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

635 Comments

Comments are closed.

  1. Melissa Vincent says:

    This cake was AMAZING! The flavor was right on as was the moist texture. I received raves regarding the frosting. Thank you for an awesome recipe.

    1. You are welcome, Melissa! Glad it was a hit 🙂

  2. I sometimes do that as well! It makes zero difference in the final baked good, but alternating makes mixing a little easier and quicker.

  3. Absolutely brilliant cake and now a favourite. Made it twice in 2 days as it was a trial run for my daughter’s birthday (she requested lemon) and I’m not a fan of the drizzle cake. Took it to work and received many compliments. Thank you it was worth the search and I hit on the right one!

    1. I’m thrilled that you found a lemon cake that worked for you! I hope she had a great birthday 🙂

  4. Hi sally, I am thinking of making this for my son’s wedding. I have few questions.
    Can I use this cake as a nude cake?
    Is it stackable and how early can I make this.
    Thanks

    1. Lemon makes a wonderful wedding cake flavor! Yes, it can be a naked cake and you should be able to stack it with the right supports in place if you are making multiple tiers. Please see the make ahead tips at the end of the recipe for make ahead directions 🙂

  5. I always come to your site first for recipes, Sally. I deviated, and tried a recipe my sister swears by…which my family didn’t like it at all. I also didn’t like it. So, today I tried a 1/2 recipe of your lemon cake. I made 2 6″ rounds. It is really good!!! I am a fan of all purpose flour vs cake flour, and I am not a fan of the reverse creaming method, so I was happy to see your recipe. Dense, but not tight and pound cake like. I added a little extra zest and switched the vanilla for lemon extract. As I like tall cakes, and each layer here is around 1- 1 1/4″ tall, would you suggest the full recipe in 2 6″ or doubling the recipe? Sometimes I torte my layers, but when I don’t, I like my layers to be around 1 1/2″ tall, at least. Thanks Sally!!!

    1. Hi Paula! I’m so happy you trust my recipes. I really appreciate that! The full recipe would be way too much for 2 6-inch cake pans. I would still make the full recipe though and fill the cake pans about 2/3 – 3/4 full. You could even do 3 layers that way then. Use any extra batter for cupcakes, if desired.

      1. Thanks Sally!! Will pair nicely with my homemade lemon curd…and I will try your lemon cream cheese buttercream as well!!!!

      2. Sorry for so many comments/questions! Can this recipe be double in the same bowl??

  6. Hi Sally. I love your recipes. You are my go to for my baking fixes. Can I put fresh blueberries in batter to make it a lemon blueberry cake?

    1. Absolutely! It would be this cake with lemon frosting: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2014/02/09/lemon-blueberry-layer-cake/

  7. Looks delicious! Can’t wait to try it .
    Thanks for responding so quickly.

  8. Just made. Easy and tasty…well it is for tomorrow. I am a lemon lover and most all cake recipes call for so little actual lemon juice. I picked your recipe because it actually has a good amount of lemon juice.

    1. No shortage of lemon here 🙂 I hope you enjoy it, Cheri!!

  9. Sally, can this recipe be doubled?

    1. Hi Paula! I strongly recommend making the batter twice instead of doubling it all at once. Double the batter means you could over or undermix, ruining the final texture of the cake.

  10. This is such a great cake! I have tried to make lemon cakes in the past but they were just “so-so”. This one made everyone at work make “yummy” noises. It really is delicious and not difficult to create. I already had most of the ingredients and I made it on the “spur of the moment”. Lots of satisfied folks . Thank you for sharing.

  11. Hi Sally!

    Lemon cakes are my husband’s favorite but he does not like cream cheese. Any suggestions for a different frosting? Can’t wait to make this! Your recipes always bring me huge success!!

    Viviana

    1. Hi Viviana! How about vanilla buttercream, lemon buttercream, or even strawberry buttercream. To make sure you have enough for this cake, I recommend 1.5x any of the frostings linked.

  12. Dear Sally,

    What do you recommend f I have a small oven and only one 9” pan fits at a time? Can I leave the batter in the second pan until the first one is done or will this affect the batter?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Zara! Yep, just keep the leftover batter covered tightly as the other layer bakes and repeat for the 3rd layer.

