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 cannot describe how delicious this cake was. SO GOOD! T hank you so much Sally!

  2. Hi Sally,
    I was wondering if it’s possible to substitute butter in any cake recipe for the oil that they usually call for.

    1. Hi Barb! No, I don’t recommend it. Stick with the recipe. Oil and butter have two totally different textures, baking properties, and flavors.

  3. Cat Hanlon says:

    Hi Sally! I want to make this in a bundt pan. Have you tried this and if so, any tips for me? And… have we talked about your coconut cake? THE.BEST.CAKE.ON.THE.PLANET

    1. Hi Cat! 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!

  4. Hi, Sally

    I wanted to add fresh strawberries. Any suggestions on the best way to do so? Thank You!

    1. I cup of chopped strawberries would be delicious. I recommend blotting them since they’re particularly wet and toss them in 1 Tablespoon of flour before folding into the cake batter.

  5. This cake was lovely. I’m not a great baker but am good at following instructions so this turned out wonderful. Thanks for sharing this beautiful recipe x

  6. Can this frosting be used with a decorating tip?

    1. Yep! Avoid any super intricate tips though– it’s very creamy and won’t hold crazy shapes.

  7. Oh my goodness!!! This cake is amazing! Made today for my daughter’s birthday and it was a hit. Made it on a 9*13 pan and had to make two batches to get some height. In two of the layers I added a strawberry reduction and it paired perfectly with the lemon frosting! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Just made this today for my mother-in-law and everyone from 2-70 loved it! I was worried that the frosting wasn’t lemony enough when I tasted it in its own but with the cake it was great! Another winner!

  9. Lisa Campbell says:

    I have a question…I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong but when I insert a toothpick it comes out clean but when I touch the top it doesn’t bounce back. I took my cake out based on the toothpick method but when it cooked and I sliced it..it doesn’t look done. It has a dense almost sticky consistency in the center. Why does the toothpick come out clean but not be done? Help! Flavor is spectacular!

    1. Hey Lisa! I wonder if the wet crumbs were being “caught” by the surface of the cake when you lifted out the toothpick. That would be the only logical reason! I would bake for a few extra minutes next time. Some readers have even only used 3 eggs instead of 4, noting that the cake tasted much fluffier with only 3 eggs.

      1. Hi Sally, we loved your lemon cake recipe! I followed the instructions and it came out beautifully. I had a similar experience as Lisa did. The cake did not spring back (at all) when I touched the middle. I did bake it a few extra minutes and it worked out; I did use the 4 eggs as you specified. Maybe I’ll try 3 eggs next time. Anyway, your lemon cake recipe is a keeper–thank you!

  10. Hi, can I use self-raising flour ?

    1. Hi Eva! No, I don’t suggest it.

  11. Hi Sally:

    I’ve been thinking about making this cake, with the addition of your lemon curd between the layers. I was wondering about also adding a thin layer of raspberry coulis. But I’m concerned about how to add these things without making it sloppy.

    Right now, my theory is to:

    Pipe a ring of frosting around the edge of the bottom layer
    Spread a thin layer of coulis
    Spread a thicker layer of curd
    Add frosting?
    Add a second layer
    Rinse, repeat
    Frost the top and sides, decorating with fresh raspberries.

    What do you think? What’s the best way to add something squishy, like lemon curd, into a layer cake? Should I add frosting on top of the curd? Leave it open to the next layer?

    Thanks!

    1. Here’s what I do when I want to add something “squishy” like jam, lemon curd, or raspberry coulis… add a THIN layer of it on top of a layer of buttercream. OR you can try this beautiful piped filling that I show in this Blackberry Lavender Cake.

      1. The cake overall ended up pretty squishy, but it went in about 15 second flat, so I’m not sure anyone else noticed 😀 Thanks for a delightful recipe!

  12. Hello Sally. I made this cake and it was so delicious!
    I am amazed that you can make such cakes. I was wondering if this cake could be made in rectangle pan. You know when you buy cake mix it says you can either make in round, rectangle or cupcakes pan? Yeah, so I was wondering if that’s possible to do that for this cake or for other cakes. If yes, what size of pan then? Do you know?

    1. Hi Lana! Yes, you can bake this cake batter in a 9×13 inch baking pan. Same oven temperature. Bake time will be close to 40 minutes. Use a toothpick to test for doneness.

  13. Absolutely mind blowingly deliciousness ! Thank you for this amazing recipe.

  14. Barb Burkham says:

    Unbelievably good. Just the right amount of lemon flavor. Excellent.

  15. Amy Thompson says:

    Hi Sally, i’m going to try this recipe with gluten free flour and xanthan gum. Have you tried making it gluten free before? any tips? Thanks!

