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. Hi Sally, Do you have any idea, on how to make the frosting a bit denser, the frosting is really great, but qhen i try to make a rosette, on the side of the cake it was melting a bit till I place it straightaway to the fridge.

    1. Hi Leah, for a sturdier buttercream, you can replace the cream cheese with butter in the frosting. Add another 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar.

  2. I made your cake with gluten free flour in a large cookie sheet. Got a nice thin layer that I sliced and stacked, filling with your lemon cream cheese frosting. Super delish, very tender. I also made a simple syrup with lemon and sugar that I brushed the cake with while still warm, after I removed from the pan. Got rave reviews. Excellent recipe.

  3. Hello Sally my daughter and I baked this cake to test it to see if she wanted it for her birthday cake and she loves it I’m glad you said something about it being dense because that’s how it was when we baked it so I will definitely add extra baking powder. I do have a question since we’re using this recipe for her birthday cake I’m making a geode cake with it and I’m using 3 8″ x 3″ cake pans can you tell me if I should double or even triple the recipe what about the oven temperature and bake time? Thank you for your wonderful recipes I enjoy them with my family so much!

    1. I’m so glad she loved it! This recipe is written for three 9-inch cake pans so you don’t have to change anything for three 8-inch pans. Your layers will be a bit thicker than mine but same oven temperature and approximately the same bake time. Be sure to tag me in a photo of the geode cake if you post one so I can see it!

  4. Could I seperate the eggs and whip the whites then add them at the end? Would that help to make it less dense too?

    1. Hi Maryam! I do that with my red velvet cake to lift up the crumb and you can definitely try it here, too.

  5. This cake is amazing. I have never made a from scratch cake before today. It’s so moist and fluffy. I made a couple changes. I sifted each cup of flour as I added it to the egg,butter sugar mixture. I also used less sugar in the icing only 3 cups and added a bit more lemon flavor to both the batter as well as the icing. Man ole man is it good.

  6. I made them tonight for a rehearsal dinner tomorrow night. I made cupcakes. They are so good! I followed the recipe and I can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks! They are not to sweet and not to tart. Thank you for the recipe.

  7. I don’t have a mixer with a paddle – I have a hand mixer and the lowest speed still seems really fast. When I made the recipe the second time I thought it was a little dry. I’m sure it is because I over beat the butter and sugar. Can I mix it by hand?
    Thank you!

  8. Hi Sally and Team,

    I’m the cook in the family and aside from the occasional pumpkin and banana breads, I only bake for family get togethers. I’ve twice baked the coconut cake. My wife family and extended family loved it.

    I made this lemon cake for Christmas and again.. SO GOOD. Your website is now my “baking cookbook”.

    I have one question about this recipe, has anyone tried it with limes?

    Thank you for sharing these recipes. I’m looking forward to trying more.


    1. Thank you so much, Geoffrey! You can definitely turn this into a lime cake by replacing the lemon juice/zest with lime.

  9. Absolutely love this cake. I’ve been asked to Sell it! ☺️

  10. I’ve made this recipe twice over the holiday. It received rave reviews and was voted better than the standing family favorite carrot cake my brother makes! I made it as a 2-layer cake and it cooks more quickly than I thought it would – in my oven about 25-27 minutes. The only change I added was doubling the lemon zest in the cake and adding a heaping tablespoon of zest to the icing. It was wonderful!

  11. Hello!
    I am planning on making this cake for a lemon lover’s birthday. Would I be over dramatic if I added one or two layers of your lemon curd? Do you think it would taste good altogether?
    Than you!

    1. If you really love lemon then go for it! I recommend using some frosting with the curd between layers so that they don’t slide off each other. You can see how I use lemon curd between layers in my Lemon Coconut Cake.

  12. My very first made-from-scratch cake! I used a jumbo lemon I grew on a potted lemon tree I have. I wish I could post a picture. It tastes great! Thank you!

  13. Craig Coleman says:

    Thank you for the recipe it was my first time making a lemon cake (I’m more of a cheesecake guy). It went over well I made it for my bosses pot luck birthday they loved it but we are always harder on ourselves than others. To me I will add a bit more lemon for taste and the cake was not dry but not very moist as I like it. The buttercream was great although I only used 4 cups of confectioners sugar. I will definitely make this again, thanks for the recipe.

  14. Thank you for is wonderful recipe, the taste of my cake and frosting was great, but my cake didn’t rise the way I expected. Thank you

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the taste of this cake! Be sure that you are using sifted all-purpose flour. Sifting the flour aerates it, creating an overall fluffier cake, so don’t skip this step.

  15. can you cover this cake with rolled icing? I have been asked to make a friends 30th birthday cake and they have requested lemon and I don’t often make lemon cakes so trying to find a yummy recipe that is also suitable to cover and decorate as they have requested.

    1. Hi Megan, Do you mean covering the cake with fondant? I haven’t personally tried it but I have had other readers report back with success!

  16. Would this also transfer well to 4 8” pans or would there not be enough batter? thanks sally! i love all your recipes!!