      1. Thank you Sally! Is this the case with all your cakes or is it mostly cakes with baking soda that will be affected?

  13. Jennifer Andersen says:

    I’ve got two layers cooling on the counter. The swipe of batter I tasted after scraping the mixing bowl was AMAZING. I’m positive that making the lemon buttercream will put this cake over the top!

    Your recipes never disappoint. Thanks again.

  14. My cake fell completely in the pans. I used 2 pans instead of 3. It looked ok when I took it out of the oven but fell within 5 minutes or less
    I tested it and it was done. Very sad it didn’t turn out. Any suggestions of why this happened? Will have to try so.ething else for my friends birthday.

    1. Hi Cheryl! It’s simply too much batter for only 2 cake pans. I suggest using 3. You can bake 2 at a time, then leave the remaining batter covered at room temperature until the pan is ready again.

  15. Will this recipe support fondant for decorating?

    1. Yes, that shouldn’t be a problem.

  16. Hi Sally, can i use an organic gluten free flour instead? thanks.

    1. Hi Sylvia! I have very little experience with GF flour, but let me know if you try it and how it goes. Sorry I can’t be more help!

  17. Hi there. Lemon cake is our fav too so anxious to try this. If I make a 13 x 9, should I just frost the top or try to cut the cake to make two layers? If only one 13 x 9 layer, is 1/2 frosting recipe adequate quantity?
    Thank you!!

    1. Hi Candice! I recommend leaving it as a single layer 9×13 inch cake. You can halve the frosting recipe, yes.

      1. Thanks, Sally. It’s in the oven now; how long do you suggest for the time, guessing about 40 mins, checking with toothpick along the way. The batter is FAB!!

  18. Is that 1 tablespoon of baking powder or is it 1 teaspoon? Will try this cake this week.

    1. 1 Tablespoon

  19. Hi Sally
    I want make this recipe as a tall cake. Any suggestions? I was thinking about (4) 6 inch pans

    1. Hi Paulette! This lemon cake recipe makes a lot of batter. You’ll probably fill about 8 6-inch pans!

  20. So normally I don’t make cakes by creaming the butter and sugar. I start out by combining my wet ingredients, then my sugar and then the rest of the dry. why you do so in this recipe?

    1. Hi Claire! Creaming butter and sugar together is a very common method to starting cake recipes. It creates a light and airy base to the overall cake’s texture.

  21. Hi Sally. I made this recipe exactly as stated but the cake is not yellow like yours. Did you add food coloring? Thanks

    1. I didn’t. Between the lemon juice, butter, and egg yolks– it usually turns out pretty yellow!

  22. Ok, I did use the exact ingredients (real butter, yellow yolk eggs, and fresh squeezed lemons) so not sure. Thanks

  23. Absolutly amazing. I followed entire recipe exactly and this was my first homemade cake I have ever made. Very easy and tasty. I used lemons right off my lemon tree here in AZ! I will be making this many many more times.

    1. YAY! So fun that this was your first homemade cake!! Can’t wait to hear what you try next 🙂

  24. Hi Sally,
    I am hoping to use this cake recipe for a rainbow layer cake for my daughter’s birthday party. I trialled a bake with a white chocolate mud which came together well, but I am not fond of white chocolate mud- I chose it as I thought the texture of the cake would be easier for me to handle as a novice baker.

    I wonder if you think this recipe would be suitable for a rainbow cake. (1) will the batter colour up nicely and (2) is the baked cake loose and crumbly which will make it hard for me to cut the tops and sides off the layers, and then hard to frost. It certainly looks delicious and if I weren’t worried about having to colour, layer and decorate it, it would definitely be my cake of choice!

    Thanks for your time.
    Elin
    Melbourne, Australia

    1. Hi Elin! Thank you so much for asking me and I’m happy to help! This cake would be fantastic for a rainbow cake. You may need to play around with the colors a bit because this cake (and batter) are a little yellow. When cooled, the cakes layer off nicely and easily. No matter what, cakes are easier to frost when cold so you can always chill the layers in the refrigerator before assembling.

