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
Hello! Do you think this recipe would work for a tiered wedding cake?
Hi Elizabeth, with the proper dowels and supports, this cake should do well as a tiered cake. You can read more about making tired cakes in our homemade wedding cake post!
I made this cake today for a luncheon and it is delicious. I used a vanilla/basil pastry cream between the layers and a blueberry buttercream for the frosting. The flavors were fantastic together. I made sure the layers were flat before putting it together. But for some reason, by the time I got home the leftover cake (a little over half of it) was breaking apart. Any ideas on what would cause this? I didn’t change anything about the cake recipe itself. Thanks!
Hi! I’m planning on making this cake for my hubby’s birthday, and I wondering if there’s a link to get those food safe flowers? I just love the look of your cake and wanted to replicate it. Thank you
Hi Kaya, those are called kalanchoe flowers. When decorating cakes with fresh flowers, be sure that they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides.
Hi Sally, I have a smaller crowd I’m looking to make this for. Ideally I’d like to use six inch pans. What do you recommend doing with the recipe?
Hi Laura, For 6 inch cakes, we recommend using the batter from our lemon cupcake recipe instead (it’s the perfect amount!) – you can read more about using cupcake recipes for 6 inch cakes in this post.
Can’t wait to try but without the flowers. I heard kalanchoe flowers are poisonous.
Hi! I would like to use Meyer lemons for this cake. Should I adjust any ingredients (e.g. sugar, as Meyer lemons are a bit sweeter)?
Hi Megan, You can definitely use Meyer lemons here. We don’t recommend changing the amount of sugar. Let us know how it goes!
Hi Sally, I see the recipe says that the layers are not thick. How can I make the layers be a bit thicker?
Hi Diana, You can divide the batter between two 9-inch cake pans for two slightly thicker layers (see recipe notes).
I still want the cake as 8 inches with 3 layers but just thicker, can I increase the recipe by half? I was hoping to do that but it would call for 4.5 eggs
Hi Diana! You can certainly give that a try. 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.
Hi. Can I make this as a bundt cake? If so, what is baking time. Thank you!
Hi Kathleen, For a Bundt cake we recommend our Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake. You can leave out the poppy seeds if you wish!
I made this recipe for a fundraiser spring cake social this week. What a hit! I managed to pick up a few crumbs from the plate once the last piece was served and I found out what the buzz was at the tables. Fabulous flavour, perfect balance of sweet and tangy. And the frosting! Yum!!! I will definitely be making this one again only this time I’m keeping it just for us.
Hi Sally,, I love your recipes so much. Do you think this recipe would work for a pinata cake?
Hi Donna! This cake would definitely work, but usually when we make piñata cakes, we want an extra tall cake with four layers (see our piñata cake recipe as an example). This allows for lots of room for piñata fillings. You could make two batches of this recipe and fill four pans 1/2 way with batter to make a 4 layer cake. It would also work with three layers, as written, just with less room for fillings. Let us know if you give it a try!
I made this for my husband’s birthday last year. He loves any and all baked goods with lemon. He went crazy for this cake. Sadly, he requested I make 2 this year…one for him and one for his twin. I’m afraid this going to be a tradition. I’m just grateful he wasn’t a triplet or a quad. Haha.
By the way, I made homemade lemon curd to go between the layers. Made the cake even more scrumptious.
I made lemon curd to go in between the layers! Serving tomorrow, fingers crossed. All the parts taste amazing so far….lol
I made this cake for my birthday! It is absolutely wonderful and was a hit with everyone! I followed the instruction s to a T.
I didn’t make the cake, just the frosting because I wanted to do a vanilla cake with raspberry filling. Its creamy, thick, and would be perfect on a lemon cake as is. since I was doing vanilla, I had to add about 1/2 top of lemon zest to get enough lemon flavor in it (for a halved frosting recipe since my cake was a 7″ diameter).
Hi Sally, I am using this cake recipe for my wedding and trying to serve about 100 people…I think I will make two batches into a decorated wedding cake for pictures/presentation, and a half sheet pan to feed the masses. Any advice on how to multiply this recipe without having everything go wonky? Thanks!
