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. I just got done making my 4th batch of this recipe and have some tips for you. Scrap down your bowl after each step. Take the beater, bowl off and scrap both well. Don’t overfill, your cakes they will fall. (Both my 6in. attempts fell. Filled the 2nd one only half full.) I used 2 heaping tablespoons of lemon zest. Put it in with your sugar and work it with you fingers until it gets a wet appearance. This will get the oils into your sugar for more flavor.

  2. Hello Sally! If I wanted to make 3 8inch cake pans how would you suggest altering the recipie? Or How full should my cake pans be?

    1. Hi Stefanie! No need to alter the recipe, just divide evenly between all 3 pans. The bake time will be a little longer for the smaller pans.

  3. This looks delicious!! I’m planning to make a two-layer cake. Would you suggest I decrease the icing quantity or make it as written? Thanks!

    1. Hi Briar! You can slightly reduce the amount of frosting– this creamy lemon buttercream recipe (not cream cheese) would be plenty if you want to follow that instead.

  4. Hi Sally! Oh wow, this cake looks fabulous! I adore lemon; it has to be my favorite fruity flavor in baked goods 🙂 I was wondering if I could do a lemon swiss meringue buttercream with this, and then pipe a border of frosting in-between the cake layers and spread lemon curd in the middle? And could I do this cake but with orange instead of lemon? Similar concept, but with orange swiss meringue buttercream and an orange curd. Thanks!

    1. Would be FABULOUS! I don’t have a lemon swiss meringue buttercream on my site at this time though. Orange would be a great sub for lemon in this cake. Here is my lemon curd recipe. Let me know what you try!

  5. Wow. Wow, wow! Fantastic! I may have over baked a bit but the cake recipe is soo good and flavorful that it didn’t affect the outcome. Perhaps I over mixed, I’ll just try again! (my baked goods are almost always done earlier than your times, possibly because we have double ovens ??)
    This recipe is so tasty. My entire family loved it & so did I!

  6. I’ve recently discovered your site. Love your recipes and how carefully you explain each recipe and technique. I have a convection oven (new to me) and I’m wary of bake times if I bake your recipes in convection mode. Do you have any tips?
    Thanks!

  7. Ah mazing!!! First time baking a cake. Everything was perfection!

  8. This is one of my very favorite of Sally’s cakes. SO lemony and moist. It stayed fresh and moist for five days!!!! Thank you for an amazing lemon cake recipe, Sally!

  9. Josie Finkelstein says:

    Hi Sally! I’m excited to make this cake for my moms birthday. One of the guests won’t eat anything with cream cheese in it.

    What do you recommend for a filling and topping?
    A. The lemon curd filling with whipped cream topping
    B. Lemon buttercream frosting for filling and frosting
    C. Plain buttercream inside and on top.
    D. Something else I haven’t thought of.

    I can’t taste the batter because of my dietary restrictions but REALLY want to make a perfect cake for my mom. She loves lemon cake.

    1. Really any of those would be delicious!! If you only want to make one recipe then lemon buttercream would be great – if you want to make two then lemon curd with whipped topping would be great also. They will also look different so how you want to decorate might make your decision for you.I hope she has a great birthday 🙂

  10. Came out amazing. Was a family hit.

  11. Sally I am making this cake for an engagement party I am hosting but would like to make a 10” layer cake. Should I make 1 1/2 of this recipe or more? Also, any suggestions on changing temp or baking time as this 10” cake is a first for me as I am used to doing 8” & 9”

    1. Hi Jennifer! I recommend 1.5x the recipe. Or, to be safe, you can make the batter twice (for best results, do not double it– make twice) and use leftover batter for some cupcakes. The bake time will be longer, but I can’t be certain of that exact time. Use a toothpick to test for doneness.

  12. First time taking on a citrus flavor cake, but my dear friend has requested a lemon cake with raspberry filling in between the layers for her birthday. Would this lemon cake pair well with the raspberry filling? Also, I’m looking at your lemon buttercream recipe (she cannot handle cream cheese) – would this pair better with a lemon frosting or a vanilla?

    1. Hi Jessica! This lemon cake is fantastic with fruit fillings. Raspberry would be great. Plain lemon buttercream frosting (without the cream cheese) would be outstanding on this cake. I don’t think it would be too lemony, especially with the raspberry filling. But if you want pure vanilla, that would work as well.

  13. Lesli Francis says:

    I made this cake for a family gathering and it was wonderful! The cake has a dense but light texture—if that makes sense. It was the perfect amount of lemon taste in both the cake and frosting. I frosted the sides and in between the layers generously and put a thin coat of frosting on top, then covered the top with whipped cream. This is definitely a recipe I will make again!

  14. Jan Benteman says:

    Best cake and frosting I have ever made! Thank you!

  15. I baked this cake over the weekend. My anxiety was high since this was my 1st cake from scratch. It turned out amazing & my family really enjoyed it. I have one question though. My eggs were double yolk eggs, I only used 2 even though the recipe called for 4. Was that correct? Or should I have used 4?