      1. Thank you for taking the time to reply!! I feel more confident now and will definitely give it a trial today. x

      2. Hi Sally, just a midway report. So I baked the cake layers yesterday and everything went well!! I was a little hesitant at first because the batter looked very runny- I had to use a lot of food colouring (shh!! don’t tell the parents) in order to get the colours to come through vibrantly- I offset it by sprinkling a bit more flour while I was mixing the colours in. When the cake layers were baked, the colours came through fine (purple was a bit dull but others were good) but the cake felt a bit crumble and loose, and I was a little worried. I popped them in the fridge, and later that night, I took them out and cut off the sides and the tops. Well, that went so smoothly! After fridging them, the layers firmed up and handled fine. So I now have 6 beautiful layers waiting to be assembled and iced on Sat night. That will be the final hurdle. Bonus is that I tasted the offcuts and loved how the cake tasted, much more than I did the trial white chocolate mud which I baked. 🙂 I will try and make the offcuts into cake pops to decorate. I hope to have a beautiful cake to show you on Sat night! Thanks so much!
        Elin

      3. Hi I just made this recipe, and it says 3 cups flour or 345 grams < 345 grams its about 2 cups and the sugar says 1 3/4 cup or 350 grams I believe its wrong measures.

      4. Hi Margarita! Sugar is heavier than flour, so the gram measurement will be more.

    2. I hope you can post a picture of the cake for us to see.

  25. Laurie Lehman says:

    Hi Sally,

    You mentioned sifting the flour before measuring the three cups. I always sift when noted in recipe but I may have not measured post sift as you mentioned. I have been using a scale for much of my baking (at least with majority of your recipes). Am I correct that I should sift first and then weigh the sifted flour to end up with the 345 g?

    Thanks!

    P.S. I made your Halloween Peeps Sandwich Cookies for one of three daycare treats for my granddaughters. Wow! Those are so yummy! One of those “sandwiches” was my lunch my day of baking.

    1. Hi Laurie, Yes! Sift first, then measure or weigh!

  26. This recipe is excellent! In my new baking interest, I’ve followed about 5 other recipes that I googled, and this one led me to making the best cake, with a perfect amount of icing. Thanks!

  27. Laurie Lehman says:

    Planning to make this cake for my granddaughter’s birthday next week. She wants a lemon cake (for her individual cake). Also making Simply Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes for the party guests (and kids). Her theme is “Emoji” (LOL)! I want to decorate the cake using the frosting and most likely using a star tip to create an Emoji face. Will this cream cheese frosting work well? I usually use just a normal buttercream frosting when doing cakes so unsure about the cream cheese and proper consistency. I guess I can just make my normal frosting and not worry about the frosting in this recipe. The cake should taste great with a regular buttercream frosting right?

    1. Hi Laurie! What a cute sounding cake! If you’d like to pipe cream cheese frosting, I recommend refrigerating it for 30 minutes before piping. It holds its shape beautifully. Regular buttercream works with this cake too, yes!

      1. Laurie Lehman says:

        Thanks for response on my frosting question. As much as I love a cream cheese frosting I may just stick with my usual buttercream since I need to decorate to look like the cute girl winking emoji with a pink bow. I have a few days to make my final design decision. I am also thinking I could do the cream cheese frosting on the cake but then do the emoji design on a circle of fondant and then just place the fondant on top of the cake. Also my son’s birthday is in a couple weeks and I’m going to make your Black Forest cake. So funny you posted this cake because just a couple of weeks ago my son brought up his memory of a Black Forest cake my mother made for our family Christmas Eve dessert. After he mentioned that and then coincidentally your post showed up I had a great idea to make your cake for his birthday. He will be thrilled! I won’t do the Kirsch since my three young granddaughters will be eating the cake too. Have I mentioned I LOVE your site?!

  28. Great recipe! I made this cake for my brother’s birthday dinner today and it was a hit. So delicious! The cake was fluffy, extremely moist, and very flavorful. The frosting was divine. It’s definitely a keeper! Thank you Sally!

  29. Hi Sally,

    This cake looks amazing! I can’t wait to try it! I’ve seen many other recipes where the lemon cakes are filled with a form of buttercream and then a few dollops of lemon curd inside. Would this go well with this recipe? Or is the lemon taste already quite strong that adding curd in between layers would overpower it?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Selina, The addition of lemon curd wold be delicious if you enjoy a lot of lemon flavor!!

  30. Delicious recipe. Is it possible to freeze leftover icing. Thanks

    1. Yes! You can freeze the frosting for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using to decorate.

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