Hi Jane, the best way to multiply the recipe is really to just make it several times. If you’re using a stand mixer, it can only hold so much batter, so we don’t recommend doubling or tripling the recipe. I hope all the cakes turn out wonderfully for your wedding!
In 49 years of baking, I’ve never made a more delicious homemade cake. I increased the lemon zest a bit and even added some to the frosting, but I’m a lemon zest fanatic.
Could raspberries be added to make a lemon raspberry cake? If so how much raspberries would you suggest?
Hi Grace, 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!
Hi! Loved this recipe. Question: would it be possible to use cake flour instead of AP flour to make the cake a bit lighter? If so, how many grams of cake flour is a suitable replacement for 354 g of AP flour? Wasn’t sure if there’s a rule of thumb to go by on that. Thanks!!
Hi Kristi! 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.
Makes sense!! Thanks!
Hi Sally, I would love to try this recipe (just made the lemon cupcakes last week and they were a huge hit!). Do you think this recipe would work for a one-layer cake, topped with lemon glaze instead of the frosting? How long should I leave it in the oven if I bake it as one layer only? Would love your feedback on this, thanks in advance!
Hi Leonie, we’re so glad the cupcakes were a hit! This batter is too much as written for a one-layer cake (unless you wanted to make a 9×13 cake as mentioned in the recipe notes). As written, the cake can also be divided into two thicker layers, so you should be able to halve the recipe for one thicker layer. Bake time will be just a few minutes longer to account for the thicker layer. Keep a close eye on it and use a toothpick to test for doneness. Let us know what you try!
My daughter requested a lemon cake for her 20th birthday. Your recipe was the first to pop up in my search. It turned out beautifully and most delicious. I will be making again and trying more of your recipes! Top Notch- thank you!
One of my sons loves all things white chocolate so I made the white chocolate buttercream atop vanilla cupcakes. The other son loves lemon so I made him this cake for his birthday and it was a hit. It was even a hit among some that don’t care for lemon. I was intrigued by the lemon curd filling in the your lemon coconut cake so I added lemon curd to the filling for this cake as well and it boosted the lemon beautifully. And that lemon cream cheese frosting….so perfect with this cake!!! Love love love this recipe!!!
Hi, I live in Europe and block style cream cheese is not available here, do you have a recipe using spreadable cream cheese?
Hi Nichola, in the U.S. block cream cheese is very different than the tubs and is the only cream cheese that will work for frosting. We have been told by readers outside the U.S. that cream cheese in a tub is different from ours and can work, but we have not tested it. Please let us know if you try!
I have used spreadable cream cheese to vanilla buttercream and it worked well for me.
I love your cake recipes! I would like to use your lemon curd as a filling. Would this work?
Hi Audra, you can definitely use lemon curd between the cake layers. You may wish to create a dam around the edges with buttercream, like we do for chocolate raspberry cake, to ensure it doesn’t seep out the edges. Enjoy!
I mixed some lemon curd into the cream cheese frosting that I put between the layers, so good! Just a bit more tangy and less sweet. Top I used the cream cheese frosting without the Lemon curd. Perfect!
Fantastically delicious recipe! I followed directions to the letter and end results were perfect. I received rave reviews; even from mu husband who does not like frosting on cake. I will be adding this recipe to my collection and using it again and again. Thank you, Sally and your team for your tireless recipe development efforts.
Wow, wow, WOW! I love baking cakes and I would put this in my top 3 best cakes, ever. A couple of changes that I made–I have 9-inch pans, so I made 2 layers instead of 3. They took a couple of minutes longer to bake, as suggested in the 2022 Updates. By the time I got to the frosting, I was out of lemons so I added 1 tsp of pure lemon extract and 1 tsp vanilla and it was PERFECT. I made this for a friend’s birthday and it really got rave reviews–the flavor and texture is next level–a truly delicious cake. The frosting is just the right level of sweet and rich–not overpowering. One slice leaves you wanting more!
