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!

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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


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) 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


  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.


  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


Comments are closed.

  1. Can this be made in a bundt pan?

    1. Yes, you can use this cake batter for a lemon bundt cake. I also have a lemon bundt cake recipe if you’re interested in that one!

  2. Whole or 2% milk may be substituted.

  3. This cake was so good! The icing was so amazing! The whole thing tasted so great! My family loved it so much! Thank you so much!

  4. Hi Sally, I trialed-ran this recipe for my daughter’s christening cake for end of month. It tasted great! However it the layers were rose to different levels and I felt the icing was to not hard enough. Any tips to make butter icing harden better- the cake will be standing out for an hour maybe. This is a big rookie question but if I leave batter out (covered) and bake the layers separately after each other- is that ok?

    1. Hi Gemma! Are you saying that the icing was melting or was too creamy? You can leave the cake batter out at room temperature as the other layers bake. Cover loosely as it waits.

      1. gemma cummins says:

        Hi Sally, yes, the icing was melting…
        Thanks for the tips, I will bake separately next time! Hi from Germany! Love your site!

  5. Hey,
    One question do i have to leave tge cake for 5 days in the fridge before i can eat it?
    Or does ut just mean that the cake last for 5 days?
    Might be silly to ask but im nkt reallz sure.
    Thanks a lot

    1. Hi Deborah! Those are just my storing suggestions for leftover cake.

  6. netgeek the chef says:

    Fantastic cake. Substitute 3 oranges for the lemons and I like it even better.

  7. Hi Sally. I want to make a pinata cake with this recipe. Do you suggest me 1.5x ing the recipe to make 4 layers or just doubling it and make a mini cake with the extra batter?

    1. Either way would work! Although I would suggest that you make it in two batches rather than just doubling it – you run the risk of over or under mixing the batter with that much in your mixer.

  8. Make sure you are sifting your flour. Sifting the flour aerates it, creating an overall fluffier cake. You want to sift and then measure 🙂

  9. I want to make this into a 4 layer cake. 2- 8in layers and 2- 6in layers. Will this cake handle the weight? I will be using 4 or 5 dowels.

    1. Hi Diane! This cake will hold up nicely. The crumb is sturdy.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Hi Sally! If I wanted to use this recipe for 6″ pans, do you think I could get away with halving the recipe?

    1. Hi Amanda! Yes, that should be fine but for BEST results, use my lemon cupcake recipe. Cupcake recipes translate perfectly into three layer 6 inch cakes. Bake time is 18-21 minutes.

  14. Hi Kat! To prevent the cakes from crumbling when they come out of the pan, line the pan with parchment paper rounds. For 50 people, I recommend making a few cakes. 5 should be enough! For best taste and texture, make each separately.

  15. 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!

      1. Thanks Sally! I’m thinking of trying one of those for my birthday in May!

  16. This is the type of cake we had for our Wedding , hoping to recreate it with this recipe for our anniversary in two weeks….wish me luck as I am not a baker it is the though that counts right !!!

    1. I hope you have a wonderful anniversary, Deborah!

  17. My son and I both love lemon but this cake and frosting were overpowering.

    I baked it for the proper time but it was to dry. the frosting was the better part but had to be eaten in small amounts.

  18. 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!

  19. Hi Sally,

    I am doing a Harry Potter Golden Snitch cake, will this recipe work for a sphere cake? Any changes to baking times?


    1. I have never tested this in a sphere pan! Have fun and let me know how it turns out!

  20. Jennifer Frahm says:

    Hi Sally,
    This may be a long shot, but I want to make a lavendar lemon cake. I’ve made this recipe in the past and love it because it’s so lemony and moist. I’d like a hint of lavender to the cake. I’ve done lavender buttercream in past, but I want to try adding to the cake this time.Do you have any suggestions for amount of lavender to add? Thanks!

    1. Hi Jennifer! I think that’s a fantastic idea. I’ve honestly never baked with lavender because I’m not a fan of it… but don’t use that as my suggestion NOT to try it– it’s just my personal tastebuds! If I were to try it, however, I would maybe add 2 teaspoons of edible dry lavender.

      1. Thanks! I ended up using 3 tsps because it seemed like 2 was too little compared to the amount of batter. It turned out wonderfully with just a subtle hint of lemon. I also filled with lemon curd.

  21. Hi! I’m wondering how tall this cake will be when it’s completed. I’m not an experienced baker, and am buying a cake stand with lid just for making this recipe. What are the best dimensions for a stand and lid to fit this type of cake?

    1. Each of the three layers is about 2 inches so give yourself at least 6 inches for the dome.

  22. 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?

    1. Hi Terry! All of my recipes are written for conventional ovens. Good rule of thumb: if using convection, reduce the oven temperature by 25°F and bake for a minute or 2 less.

  23. Hi Sally, I am hoping to bake this cake coming weekend for a family occasion. I have never worked with cream cheese but keen to try as your recipe sounds delish!! Could please clarify if I need to buy block cream cheese or the soft spreadable one? I am looking at using the Philadelphia brand and they do both these options. (I am an amateur baker)

    1. Block cream cheese. Hope everyone enjoys!

      1. Thank you so much, will def give you the feedback

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

  25. 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!

  26. Absolutely in love with this recipe!!! It turned out perfect….balance of flavour and texture just right. Thank you so much Sally…can’t wait to try more of your recipes

  27. 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 🙂

  28. Came out amazing. Was a family hit.

  29. 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.

  30. I really want to make a creamsicle cake, but can’t find a recipe for three layers. Do you think it would work to modify this recipe, and substitute orange zest and juice in place of the lemon? Thanks! I like and use so many of your recipes.

    1. Hi Lianna! I can’t see why not. Should be great with orange instead! Let me know how it turns out.

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I’m Sally, a cookbook author, photographer, and blogger. My goal is to give you the confidence and knowledge to cook and bake from scratch while providing quality recipes and plenty of pictures. Grab a cookie, take a seat, and have fun exploring! more about Sally