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 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.

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 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
  • 1/2 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.

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

635 Comments

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  1. Made this for Mothers Day after a whole 6-ish months without baking – so needless to say, I was feeling pretty rusty and was scared of how it was gonna turn out. I’m not sure why I thought that because this cake was so amazing, I could cry. The texture was so fantastic and light! I pulled a page out of the Lemon Coconut Cake’s book and used regular cream cheese frosting with lemon curd between the layers (and tried my hand at candying lemon slices for the top!), and it was terrific. I feel like I could bake a thousand cakes after this success, it was such a beautiful recipe!

  2. This is a great lemon cake. I’ve made it several times. I made it before with the 4 eggs but noticed the new 3 eggs recipe note. It’s excellent with 3 eggs and you’re right, not as heavy. Thank you for always working hard to guarantee your recipes are successful. Especially for baking beginners like me.

  3. Hi! I’m going to make this for my husbands birthday and I was thinking of adding a strawberry filling (no seeds) to make it like strawberry lemonade. Any suggestions on the filling?

    1. Hi Perryn, You can use my Homemade Strawberry Sauce as a filling. Or if you don’t want the cake to be too sweet you can always just layer sliced fresh berries between the cakes!

  4. Dubraska Wawi says:

    I added to the recipe one more egg and 2 Tbsps of oil and it was just perfect, fluffy, airy, moist and delicious… love the taste of the cake

  5. Dave Lawson says:

    Hi Sally,
    This is a really great cake…Rich and a real lemony flavour which we love. We found the sponge slightly heavy. With our next try we will reduce the butter and increase the eggs to lighten the sponge.

  6. Marie A Powers says:

    A lovely light and very moist lemon cake and great icing. I would like to make this again using lemon curd as the filling between layers and the cream cheese recipe as frosting. To me the only thing it needed was an extra lemon punch and the lemon curd would do that. Otherwise the lemon flavor is quite delicate in this recipe. Do not overmix or your cake could be dense, do weigh and sift the flour, it makes all the difference (you will use too much flour otherwise) and do not overbake. You can use an instant read thermometer (take out between 190-200F) and the clean toothpick trick to test for doneness. If you follow this, your cake will be moist and light and not dry and dense. A keeper recipe!

  7. My oven is not big enough. Instead of baking it twice,can I bake all of the batter in a 9 inch pan and once it is done, slice it to half to make the layer?

    1. Hi Cheryl, there is too much batter for one 9-inch pan. You can bake the batter in batches. Keep the unused batter lightly covered at room temperature.

  8. Hi there,
    How would I adjust this recipe to make a 2-layer 8-inch and 2-layer 6-inch?
    Thanks

    1. Hi Lori! My Cake Pan Sizes and Conversions page will help here.

  9. Brooke Levanway says:

    Wow, I made this cake for Memorial Day and brought it to a friends house…everyone loved it! I confess I used cake flour (didn’t see the note about it til now), and made one large 9×13 cake so I could decorate it like a flag with raspberries and blueberries. It was the lightest, fluffiest cake I have ever made! Thanks for the great recipe!

  10. Made the cake following the recipe exactly as written and it turned out perfectly! They turned out perfectly level so no need to level them off. Best lemon cake ever. Thanks so much for another awesome cake recipe!

  11. Hi, the recipe says, “3 cups (345g) sifted all-purpose flour* (spoon & leveled).” I sifted then weighed 345g of flour on a food scale (again, weighed it after I sifted), and it was no where near 3 cups (more like 2 or maybe 2.5 cups). The cake was moist, but very dense. Can you confirm that it should be 3 cups after sifting or stick with the weight? Either way, it was absolutely delicious. Thank you!!

    1. Hi Michelle! I weigh 3 cups of sifted flour (that is then spoon and leveled) to be about 345g. Are you spooning and leveling it?

      1. Yes, ma’am, but I’ll have to give it another go just to be sure 😉

    2. Can I make a 4 layered 4 tiered wedding cake with this? Is it too soft?

  12. Hi Sally! I appreciate you teaching us how you tweaked the recipe and why- thank you for that! Would this cake be suitable to carve? I need to stack/dowel 3 cakes and carve to a simple vase-shape; nothing too crazy.
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Karen, I have never tried carving this cake before. Let me know if you try it!

  13. PS- Do you happen to know how many cups of batter this recipe yields?
    Thx

    1. Hi Karen, about 7 cups of batter.

  14. I’ve just made this cake and mehn is it yummy!!
    However, I used 3- 6 inch pans and baked for 30 minutes. They didn’t rise as I had expected but I guess that’s the deal with lemon cakes. I liked the height though.
    I’m definitely going to try out more of your recipes!!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the flavor, Faiza. This is too much batter for using 6 inch pans. If you use all of the batter in smaller pans they will not rise properly. However my lemon cupcake recipe produces the perfect amount of batter to make a three layer 6-inch cake!

