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!

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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


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) 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


  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.


  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


Comments are closed.

  1. Rubina Jawaid says:

    Since we are in a lockdown can I use tetra pack milk instead of buttermilk, will it make a difference in texture or taste. I intend making it tomorrow for my mom’s birthday.
    The carrot and pineapple cake turned out perfect.
    Thank you

  2. Made this with my daughter yesterday. Delicious! Cake lightly lemony, my husband loves lemon desserts so I added zest to the frosting and it was perfect. I don’t mind the yellow flecks of zest in the frosting – it looks pretty! This frosting is so light and velvety – really a keeper! We made several small cakes and used raspberry filling in one of them for a little variety.

    1. I’m so happy it was a hit, Alison! I appreciate your positive feedback 🙂

  3. Hi Sally,

    Just want to let you know that we used this recipe last year for my sister’s birthday and we absolutely loved it! We are making it again this year for her birthday.

    Thank you for sharing 🙂 Hope you are keeping yourself safe and busy with baking at this time!

  4. Thanks so much for your advice and for taking the time to reply, really appreciate it 🙂

  5. Amazing amazing amazing! Easy to make and tastes heavenly! Missed the part where it says “serves 10-12” and it’s just me and my partner, but it’s okay we have big appetite. Thanks for an amazing recipe!

    1. I’m so happy that the two of you enjoyed it, Migle!

  6. Hi Sally,

    I’d like to make a lemon raspberry layer cake. Could I add raspberries to the cake batter? I tried your one layer cake recipe and the texture turned out great!

    1. Hi Jenny, Yes you can use raspberries. This recipe is adapted from my Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake. You can follow that recipe replacing the blueberries with raspberries. Enjoy!

  7. I made this for my husband’s birthday and he said it was his favorite ever! I don’t bake too often but this was easy to follow and turned out delicious! Thank you for the awesome recipe!

  8. Hello ! Can you recommend another buttercream or icing that will go well with this cake ?

    1. Hi Andrea, What are you looking for in a different frosting? Less sweet, not lemon, no cream cheese? I’m happy to make specific recommendations or you can browse all of my Frosting Recipes.

      1. Hello ! Yes less sweet and maybe no lemon 🙂 would be great if you can recommend!

  9. This cake received thumbs up from all ages at tonight’s birthday celebration. I found this recipe and these instructions easy to follow. It came out perfect and was delicious. The perfect dessert after lemon butter seafood linguini. Thank you

  10. I made this as my birthday cake and it turned out beautifully! I halved the recipe to make two tiers, and I didn’t have buttermilk so used 2% milk. I added desiccated coconut and blueberries to the icing on top. Absolutely loved it and it looked perfect, thank you Sally 🙂

  11. This turned out perfect for me! My husband said the flavors were just right ☺️

  12. Hi Sally! I’ve loved every recipe of yours I’ve ever made (so many!)- and so do all my friends and family that get to eat the finished product! I was wondering if any of the buttermilk could be replaced with limoncello? Maybe 1/2 a cup of each?

    1. Hi Cynthia! That sounds delicious, but I fear the texture of the cake will be off-putting unless you do a little testing to find the right balance of wet ingredients. I recommend sticking with the recipe or searching for a delicious limoncello cake recipe.

  13. I made this yesterday during quarantine (finally have time to bake!). I made an extra cake to freeze for my mother-in-law’s birthday next week… I hope that one turns out well!

    We have lemon trees and keep the lemon juice year-round. The cake is moist and the buttercream is delicious (love the added cream cheese flavor). If I make it again, I plan to add a lemon curd in between layers to add a little more tartness and lemon flavor.

    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed the cake, Paige! Lemon Curd would be a delicious addition!

  14. Aiming to make this for my husband’s birthday next week, but don’t have a stand mixer. Is it doable by hand? Do you have any tips for that?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Robin, It’s not impossible but creaming the butter and sugar together in step 1 will take some arm muscle to do by hand. Let me know if you try it!

  15. Hi Sally- I’d like to sub lemons for oranges. Will that work for this recipe? Or are there other things I’d need to adjust?

    Btw I LOVE your coconut cake recipe!

    1. Hi Kaitlyn, I have not tested this cake with oranges. You can certainly try it, but they are sweeter and adjusting the sugar would take some recipe testing. You can also make my Glazed Orange Bundt Cake instead.

