Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Time for another layer cake! Not quite 14 layers like this guy, but just as fabulous. If you’re a lemon dessert lover like I am, meet our crowning glory.

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

This lemon layer cake recipe is adapted from the most popular cake recipe on my blog: lemon blueberry layer 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 zest for lemon layer cake on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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.

How to sift flour on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Lemon cake batter on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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!!!

Creamy rich lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting made with butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and lemon juice. Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Creamy rich lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting made with butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and lemon juice. Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Glides on effortlessly.

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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:

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

If you love lemon cake, you’ll adore my lemon bars and lemon meringue pie!

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Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

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 (345g) sifted all-purpose flour* (spoon & leveled)
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk
  • 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: 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: Whole milk or 2% milk can be substituted for buttermilk. I don’t recommend lower fat or fat free milk.
  5. Dense Cake: *Updated 2019* Added 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for extra rise after some readers reported a dense texture. This addition helps!
  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.

Moist lemon cake with creamy lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting! Delicious homemade lemon cake recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

460 Comments

  1. Hi Sally,

    I am so excited to try this recipe for my Moms 60th birthday. However, wondering how I could adjust recipe for 2 layers of 12 inch round pan? Thank you!

  2. Hi Sarah!
    I want to try this recipe but with blueberries incorporated into the cake? How many cups would you suggest and would it taste good with the cream cheese frosting? Thanks!

    1. 1 and 1/2 cups of fresh blueberries is fantastic in this cake recipe. If using frozen, do not thaw. With either, toss them in 1 Tablespoon of flour before folding into the cake batter.

  3. 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.

  4. 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. 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. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

    2. I’ve had lots of success with cakes from this site. But I had the same problem with this one: followed the directions exactly but my cakes came out very dense and underdone even though toothpick came out clean. I baked for 25 minutes. Maybe I’ll try with 3 eggs. The flavor was great.

    1. I don’t recommend replacing the buttermilk with yogurt. The batter will be too thick. I recommend sticking with the written recipe.

  9. I’m not rating this just yet. I want to wait until I try it, which will be tonight or tomorrow. I have tried several of your recipes and all are wonderful! Can’t wait to try this one.

    1. I’ve made this recipe twice; following directions carefully and both times the layers are not even an inch in height; barely three quarters of an inch high. Used a fresh can of baking powder for the second time; no noticeable difference. The description says “towering beauty?” Any suggestions? Thank you—it did smell good, but the appearance is disappointing to say the least.

      1. Hi Meredith! Some readers have reported back with fluffier (taller!) results when leaving out 1 egg in the recipe. (In case you want to try the recipe again!)

  10. Hey there, this cake recipe sounds delicious & that buttercream even more! I was wondering though, do you think I could mix the cream cheese and lemon juice to a recipe of already made buttercream to make your lemon cream cheese buttercream!?

    1. Hi Natt! I fear the texture would be a little off– adding cream cheese, especially, to already prepared buttercream could be difficult. It may not “cream” into a smooth consistency. You’ll likely have chunks of cream cheese! I recommend following the frosting recipe as written.

  11. Hello Sally

    I have made your red velvet cake and we loved it! . I now want to try out this lemon cake for a friend who loves lemon cake with lemon glazing. Do you think this cake will taste nice with lemon glaze instead of cream cheese buttercream? Let me have your thoughts.

  12. Sally,
    I want to incorporate raspberries into this cake, just a little. I am using a raspberry coulis for the filling, I thought it might look pretty when cut. What do you recommend? Also do you have a white chocolate cream cheese frosting recipe?

    1. Hi Christi! I don’t have a white chocolate cream cheese frosting recipe. A raspberry coulis would be lovely in the center, but I recommend adding a thin layer of buttercream, then a thin layer of coulis between each layer. Just raspberry coulis would be a little too soft and thin as a filling.

  13. 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. Thanks, Sally! That’s a great idea — that way, the squishy fillings wouldn’t bleed into the cake, but the fillings also wouldn’t overwhelm the cake layers. I’ll give it a shot this weekend 🙂

      2. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. Hi Sally, I`m planning on 2 layers of 8-inch pan. I`ll adjust the proportions of the recipe accordingly. Any advise on the baking time and temperature? Also, I was really surprised to see 600g of sugar in the frosting (I don`t really take sweets). Can I reduce it to less than 200g?

    1. Hi Wendy! The bake time yields on the height of the cakes, but using a toothpick helps determine doneness. Bake the layers at 350F. This recipe yields a lot of frosting since it’s a large cake with layers. It’s sweet, too! Keep in mind that reducing the sugar will thin out the frosting and it could taste greasy. Less sweet fresh whipped cream is a lovely topping/filling for this cake though!

      1. This is probably too late but for anyone who might be wondering about it – yes, you absolutely can make a homemade buttermilk with milk and lemon juice or vinegar. I always do this )

    1. Hi Ruby! Line the cake pans with parchment paper rounds. Run a thin sharp knife around the edges of the cooled cakes, then invert the cake pan on the counter. The cakes will slide right out. 🙂

  16. 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. 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! 🙂

  17. 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. Absolutly horrible recipe…. I sifted the flour and used less .. still tasted like a short cake (lots of flour) .. rule of thumb my dad taught me… check out all kinds of recipes and compare them to see the differance and create your own. If you compare this to others the flour is too extra. I actually thought I messed up the first time so I made the mistake or making it again and it was just horrible. I dont think I will ever trust another recipe on her site…

    1. You obviously did something wrong. This is one of the BEST cake recipes I tried and I tried a lot of them.

    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.

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