    1. Hi Amy! I don’t have any experience baking with gluten free flour but other readers have reported back that they use it successfully in my recipes. Let me know if you try it!

      1. Amy Thompson says:

        Thanks for replying. I tested it at the weekend with gluten free flour and xanthan gum as planned. The flavour was spot on (I used layers of the buttercream and lemon curd) but the cake itself was dense and claggy. I’m going to do some research and try again! 🙂

  16. Hey Sally,
    Do you think this cake is sturdy enough to make into a piñata cake?
    Thank you!!

    1. Yep, that shouldn’t be a problem!

  17. Amanda Willen says:

    I am baking the cake tomorrow but wanted to go ahead and make the icing. I love the cream cheese addition but I think it is too sweet. I didnt taste ANY lemon. And I used fresh ones off the tree… I added 2 to 3 more TBSP of lemon juice and 2 tsp of cornstarch to help add some thickness back. Then atually added in lemon zest to give it more of the tang I was hoping for. Turned out awesome… I’m excited to bake the cake tomorrow morning.

  18. Cindy Behrmann says:

    Can I make this into cupcakes?

    1. Sure can! See recipe note.

  19. Amanda Willen is wrong. It’s a terrific recipe. 4th time used today.

  20. Pralez Natasha McDonald-Lofton says:

    Hi Sally. Would cake flour work with this recipe as well?

    1. It would, yes, but I 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 I wasn’t happy with the result. I like to use all-purpose flour in this lemon cake.

  21. Looking for a lemon cake to make myself for my birthday today! : ) Yours is the best bet I’ve found and looks amazing.
    What should I do if I don’t have lemons for zest, just real, organic lemon juice?

    1. Hi Krystal! Happy birthday 🙂 You can simply omit the zest- I hope you enjoy this cake!

  22. Would these cakes be sturdy enough to use in a 3 tier (6 inch, 8 inch & 10 inch) wedding cake with a raspberry filling? I am doing a trial run this week but wondering if anyone else had already done this with success?

    1. Absolutely. While I haven’t personally tried it, many readers have used this recipe for a tiered cake. Would be excellent with a raspberry filling!

  23. The denseness of this cake is unbelievable, paired with the delicious cross between buttercream and cream cheese icing and this is a win-win all day long. Thank you for providing such a beautiful recipe!

  24. Patti Weishaar says:

    Hi Sally,
    I would like to add strawberry puree between the layers, for a strawberry lemonade effect. Would that work?

    1. Definitely! How about a thick strawberry sauce instead?

  25. Thank you Sally! I made the cake yesterday in three tiers from a pan set I bought yesterday at Michael’s. I had a tiny bit of batter left and we were able to try it out last night in anticipation of today’s birthday party for my mother. My family thought I was nuts to make a cake, but I really wanted to make it since my mom is turning 90 and she likes lemon cake. I just finished making the frosting and am sitting to eat a bite of breakfast before things really get nuts. The party is at her assisted living facility with my siblings, grandchildren, great grandchildren and her younger sister and niece. Mom won’t know who any of us are until we tell her, but I felt like I wanted to make this cake. I am not an experienced baker in spite of my age since my husband has been in charge of food most of our 41 year marriage. Looking forward to becoming more experienced. Your recipes turn out great and thank you again!

  26. Great cake, easy to make and it was moist, delicious, and lemony. I made it with a vanilla buttercream as it was being made for a cream cheese hating kid’s birthday. It was delicious! I opted for 2 layers and it was perfect. Thanks for the recipe.

  27. I’ve made this recipe for 3 different birthdays (mine included) this month. It is a favorite and I was so happy to find out that it makes exactly 12 giant cupcakes.

  28. Hi Sally, this cake was absolutely beautiful but I have one problem which is the cream cheese frosting. I’ve followed so many recipes for it to the letter, and it always comes out wayyyy to thin that it literally just melts off the cake. I don’t know where I keep going wrong.

    1. Are you outside of the US? It’s a regional thing! US cream cheese is a totally different texture– very thick. Try using a little mascarpone instead of the cream cheese next time. 🙂

  29. I picked an entire bucketful of wild blackberries yesterday and now I am determined to use them in my baking 🙂 And I thought, what pairs better with blackberry than lemon? So I was wondering if I could pair this cake with your blackberry cream cheese frosting from the lemon cupcakes? Thanks Sally!

    1. Yes! You can definitely make blackberry cream cheese frosting for this layer cake. I recommend 1.5x the recipe to ensure there is enough for the 3 layers.

  30. Ingrid Cabrera says:

    Hola sally a mi me encantan todas tus recetas, sabes la crema de queso nunca me ha quedado con cuerpo siempre me queda aguada y uso mantequilla sin sal, a que se debe eso?

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