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
I made this cake for my Mom’s birthday. It was a hit and very good, but I thought the layers were dense. Is this how it should be or any suggestions of what may make it a bit lighter in texture?
Hi Janet! So glad you enjoyed 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.
Can this be adapted for a sheet pan instead? And would any size work or what is best recommended?
Hi Alli! See recipe notes for using a 9×13 sheet pan with this recipe.
I don’t know what happened. I am an experienced baker and have never had a fail, but this cake sure did. I followed all directions exactly, baked it for 27 minutes and my cake tester came out perfectly clean. But I noticed the cakes had fallen a few minutes after removing them from the oven. And when we cut into the finished cake, it was obviously underdone. The flavors were wonderful, but the cake was a fail.
Is the oven temp for conventional oven? Could you let me know recommended fan oven temp please
Hi Lesley, We always recommend conventional settings for baking (not convection/fan). The flow of air from convection heat can cause baked goods to rise and bake unevenly and it also pulls moisture out of the oven. If you do use convection/fan settings for baking, lower your temperature by 25 degrees F and keep in mind that things may still take less time to bake. Hope this helps!
I have read online to never double a cake recipe but to make a recipe two separate times. I see in the reviews that someone said she upped the recipe 6 times. What are your thoughts on doubling the recipe? I want to make your lemon cake in 3 9-inch layers.
Hi Sharon! It’s always best to make separate batches. Large amounts of batter are difficult to work with and are easy to over or under-mix.
I’m excited to try this soon for my brother’s wedding cake!
He’s asked for a semi naked cake so it’s important that the colour of the sponge is fairly light as it’ll show through. When I’ve baked lemon cakes previously, they’ve tended to turn out quite dark. Is there anything in particular you’ve done that gives these such a light colour?
Hi Jenna! We’ve never had an issue with these cakes browning too much. Your pans will make a big difference – lighter colored pans yield less browning during baking. Dark coloring can also come form a too-hot oven; we always recommend using an in-oven thermometer to ensure your oven is the temperature it says it is (it often isn’t) for even baking. Hope these tips help!
Hi there I want to.make just the icing and put it on your 6i inch Chocolate Cake which I’m going to turn into 6 cupcakes instead
My question is do you this this will pair well with chocolate cake and can I half the icing recipe without issue? Also will it work in a piping bag? Thanks
Hi Alexis, we don’t typically pair chocolate with lemon, but you certainly can if you enjoy them together! You can also halve the recipe and use it in piping bags. Because it’s a cream cheese buttercream, we don’t recommend intricate piped designed but basic piping will still work well. If you find the frosting is getting too warm as you pipe, feel free to pop it in the refrigerator for a few minutes to help cool it down.
Hi, my cake batter was curdled. But the taste was great. How to avoid that? Thank you.
Hi Anisa, were all of your ingredients at room temperature? Curdling usually happens when ingredients are incorporated together at varying temperatures. Glad you still enjoyed the cake!
Hi! If I only have 2 8 inch pans, then:
1. What do I do with the extra batter before it bakes? And
2. How long do the cakes really need to cool in the pan before I can bake the 3rd layer?
Hi Sarah! You can let the batter sit covered at room temperature. Just wait until the cake has cooled a bit and you’re about to handle the pan. Hope you love this cake!
In the instructions, it states to whisk the dry ingredients. In your notes it says sift the flour before measuring. Can you clarify for me if you should sift this flour BEFORE measuring and if yes, can i just add the leavening to the sifter with the flour?
Hi Amy! Yes, you sift the flour, measure the flour, then whisk it with the other dry ingredients.
Hi Sally !
Do you think this recipe would work with limes ?
Yes, limes should work for a different flavor. Enjoy!
I scaled this recipe up by 6x to bake a family member’s wedding cake! Fantastic recipe, and highly consistent product across 6 batches. Multiple people at the wedding said it was the best lemon cake they’d ever had.
The only adjustment I made to the recipe as written was to use salted butter in place of unsalted. The cream cheese buttercream worked great at scale (I went the vanilla route at the bride’s request).
If else anyone is considering using this recipe for a wedding cake in the future, heads up that 6x the volume is enough to make three 12″ cakes, three 10″ cakes, three 6″ cakes, and about a dozen bonus cupcakes.
