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!

Print
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

465 Comments

  1. 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?

  2. Hi Sally!

    I was thinking of making this cake in a bundt pan. Any idea on how I should change the baking temperature/time?

    1. Hi Lola! You can use this cake batter for a lemon bundt cake. Same baking temperature, but the bake time will need to be extended. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. I also have a lemon bundt cake recipe if you’re interested in that one!

    2. Hi Sally I made this cake for my friends birthday and it turned out absolutely stunning with amazing flavours. I was just wondering if I can use this for one of my friends baby shower but with 3 tiers and top it with fondant. So I will definitely have fondant covering one day before delivery with the cream cheese melt underneath as I can’t refrigerate it once it has fondant. And will the cream cheese go bad if I kept it on counter overnight. I really like the flavour with cream cheese as I am a fan of it so can u give me some tips. Thanks

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

      1. Hi Sally,

        Just wondered if this recipie can be halved to make a slightly smaller cake? Only a 2 person family and it’s only me that loves lemon cake. As much as I would like to eat an entire cake I’m not sure my clothes would agree.

  5. 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!

    1. What a special cake for a very special celebration! Thank you so much for sharing, Cheryl. Loved reading this!

  6. 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.

  7. Hi Sally,
    It’s unfortunate my cake didn’t turn out well. The inside was still uncooked well and it was dense. The colour of my cake was not yellow like yours. I don’t know what I did wrong.

  8. 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.

  9. 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. 🙂

  10. 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!

  11. 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?

  12. Can I make the cake layers a few days ahead of eating it and make the frosting the day I want to serve it? If so, should the cake be refrigerated?

    1. Hi Mary, If you are making it more than a day in advance, go ahead and tightly wrap each layer and store in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

  13. Yesterday I baked this for a family BBQ and it was so delicious they devoured it. This moist, fluffy recipe’s balance between sweet and lemony is perfect. I’ve received many compliments, thank you.

  14. Sally, if I whipped the egg whites separately and then folded them into the batter, would it yield taller, fluffier cake layers? Thanks! 🙂

  15. Hi Sally! I’ve made this 2x already and it’s always been a fave!!! I added Macadamia, candied Lemon slices, and Lemon Curd for toppings. Thank you!!! How I wish I could email you a photo Chach

  16. If I wanted to make this in 8in pans instead of 9in but only have two can the remaining batter sit out or be refrigerated while the first two bake, and would the baking time differ much?

    1. Hi Brandis! The cake batter can sit out at room temperature until the cake pans are ready again. The bake time will be a little longer since the cakes will be thicker.

  17. Looking to make this weekend. Looks so delicious! Are a few very small lumps in batter ok? I know that overmixing can sometimes produce a more dense final product.

    1. Sometimes it’s difficult to get every single lump out of the batter! But sifting the flour and making sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature will definitely help make it easier for it to all come together easier!

  18. I’ve never made a cake from scratch before, but this was very easy and it turned out amazing! I made it for my husband’s birthday and he loved it. He thought I bought it from a bakery, haha!

    The only variation I made from your recipe was adding 1/4 tsp almond extract to the batter. I do that with my chocolate chip cookies and thought I’d see how it works with cake. Delicious! Thank you

    1. YAY! I’m thrilled that you baked your first cake from scratch!! I’m so happy you enjoyed it and hope your husband had a happy birthday. 🙂

  19. Just finished baking your layered lemon cake, and it was beautiful! It was denser than I expected. If you are wanting a fluffier airy cake, I would recommend more baking soda, but I like this cake as it is – lemony and moist. Perfect!

  20. Sally! I need help! I don’t have buttermilk OR ANY MILK for that matter! What I DO have is that buttermilk blend stuff. NOW, the instructions call for adding the dry buttermilk blend with the other dry ingredients, then use water in place of the buttermilk. For some reason, it scares me. My son brought the blend so I don’t have to buy buttermilk all the time. I TRUST you is that stuff I’m uncertain of. What do you think?

    1. Hi Marion! You could definitely try it, but it would be best to get to the store and purchase the buttermilk or another milk to make the DIY buttermilk. 🙂

  21. I forgot to add, this cake is for my son’s 21st birthday and he said…make me a cake from Ms.Sally’s site. He chose the lemon one. My personal favorite is the lemon blueberry layer.

  22. Hello Sally, I made the cake yesterday with the buttermilk blend & it WORKED well! I was surprised & VERY happy with the results. I HAVE used the DIY version & for NOW, I couldn’t tell the difference. The frosting is to DIE for! It was so smooth & so easy to spread. My son was so excited & happy! Now I just have to figure out which is my favorite…the homemade strawberry one is still a top contender. THANK YOU for making baking so dang easy!

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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

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