    1. I’m so glad you tried this as your first cake! In the case of an egg with a double yolk, I would recommend removing one of the yolks so that you have a total of 4 whites and 4 yolks.

  16. Great recipe! I made this for my son’s birthday and turned it into a rainbow cake. Tastes great and holds up well! Thanks!!!

  17. Hello everyone,

    Just wanted to say that if you want to make this recipe vegan, it turned out great that way as well. Just use non-dairy butter and milk, and for the eggs, use 4 tbsp water mixed with 2 tbsp oil. (1 egg equals to 2 tbsp water with 1 tbsp oil). I use this egg substitute with a lot of the recipes I use. (I have a vegan bakery)

    Have a nice day
    Kitti

  18. Is it possible to use less powdered sugar? Is there anything i coukd substitute?

  19. Hi Sally! Im drooling!! Thinking about filling this with your lemon curd and frosting it with your heavenly strawberry buttercream. Think that would be a winner?

    1. Yes, I bet that would be delicious!

  20. Just made this cake recipe and it did not disappoint! I made 2 6×3 cake rounds filled about 2/3 full and baked at 350 (using 2 oven thermometers) for about an hour. I think next time I might need to bake it 5-10 mins longer but it is absolutely delicious! Thank you so much for this recipe.

  21. Laurie Lehman says:

    Can you use this recipe and substitute the lemon zest and juice with lime to make a lime cake?

    1. Yes, absolutely!

  22. Very good recipe overall. I added 2 teaspoons of lemon extract because I love a more tart lemon flavor. I also added a bit of lemon zest to the frosting for the same reason. The next time I make it I’m going to try it with half cake flour and half AP flour to see if it will yield a lighter cake. It is a bit dense for my liking.

    1. Update: the lemon zest in the frosting was not wise. I added 2 teaspoons of lemon extract instead and it was perfection!
      I also added a layer of lemon curd before frosting the bottom layer. It gave an amazing lemon flavor! I really love lemon… does it show?!

  23. MELINDA DENNIS says:

    I made this for our admin assistant for her birthday…just made a lemon buttercream frosting because she doesn’t like cream cheese. It was beyond delicious…just a beautiful tasting cake.

  24. Hey Sally – I want to decorate this cake with rosettes all around. Does this cream cheese icing hold up well to piping?

    1. Hi Jess – as long as you refrigerate it for 30 minutes prior to piping, it will hold its shape nicely.

  25. Do you think this would work with orange?

    1. Absolutely!

  26. Robin Walton says:

    I just made this cake for Easter and received many compliments. I would like to make a few comments to help other bakers. ( I make all my cakes from scratch so baking is not foreign to me.) I used three 9″ cake pans for this recipe. My layers came out 3/4″ thick, which was thinner than I had expected, even tho I sifted the AP flour twice and alternated adding dry & wet ingredients to the batter. All my ingredients were at room temperature. The cake was also denser, not quite to a pound cake denseness, than I had expected but it was not dry and the texture was very nice. The denseness actually suited the frosting much better than if the cake had been light & spongy. (The layers will not turn a golden brown on top so be careful not to overbake them.) If you are looking for a very tart lemony cake layer then you will need to adjust the recipe. As is, the cake layer gives a pleasing hint of lemon but it’s not overwhelming. I added a thin layer of lemon curd over each layer and let it set before adding the frosting. I think this addition really helped make the cake a success. The frosting is an excellent blend of lemon and sweet and spreads nicely. (I made a double batch, but a batch and a half would have been plenty.). After frosting the cake, you will need to refrigerate it to help the frosting to set well. If you have trouble frosting the sides of the cake, then refrigerate it after spreading on a thin layer, then add more frosting and refrigerate again. After frosting, my cake was 3.25″ tall with frosting layers at least 1/4″. Bring the cake to room temp before serving. It slices nicely. I will make this cake again.

  27. I woke up on Easter morning, a day after we got married and received a marble turntable for cakes, and decided I wanted to make a lemon cake. I had a bunch of lemons left after making the lemon bars and lemon meringue pie last weekend. All I needed for this recipe was the cream cheese so I sent the new hubby on his way to the store while I made the cake. Friends came over and were so impressed by the taste of this cake that I am now the designated baker for all future gatherings. I love it!

    1. What a lovely gift and sounds like it was a lovely celebration!

  28. Can I substitute the butter milk with regular milk? Or any other type of milk?

    1. Whole milk would be best. Enjoy!

  29. Hi Sally,
    This cake looks yummy!
    Will this be ok to be covered with fondant please?

    Thank you.
    Suzi

    1. Hi Suzi! Yes, you can cover this lemon cake with fondant.

  30. I made this recipe as cupcakes and as a cake. Holy moly, what a beautiful texture! Light as air! The flavor is very subtle and leaves a sweet, lemony aftertaste. I haven’t tried it with the frosting yet but I also plan on making a lemon curd to really pack a punch.

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