  16. I made this for my boyfriend’s birthday cake. He loved it! It was so moist and kept well in the fridge for leftovers. I will definitely be making this again for years to come. Thanks Sally!!!

  17. Oh my goodness! This cake was delicious! I made a 2 layer (9 inch rounds) cake and it was perfect balance of lemon flavor, moistness, sweet but not overpowering. Just perfect! Thank you for the great recipe!

  18. Vanessa McCoy says:

    Delicious!! Made this for my boyfriend’s birthday. We are lemon fanatics so I added lemon zest to the frosting as well. He let out an intense moan of joy after the first bite. Best compliment ever.

    1. I’m so happy it was a hit!

  19. This cake was good and guests will enjoy it – but it’s not necessarily a recipe I will use again. First, it was too sweet, so no one was able to eat a normal-sized piece – but the flavor was very good. Second, as one reviewer said, the cake became very dense the following day. Usually, a cake tastes better the next day, but not in this case.

  20. Hi Sally,

    I’m so excited to try this cake out!
    Can I add in poppy seeds into this to make it a lemon poppy seed cake? If yes, how much would you recommend adding and at which step? Would I also have to alter any other ingredient?

    Thank you so much!

    1. Absolutely. I would add 1 Tablespoon of poppy seeds to the dry ingredients. That’s usually plenty, but feel free to add a little more if you think the batter needs it. No need to adjust anything else.

      1. Thank you so much Sally for responding, can’t wait to try it out! Sending you love from Asia <3

  21. Maricar Magdowski says:

    I love it! I made the cake using 2-8 inches pan. Made a meringue frosting and added lemon curd in the layers. It’s Perfect balance of tart and not very sweet. Thank you Sally

  22. Katherine says:

    Hi Sally, I love all your recipes and have made at least 5 of them. I wanted to ask you if there was a way to substitute confectioners sugar in the frosting. I don’t like the taste confectioners sugar imparts but I’m afraid to ruin the frosting if I use something else. Thanks!

    1. Hi Katherine! There’s no real replacement for confectioners’ sugar in traditional American buttercream, but you can try my Swiss Meringue Buttercream instead if you’d like.

  23. Hi Sally
    Making this for my mums birthday as she loves lemon cake and meringue. Wondering how you would recommend incorporating other flavours like raspberry and white chocolate into this recipe?

    1. Hi Katie, I haven’t tested this recipe with raspberries or white chocolate but you could certainly fold 1 cup of raspberries into the batter. I also have a white chocolate ganache you could try. It’s posted with my Tuxedo Cake.

  24. Very disappointing, i saw other comments about it being too dense but i ignored them giving it the benefit of the doubt. I spent half a day baking this for my birthday only for it to turn out so dense that my siblings refused to eat it. I followed the recipe EXACTLY, including the flour sifting.

  25. Trinity Pursel says:

    Can I make this in a Bundt pan or in a square pan?

    1. Hi Trinity! 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. For a bundt cake I recommend my Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake. You can leave out the poppy seeds if you wish!

  26. The cakes turned out great ! Thanks for the recipe .. it was easy and delicious, and the cakes were nice and fluffy !
    I followed another reviewer and put lemon curd between the layers and whipped cream frosting on top .

  27. Hi Sally,
    Making this now. For how long do i bake using 4 inch pans. I tried a batch a baked it for 23mins with a cake strip around my pan. I did the toothpick test. Crumbs came out on the toothpick but not batter? Thats okay, right? It means it’s moist? Or should I cook it more. I had my mom taste with it me and she feels its undercooked so im not sure if it is or its moist

  28. Sarah Wicks says:

    Instead of using unsalted butter and then adding salt, I just used salted butter all round. Came out great and not overly sweet.

  29. I LOVED this recipe! I only made the cake because I not very fond of cream cheese frosting, but the cake was delicious! I would highly recommend this and will definitely be making it again. Also for anyone making this, before you bake it, the batter will be thick, and if you don’t put it in the oven right away, it will have a weird texture from the buttermilk and lemon. Don’t let this alarm you though! It happened to me, and my cakes turned out amazing.

  30. Total hit! I loved the cake and the frosting was so good!!!!!

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I’m Sally, a cookbook author, photographer, and blogger. My goal is to give you the confidence and knowledge to cook and bake from scratch while providing quality recipes and plenty of pictures. Grab a cookie, take a seat, and have fun exploring! more about Sally