Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream

whole lemon cake on a white cake stand

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.

slice of lemon cake on a cake server

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 halves with zester

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.

sifting flour with a mesh metal sieve

Lemon cake batter in a glass bowl

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!!!

lemon cream cheese buttercream in a glass bowl with a paddle attachment

spreading frosting onto lemon cake on a white cake stand

Glides on effortlessly.

spreading frosting onto lemon cake on a white cake stand

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:

slice of lemon cake on a white plate

slice of lemon cake on a white plate

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

Print
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slice of lemon cake on a cake server

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 (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) 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.

slice of lemon cake on a white plate

367 Comments

Comments are closed.

  1. Penny Fraker says:

    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 🙂

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. Kathy Diedrich says:

    Made this cake today….it was a slamdunk!!! It is so flavorful and moist. I made a two layer cake from 9 inch pans and it came out perfect. Honestly, it just screams summer to me. Thank you for the recipe – it is an absolute keeper!

  5. Hi Sally, can I use 8×3 inch cake pan for this recipe?

    1. Hi Elaine! 3 8×3 inch cake pans should work just fine.

  6. My daughter and I made this yesterday to celebrate her 13th birthday. It was utterly delicious! I told her to pick a recipe and she would only choose one from you, Sally. You have earned one more fan!

  7. Made it today and it was delicious! Your recipes are amazing. I know my oven is hot so the layers only took 17 minutes. My husband loves lemon dessert so he had a big piece of cake! My 16 year old son ate it so fast I didn’t even see it! Thanks Sally for all the amazing recipes. You do all the hard work-all I have to do follow the directions!!

  8. I just made the cake in a 13×9 pan tonight, and will frost it tomorrow. The frosting recipe is for the 3-layer cake, so do I need to cut the recipe in 1/2 or by 1/3 if I plan to frost it in the pan?

    1. Hi Lori! Cutting the recipe by 1/3 would be plenty. Half may even be enough depending how much frosting you like.

      1. Thanks, Sally. 🙂 I ended up making the entire batch of frosting and used all but 1 heaping cupful covering only the top of the cake with about 1/2 inch of frosting. (Made this in a 13×9 Magic Line pan (great pan BTW)) Perfect amount of frosting for the thickness of the cake itself. Used all the batter too; none leftover for cupcakes though 🙁

        YUM-O… it was a HUGE success! The cake was moist*, fluffy, lemon-y, and the frosting was amazing…light, creamy, slightly tangy, delicious. Everyone went for seconds, and my niece LOVED the frosting so much she kept taking small pieces of cake just so she could eat the frosting, LOL. What little was leftover is now in the fridge and I keep sneaking forkfuls each time I walk by. Sinful!

        *Checked cake at 35 minutes and it was done (325F convection oven)
        I too used a pinch of salt in the frosting.

  9. I made this today – did 1/2 recipe for the cake, full frosting recipe, and made 3 8″ layers – they were thin but delicious! My frosting was REALLY runny but I didn’t want to add much more sugar, so put it in the fridge for 30 min and it was perfect. Cake was a BIG hit! (and wasn’t dense AT ALL like previous reviews – very light and fluffy)

  10. Hi Sally, I’ve baked a few things from your recipe and I’ve always loved them. I was wondering if lemon curd would taste good between the layers of this cake? or is there anything else you could recommend instead?
    Thank you in advance

    1. Hi Aesha! For a super lemony cake, lemon curd would be a wonderful addition to layer in the cake!

  11. Amelia Sadler says:

    Hi Sally,

    What frosting did you use to pipe on top on the pictures? The frosting here seems much too viscous to get that nice piped look. Did you make a separate batch?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Amelia! That’s whipped cream piped on top 🙂

  12. Made 1/4 of your recipe today for a test bake in a 6″ pan… was worried when I saw the color not browning as much. Did the skewer test, wire rack 10min and the drill before popping it out to cool completely. This is the BEST lemon cake I’ve ever tasted! Moist. Fluffy. Perfect crumb despite AP flour. I couldn’t stop eating. Was so excited I got my mum to do a blind tasting (I made another lemon cake using a different blogger’s recipe). And guess which recipe won? 😉 A huge thank you to you Sally for sharing this uh-maizing recipe!!!

  13. This was absolutely amazing! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

  14. Melissa Vincent says:

    This cake was AMAZING! The flavor was right on as was the moist texture. I received raves regarding the frosting. Thank you for an awesome recipe.

  15. Absolutely brilliant cake and now a favourite. Made it twice in 2 days as it was a trial run for my daughter’s birthday (she requested lemon) and I’m not a fan of the drizzle cake. Took it to work and received many compliments. Thank you it was worth the search and I hit on the right one!

  16. I always come to your site first for recipes, Sally. I deviated, and tried a recipe my sister swears by…which my family didn’t like it at all. I also didn’t like it. So, today I tried a 1/2 recipe of your lemon cake. I made 2 6″ rounds. It is really good!!! I am a fan of all purpose flour vs cake flour, and I am not a fan of the reverse creaming method, so I was happy to see your recipe. Dense, but not tight and pound cake like. I added a little extra zest and switched the vanilla for lemon extract. As I like tall cakes, and each layer here is around 1- 1 1/4″ tall, would you suggest the full recipe in 2 6″ or doubling the recipe? Sometimes I torte my layers, but when I don’t, I like my layers to be around 1 1/2″ tall, at least. Thanks Sally!!!