Hi can you use cake flour instead of plain flour and if I use cake flour do I add baking powder and baking soda
Hi Theola, You could use cake flour, yes, but we find it’s a little too light with this ratio of wet to dry ingredients. Some readers have used it (as a 1:1 ratio for AP flour), but we weren’t happy with the result. We like to use all-purpose flour in this lemon cake and our lemon cupcakes. If you do decide to use it, still include the baking powder and baking soda.
Made this for my Mom’s 80th birthday party – a fantastic cake and all the ladies loved it! I did chicken out with the 3 layers (I am not sure why that intimidates me) and did just 2. I learned something too about the difference between x cups sifted flour vs. x cups flour, sifted so that was a bonus! I love how your recipes have solid baking tips and lessons on the why of ingredients/methods vs. here’s what I did today/my life story… I usually scroll by all that stuff on other recipe sites, but totally read all of yours as I LEARN something! So thank you for that and the recipe testing notes that I can geek out on too!
I made this on the weekend and it was a hit, I didn’t have whole milk but used 2%. The cake was very dense, but tasty just the same.
All your cakes turn out great. I am trying this one for the first time. Can I use buttermilk instead of milk. I already have it.
Hi Sarah, We find that whole milks produces the best texture for this lemon cake. It did used to call for buttermilk, but we’ve recently updated it to reflect our latest recipe testing.
how many 6 inch cakes would this make? I’m planning on using this recipe for the tip tier of my sons wedding cake, thanks
Hi Jen, This lemon cake recipe makes a lot of batter. You’ll probably fill about 8 6-inch pans!
Would this cake hold up to adding a some of your lemon curd in between one of the layers? Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to do a trial run beforehand.
Hi Amy! You can add some lemon curd on top of the buttercream between the layers like we do in this lemon coconut cake. Happy baking!
Any idea if this cake is sturdy enough to be stacked a bit higher and decorated? No heavy fondant or anything like that, but my daughter wants a cake decorated with buttercream, some old fashioned piping and cherries on top. I was thinking of doing an 8” cake, about 5” tall or so.
Hi Zelda, that should work just fine. For extra support, you could even use cake dowels like we do with tiered cakes.
Sally comes through yet again! I used this recipe and made a 3 layer cake, frosted with her perfect cream cheese frosting and sliced strawberries between layers. Guests at my in-law’s 50tg anniversary party loved it!
If I cut the recipe in half, should I use 1 1/2 eggs or 1 egg and 1 egg yolk?
Hi Drew! We would use 1 and 1/2 eggs. Our general rule for halving an egg is to crack it open, beat the yolk and white together with a fork, measure the volume (should be a few Tbsp), then use half.
How many cups does the battery yield?
Hi Linda, this recipe yields about 7 cups of batter.
Loved it, baked perfectly!
I made this cake yesterday and iced with your buttercream icing. So easy to make and so happy how it turned out. A bit too yummy.
I made this a couple days ago and it’s wonderful. The icing especially is heavenly.
Hi Sally! Can I substitute the lemon juice with lemon extract?
Hi Cindy, you could replace the lemon juice with more milk and then add a bit of lemon extract as well (to your taste). Hope you enjoy the cake!
Can i add raspberries to the batter?
Hi Litsa, Yes you can use raspberries. This recipe is adapted from our Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake. You can follow that recipe replacing the blueberries with raspberries. Enjoy!
Could I substitute orange zest and juice to turn these into orange cupcakes? And would the measurements be the same? Thank you!
Hi Sarah! We 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 try our Glazed Orange Bundt Cake instead.
Made this for my hubby’s birthday yesterday and boy was it a hit!! We love lemon cake in this household and I can honestly say this is the best one I’ve made yet! Cake is so moist and delicious and the icing is EVERYTHING! The perfect blend of tangy and sweet and it was the perfect amount for the cake. I hate recipes where I end up with too much leftover icing it’s such a waste. I will definitely be making this again and again.
This was a hit at my boyfriend’s birthday party!
I am making this recipe for the 5th time. The most requested! I always make sure I use Meyer lemons!