with a blend of baking powder and baking soda, but I just stick to what has always worked for me. Baking powder is typically found in cakes.

  22. This cake was delicious! I used egg substitute in place of the egg because of an egg allergy and it turned out just right. The frosting was perfectly sweet and lemony. Thank you Sally for the amazing recipe!

  23. Trying to find a lemon poppyseed cake to make for my brother-in-law’s upcoming wedding. I feel like your recipes never fail me, so I’m wondering if you think I could add poppyseeds to this recipe and how much? Thanks for the deliciousness you share with us!!

    1. Absolutely. I would mix in 1 Tablespoon of poppy seeds. That’s usually plenty, but feel free to add a little more if you think the batter needs it.

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