  15. John O'Brien says:

    Hi Sally, I made this cake and it was delicious the only query I have is on measurement of 3 cups of flour 345G. I thought a cup of flour was 125g which means this should be 375G? Just want t be sure I am doing it right.
    May I say I have tried numerous sites their recipies but yours is by far the best, every cake I have made has been loved by everyone,

    1. Thanks John, I’m so glad to read that! 3 cup of sifted flour is close to 345g. Make sure you sift, then weigh or measure it.

  16. Michelle Morend says:

    So delicious. Made it for a birthday n everyone wanted seconds

  17. Diana Foggia says:

    Hello Sally,
    If I wanted to add poppy seeds to this cake, how much would you recommend?

    1. Hi Diana, 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.

  18. I made this cake for my mothers birthday and everyone loved it. It was light and fluffy. I actually put lemon curd in between the layers of the cake and I did a lemon buttercream instead of a cream cheese frosting! Very good!

  19. Hi Sally! I want to make this frosting for a 6 inch 3 layer cake. Would halving the recipe make enough?

    1. It should be. Enjoy!

  20. Hi Sally!
    I LOVE this cake and plan to make this cake next week for a birthday (I put your lemon curd between the layers and it’s amazing)- I want to bake it in 6 9” pans instead of 3 pans and then dye each layer a different color for a rainbow effect. Will the six layers be too thin? What would you recommend for baking time?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Lili, The layers will be very thin but you can bake it that way. 8 inch pans may help make them a bit thicker if you have them. I’m unsure of the bake time they will need.

  21. Hello

    I would like to make this cake with two 10-inch cake pans. What are the adjustments that I need to make in this recipe?

    1. Hi Milena, I have not tested this cake in 10 inch pans. However you can use my post Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions to help calculate how much batter you wold need.

  22. Hi Sally! I only have one 9 inch tin 🙁 How would I change the measurements to have a single layer cake? Would it just be to halve all the ingredients? Thank you!

    1. Hi Wendy, You can cut the reicpe in half and bake in one 9-inch cake pan. Bake time will be longer; use a toothpick to test for doneness.

  23. Hi I love your recipes! I’m making this cake with vanilla pods instead of extract, how many would you recommend to use? Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Chloe, Typically 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract is equal to one 2-inch piece of vanilla bean, so 1 typical vanilla bean will equal 3 teaspoons extract.

  24. Thank you so much for an amazing recipe! Cake turned out lovely. The lemon flavor was just right and not too overpowering.

  25. Hi sally,
    Can’t wait to try this recipe
    I’m wondering if you ever use cultured buttermilk powder in your recipes that call for buttermilk?

    1. Hi Kolina, I haven’t but many readers report back saying that the powdered buttermilk works wonderfully.

  26. Morgan Hardin says:

    Do you think this is lemony enough to pair with a strawberry frosting? I’m pregnant and have been craving lemon and strawberries, and wanted to do it as a cake, but I want to find a recipe that is strong enough on lemon and doesn’t require a lemon frosting to get the lemon flavor, if that makes sense 🙂 my sweet friend made me a lemon cake but it just didn’t cut it (was not your recipe).

    1. Hi Morgan, You can taste the lemon in this cake even without the lemon frosting. It uses both the juice and the zest of lemons to really amp up the flavor. If you are looking for a strawberry cream cheese frosting instead of lemon you will love the frosting from my strawberry cake!

    2. Hi sally, I baked your vanilla cake for our wedding anniversary and it was the best ever. Thank you!! My daughter asked me for lime cake for her bday.
      Would you please help me with the following questions.
      Can I make this recipe with lime instead of lemon?
      Can I beat the egg whites separately and mix to the batter?
      Thanks again!

  27. This was delightful– I doubled and turned this into a 2-layer 9×13 groom’s cake with lemon curd filling and blueberry buttercream. I’ll definitely be saving this for future use! Thank you!

  28. I loved the flavor of the cake and frosting but my cake was dense yet moist at the same time which was an odd combination. This cake gave me vibes of a soft scone more than a soft cake. It’s honestly delicious but I don’t understand why mine wasn’t fluffier. The crumb was very tight and not airy at all. I did a two layer cake using a 9 inch round cake pan but I only have one cake pan, so I had to cook the two cakes in batches. Did I do something wrong? I feel I followed the recipe as described but I am not sure if something went wrong. One thing I should mention is that I accidentally purchased 2% fat buttermilk instead of full fat. Another thing that I found odd was when baking the cakes, I never saw any browning at the top layer which made me think the cakes were underdone. Luckily, I checked the cake at the 23 min mark and had to put the cake back in for an additional 3 minutes so a total of 26 min for the toothpick to come out clean from the middle. I would love to try this recipe again, please let me know if there’s anything that jumps at you that I could have done incorrectly. Thanks!

    1. Hi Annette, I’m glad you enjoyed the flavor of 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 my post on how to prevent a dry or dense cake.

  29. I made this cake for a friend’s birthday and it turned out amazing. Everyone raved about it! I made it in 2 – 9″ pans and they were done in 25 minutes. And there was enough icing to liberally ice the cake. It was perfection!

  30. hi! Can I use this recipe in a Bundt pan? what would the cooking time be? Thanks!!

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

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