    1. Hi Cheryl, there’s enough batter. The cakes will be slightly thinner. If you’re ever interested, I have an entire post dedicated to Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions.

  17. Hi Sally,

    Lemon cake looks very beautiful and yummy.. I am baking for the first time for my husband’s birthday.. After referring so many other websites i felt ur recipe is more easily understandable and love the way you explain..
    I will be baking this cake on a 2 6 inch pans.
    I need to know what would be the baking time and do i need to keep the pans beside each other with space in the centre or on 2 different racks?
    I am using the cup cake recipe for my 2 layered 6 inch cake pans.
    Is my below measurements for cream cheese buttercream is correct?
    Unsalted butter – 3/4cup
    Cream cheese – 8oz
    Powdered Sugar – 4 cups
    Fresh lemon – 1 tbsp
    Salt – 1/2tsp

    Thank you

    1. Hi Manasa, My recipe for Lemon Cupcakes fits perfectly in to three 6-inch cake pans. You can follow the baking directions and all of my tips in my post 6 Inch Cake Recipes.

  18. This was amazing! I took it to a gathering and everyone loved it…and asked for the recipe 🙂 I ended up using about 1/8 c. More lemon juice in the cake mix, and I added about 1 T. Zest to the frosting, because I had it left over after juicing and testing 3 fairly small lemons. It had a great lemony zing! I will definitely make this again!! Thanks for the recipe!

  19. Hi Sally!
    I’m planning to use this recipe for the 9″ tier of a wedding cake (using your tutorial as a guide, of course!). I’ll be alternating lemon curd and a raspberry filling between layers, and would love to get six layers for each tier. Are these cake layers thick enough to cut in half lengthwise? Or should I increase the recipe by 1.5x? Thanks for the help, and for your incredible recipes. You are my go-to for all things baking.

    1. Hi Jackie, That sounds delicious! Each layer isn’t super thick so they would be very thin to cut in half. I don’t recommend doubling any cake recipe, instead make it twice for the best texture.

  20. Brooklyn Kate says:

    My brother wants a blood orange cake for his birthday. Could I use blood orange for this cake instead of lemons? would I need to adjust the sugar and would that mess with the cake consistency? I love your recipes and I only trust your blog for cakes!

    1. Hi Brooklyn, I have not tested this cake with blood oranges. You can certainly try it, but yes they are sweeter and adjusting the sugar would take some recipe testing. You can also make my Glazed Orange Bundt Cake and use blood oranges instead of cara cara oranges.

  21. Hi Sally,

    My mother in law requested this cake for her birthday. For some reason, the only buttermilk I can find at stores around here is a low fat buttermilk. Would you recommend I use that, a buttermilk substitute (like white vinegar mixed into regular milk), or whole milk?

    1. Hi Sera! I’ve made this cake (and many other cakes) with low fat buttermilk with no problem.

  22. This was delicious! Even better the second day.

  23. I would like to bake this in a Bundt pan. Would the measurements of the ingredients change at all? And what about baking time?

    1. Hi Carol! For a Bundt cake I recommend my Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake.
      You can leave out the poppy seeds if you wish!

  24. Hi Sally – I’ve made this cake twice now. Once as cake balls with your lemon buttercream and once as a layer cake. Both times a hit!! I’ve had another request for lemon cake – but need to make a 12in round layer for a two tier cake. So after reading your pan conversion article and looking on line at wiltons pan info. I’m thinking a 12 in round would be similar to making in a 9x 13 and use the one batch of batter since a 12 in round takes about 7 cups of batter. Any thoughts? Thanks in advance for any input

    1. You can definitely try it, Tracy! I’m unsure of the exact bake time.

      1. I tested it today & thought I’d share the results Incase anyone else wanted to know. I used the entire batch of batter in a Wilton 12×2 in round pan. Bake time was 35-40 min. The cake layer was 1.5 inches tall and baked nice and level – wouldn’t Actually need to level it Love this cake!

  25. Made this cake for my mom’s birthday. Opted for lemon buttercream frosting instead, as she is not a fan of cream cheese. Absolutely delicious!!!! The cake was so moist and full of flavor. I’ll definitely be making this again!

  26. Ririn Wuriani says:

    I made it yesterday and my fam do like it very much. Really-amazing delicious..!! Lots of thanks from Bandung-Indonesia, for all your yummy cake recipes, Sally..

  27. I made half of the recipe and baked it in a small copper mold. I may have used a bit more lemon juice and zest. The cake was perfect.

  28. Yum! Thank you so much for this recipe, it was delicious!!

  29. If I have fresh limes but not fresh lemons could I substitute. Obviously I know it would be lime flavored instead of lemon? My daughter just gave me 5 limes.

    1. Yes, limes should work for a different flavor. Enjoy!

    2. Hi. Did the limes work? I’m interested in using for a key lime cake. Thank you

  30. I was hoping to bake this recipe with three layers, but only have 2 pans.
    How much batter would you recommend be left aside for the third layer after the first 2 are done?


    1. Hi Karla, you’ll have about 7 cups of batter total, so you need a little more than 2 cups per cake.

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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