    1. Hi Paula! I’m so happy you trust my recipes. I really appreciate that! The full recipe would be way too much for 2 6-inch cake pans. I would still make the full recipe though and fill the cake pans about 2/3 – 3/4 full. You could even do 3 layers that way then. Use any extra batter for cupcakes, if desired.

      1. Thanks Sally!! Will pair nicely with my homemade lemon curd…and I will try your lemon cream cheese buttercream as well!!!!

  17. Sally, can this recipe be doubled?

    1. Hi Paula! I strongly recommend making the batter twice instead of doubling it all at once. Double the batter means you could over or undermix, ruining the final texture of the cake.

  18. This is such a great cake! I have tried to make lemon cakes in the past but they were just “so-so”. This one made everyone at work make “yummy” noises. It really is delicious and not difficult to create. I already had most of the ingredients and I made it on the “spur of the moment”. Lots of satisfied folks . Thank you for sharing.

  19. My cake fell completely in the pans. I used 2 pans instead of 3. It looked ok when I took it out of the oven but fell within 5 minutes or less
    I tested it and it was done. Very sad it didn’t turn out. Any suggestions of why this happened? Will have to try so.ething else for my friends birthday.

    1. Hi Cheryl! It’s simply too much batter for only 2 cake pans. I suggest using 3. You can bake 2 at a time, then leave the remaining batter covered at room temperature until the pan is ready again.

  20. Will this recipe support fondant for decorating?

    1. Yes, that shouldn’t be a problem.

  21. Hi there. Lemon cake is our fav too so anxious to try this. If I make a 13 x 9, should I just frost the top or try to cut the cake to make two layers? If only one 13 x 9 layer, is 1/2 frosting recipe adequate quantity?
    Thank you!!

    1. Hi Candice! I recommend leaving it as a single layer 9×13 inch cake. You can halve the frosting recipe, yes.

  22. Hi Sally
    I want make this recipe as a tall cake. Any suggestions? I was thinking about (4) 6 inch pans

    1. Hi Paulette! This lemon cake recipe makes a lot of batter. You’ll probably fill about 8 6-inch pans!

  23. Hi Sally. I made this recipe exactly as stated but the cake is not yellow like yours. Did you add food coloring? Thanks

    1. I didn’t. Between the lemon juice, butter, and egg yolks– it usually turns out pretty yellow!

  24. Absolutly amazing. I followed entire recipe exactly and this was my first homemade cake I have ever made. Very easy and tasty. I used lemons right off my lemon tree here in AZ! I will be making this many many more times.

  25. Hi Sally,
    I am hoping to use this cake recipe for a rainbow layer cake for my daughter’s birthday party. I trialled a bake with a white chocolate mud which came together well, but I am not fond of white chocolate mud- I chose it as I thought the texture of the cake would be easier for me to handle as a novice baker.

    I wonder if you think this recipe would be suitable for a rainbow cake. (1) will the batter colour up nicely and (2) is the baked cake loose and crumbly which will make it hard for me to cut the tops and sides off the layers, and then hard to frost. It certainly looks delicious and if I weren’t worried about having to colour, layer and decorate it, it would definitely be my cake of choice!

    Thanks for your time.
    Elin
    Melbourne, Australia

    1. Hi Elin! Thank you so much for asking me and I’m happy to help! This cake would be fantastic for a rainbow cake. You may need to play around with the colors a bit because this cake (and batter) are a little yellow. When cooled, the cakes layer off nicely and easily. No matter what, cakes are easier to frost when cold so you can always chill the layers in the refrigerator before assembling.

  26. Laurie Lehman says:

    Planning to make this cake for my granddaughter’s birthday next week. She wants a lemon cake (for her individual cake). Also making Simply Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes for the party guests (and kids). Her theme is “Emoji” (LOL)! I want to decorate the cake using the frosting and most likely using a star tip to create an Emoji face. Will this cream cheese frosting work well? I usually use just a normal buttercream frosting when doing cakes so unsure about the cream cheese and proper consistency. I guess I can just make my normal frosting and not worry about the frosting in this recipe. The cake should taste great with a regular buttercream frosting right?

    1. Hi Laurie! What a cute sounding cake! If you’d like to pipe cream cheese frosting, I recommend refrigerating it for 30 minutes before piping. It holds its shape beautifully. Regular buttercream works with this cake too, yes!

  27. Great recipe! I made this cake for my brother’s birthday dinner today and it was a hit. So delicious! The cake was fluffy, extremely moist, and very flavorful. The frosting was divine. It’s definitely a keeper! Thank you Sally!

  28. Can this be made in a bundt pan?

    1. Yes, you can use this cake batter for a lemon Bundt cake. I also have a lemon Bundt cake recipe if you’re interested in that one!

  29. This cake was so good! The icing was so amazing! The whole thing tasted so great! My family loved it so much! Thank you so much!

  30. I want to make this into a 4 layer cake. 2- 8in layers and 2- 6in layers. Will this cake handle the weight? I will be using 4 or 5 dowels.

    1. Hi Diane! This cake will hold up nicely. The crumb is sturdy.

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