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! I want to bake this cake for my son’s 1st birthday this weekend as a 2-layer 10 inch cake. Do you think I’d have to adjust the quantities at all? Thanks SO much, every recipe of your I’ve ever made has been AMAZING!!

  2. Jenny Sullivan says:

    After all the positive comments, I was hopeful that this one would be a crowd pleaser. Alas, I really did not like it. I followed the recipe exactly, no alterations, even down to sifting the flour. And I added candied lemons so it looked beautiful. But it was SO dense. Like a stodgy pound cake. Disappointing as I was expecting a fluffier or at least crumblier cake. To be fair, my family did like it, but as a baker, I thought it was pretty mediocre. Not making this one again.

  3. Hi Sally,

    As a fellow baker, I understand how difficult it is to dial-in a recipe to perfection. I always test a recipe exactly as written before forming opinions or making modifications. This cake was light and airy, yet textured with a moist crumble to the cake. I whipped the frosting extra long for an exceptionally light and fluffy frosting that resembled a stabilized whip cream. This is a keeper exactly as written. <3 I came home yesterday from having a uterine biopsy, and I needed a lemon cake. You know, it actually made yesterday a good day. 🙂 Thank you for such a wonderful recipe. It's a new family favorite.

    1. Thank you so much for this very thoughtful comment, Barbra! I really appreciate it and am so happy you enjoyed the cake.

  4. Hi Sally – I was trying to decide between testing your lemon layer cake and the lemon cupcakes that you say taste the same. I was comparing the two and notice you use buttermilk in the cake but milk in the cupcakes. Is there a specific reason why? Thank you!

    1. Hi Trish! This is a great question. Cakes tend to dry out easier and quicker, so I prefer to use buttermilk here– always a wonderful moisture-adding ingredient in cakes.

  5. sheryl hussey says:

    making frosting ahead q’s: can i make it 3-4 days ahead and keep refrigerated?
    will it taste as lemony, or will the lemon loose flavor? wondering about putting in lemon peel as well? does this loose flavor after a few days, or will anything happen because of the oils? tyia

    1. Hi Sheryl, The frosting won’t lose any lemon flavor if it’s refrigerated. Just cover tightly to store it and then you will want to bring leave it out at room temperature for a bit and give it a good stir before covering your cake to make it soft enough to spread easily.

  6. Just made this last week for a birthday. The cake baked up perfectly and was so light and the icing was delicious. Even had one person who was not a huge lemon fan really enjoyed the cake.
    As we speak your Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins are baking in my oven for my hubbies work and I look forward to hearing their feedback!

  7. Can you have a video showing how you got the 3 layers. I’m interested and I wished your video would show that. I made your coconut cake and that was delicious. I’m planning on trying this one.

  8. Funny story. I made this cake so I know what the picture. I recognized the photo on a Facebook Group site. The woman is selling cakes and using this picture to represent her product. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Kristi Berggren says:

    I just wanted to let you know you forgot to include the sugar in the dry ingredients list in the instructions part. I’m glad I tried the batter before baking it. 🙂 I hope it doesn’t change the texture or outcome of the cake because I added it late. We’ll see.

    1. Hello, I hope it’s OK to jump in here. The sugar is creamed with the butter before adding vanilla & eggs, so it’s not part of the dry ingredients, which are your flour & leaveners. This leaves me wondering—what did you beat with your butter? How did your cake turn out? Or did I misunderstand what you’re saying? Thanks—Stephanie

    2. Sugar is almost always considered a wet ingredient because it liquifies when heated (and what Stephanie said). To give an example I once added crushed peppermint candies (basically pure sugar) to a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe. They got runny and flat while baking and turned into hard crisp when cool.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    1. I’m thrilled that you made your first cake from scratch and that you enjoyed it so much!

  15. Thank you! I am going to make it today for tomorrow night!

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

  18. 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.

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

  20. 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!

  21. hi, i have made this previously and it was amazing. I wanted to make this again as a drip cake but need 4 layers. how do i change the recipe to make 4 layers? x

    1. Hi Saira, I’m so happy you enjoyed this cake. You can try to make 1.5 times the recipe and dividing it between 4 pans. Just be sure you only fill the pans no more than 2/3 full.

      1. thank you… when u say 1.5 more. should i just divide the original recipe by 3 and add that to the original? xx

  22. Making this today…if I use a 9×13, will it need the full amount of frosting or is half a recipe enough? I plan on keeping it one layer.

  23. hello,
    is this recipe enough to make a 3 layer, 6″ cake? How long do I bake this for and at what temperature?

    1. Hi Mari! I actually have a dedicated post about making 6 inch cakes that you’ll find very helpful. Give that a read and use my lemon cupcakes batter.

  24. hi Sally,

    to make 4 layers 8inch you advised to add 1.5 more of the recipe. Would this basically be me dividing each ingredient in original recipe by 3 and adding that to it?

    1. Hi Saira, you are multiplying everything by 1.5. So for example the recipe calls for 3 cups of flour, you will now need 4.5 cups of flour.

  25. 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.

  26. Hi Sally,
    I noticed many have commented about the density of the cake. What would happen if I replaced the AP with cake flour? Do you think that would help make it lighter in texture? Personally, I LOVE a good dense cake. I might try it in a bunt pan as is just to see for myself, but thought I’d ask about the cake flour to see what you thought.

    1. Hi Gina! I find cake flour too light for this particular cake batter. For the density, I’ve adjusted the recipe for more baking soda which adds considerable lift.

      1. Thank you! I will definitely give it a try!!!!

  27. 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!

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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!

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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