My daughter is requesting a lemon cake for her birthday. Would this frosting work well for decorating a child’s cake like a normal buttercream?
Hi Stephanie, cream cheese frosting isn’t always the best for super intricate piping (as it can get soft quickly), but you can certainly use it for more basic piping. You may want to refrigerate the frosting for about 30 minutes or so before piping to help firm it up even more, and feel free to pop it back in the refrigerator throughout decorating if you find it warming up too much. Or you can try our lemon buttercream frosting instead (without cream cheese, so it’s a bit thicker!).
Best cake EVER , I made it for my daughter’s baby shower and everyone wanted your recipe. I made extra icing just because it is soooo yummy ! Making it again for my moms birthday
I really want to like this recipe but each time I make it the seems to be a bit dry and crumbly. The texture is nothing like the white cake or coconut cake on this site (which I adore btw!) Could I substitute the ap flour on this recipe for cake flour?
Hi Erica, you could use cake flour, 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. 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 our post on how to prevent a dry or dense cake.
I made this recipe once before and loved it! Is it possible to cut in half? I want to make it for just 5 people, and don’t need that much cake!
Hi Ayla, you should be able to halve this recipe. You could also use our lemon cupcakes recipe to make a three layer 6 inch cake if you have 6 inch cake pans. It’s a great size for a smaller gathering. You can read more about using cupcake recipes to make 6 inch cakes in this 6 inch cakes post.
I love all your recipes and they work like a dream as long as I follow your beautifully detailed instructions. However, I do have a huge problem with getting a stable cream cheese buttercream. I just can’t produce a stable cream cheese buttercream (and I tried it three times!) despite religiously sticking to your advice.
Is there anything I can do differently other than adding loads of sugar that would make the frosting cloying? Worth noting that the only cream cheese I gen get hold of in the UK is Philadelphia in tubs (not in blocks).
Hi Dragana! I’m glad to help. Try using cold cream cheese instead. Beat the butter until smooth, and then with the mixer running, add spoonfuls of the cream cheese until the two are smooth and blended. I know that can help, but the frosting will always be a bit thinner. Have you tried Swiss meringue buttercream before? It’s very stable, and one of my favorites!
Yes, I made Swiss Meringue buttercream few times and that one worked out really well every time. I was more interested in finding a solution for buttercreams involving cream cheese. I read somewhere that mixing butter and sugar first can to an extent prevent sugar drawing out water from cream cheese. Has anyone tested that here?
I am looking to make a 4 or 5 layer 8” lemon drip cake for a 21st birthday. Would this hold up or would you recommend another recipe? I was also thinking possibly the blueberry and lemon cake instead as it produces a denser cake. Which cake would you recommend for stacking 4-5 thick layers 8” diameter? Also can you use the drip on any frosting? Love your recipes, my go to when I need to make a cake. Thanks in advance.
Hi Carlz, with the proper dowels and supports, this cake should do well with that many layers. You can learn more about how we use cake dowels in our homemade wedding cake post. A white chocolate drip would be fantastic here, too! We’d love to know how it goes for you.
Great taste! But I always have a problem with the cakes on your site sinking in the middle. Is there a trick to avoid this? I am at altitude.
Hi Ross, the altitude could certainly be a contributing factor. We wish we could help, but we have no experience baking at high altitude. Some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html Otherwise, sinking in the middle can often mean the cakes are slightly under baked. An additional minute or two could help for next time. Be sure that your leavening agents are also fresh. We try to replace them after about 3 months or so for best freshness. Hope these tips help for next time!
It tastes delicious but was so hard to get out of the pan despite the pan being greased and cooling it for over an hour. And it was super crumbly I could barely frost it. I’m more of a cookie baker so it could just be me.
Cake is moist and flavorful; very lemony. I used a 1/4 sheet pan (and as recommended had enough batter leftover for 5 full sized cupcakes). Before freezing the 1/4 sheet cake I coated it with a layer of simple syrup. Icing was simply delicious, though it didn’t taste at all like lemon. But no worries, it still went perfectly with the cake and is a versatile icing recipe. The icing received compliments 🙂