Luscious lemon cake layers, homemade lemon curd, with light and fluffy frosting make this an instant classic that you need in your repertoire!
Anyone else obsessed with lemon desserts?? Why are they SO good?? I swear they are better than any other flavor out there. Chocolate cake can’t even compete.
Today, I’m bringing you a Classic Lemon Cake recipe. It’s a slightly modified version of my Lemon Elderflower and Lemon Blueberry cakes. A scaled-down version that lets the pure lemon flavor shine through. I’ve paired it why my new favorite Ermine frosting.
My friend Crystal has been
harassing encouraging me for weeks (months?) to making a Lemon Cake. I’ve been focussing on tutorials and cake components this year, but it was high time for a new cake recipe.
Bonus: I had a bunch of stuff in my freezer already (lemon curd, ermine frosting) from my tutorials, so this one was easy to whip together.
How to Make this Lemon Cake
As you know, I don’t like to use artificial flavoring or extracts if I can help it. This recipe uses only fresh squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest for the flavor in the cake layers and the lemon curd. It’s really the only way to go!
You’ll need about 2-3 lemons total to make the cake & lemon curd.
This is a simple butter cake consisting of:
- all-purpose flour (cake flour is ok)
- baking powder
- unsalted butter
- granulated sugar
- lemon zest
- large eggs
- milk (any milk will work)
- lemon juice
You can use regular lemons or Meyer lemons (a fave). I couldn’t find any so regular lemons it was.
Make sure to zest your lemons before you juice them. It’s just easier. My favorite zester is from Microplane. It does an amazing job of zesting without getting any of the white pith. You definitely do not want that. It’s bitter and will give your cake and curd an off-putting taste.
This lemon cake uses a standard creaming method. Make sure to throw that zest right in there with the butter and sugar when you’re creaming them. It will help release all of that delicious flavor from the zest.
This cake batter is SO good. I can’t recommend eating cake batter because it’s not food-safe and could be dangerous but omg I couldn’t resist.
It’s just as delicious in baked form though!
Homemade Lemon Curd
Homemade lemon curd is one of the best things ever. Sure, you can just buy it instead, but it’s so easy and satisfying to make that you really don’t need to.
I have a detailed tutorial on How to Make Lemon Curd, but it really is very simple. You can actually make this with any citrus fruit or berries. There are lots of possibilities. Key lime curd is some of my favorite.
For the buttercream, I chose to pair the cake with a simple, vanilla frosting so that the lemon would stand out (and I had a batch of ermine frosting sitting in my freezer from my post a couple of weeks ago).
This frosting is softer and more difficult to work with than a Swiss meringue buttercream or an American buttercream, but it’s very easy to make, and I find it easier to work with than a cream cheese frosting.
Any frosting you choose though will be a delicious accompaniment to this cake.
I decorated the cake with some simple fresh lemon slices along the bottom, rosette dollops piped with a 1M piping tip, and some fresh lemon curd and zest.
Simple and delicious. The best combination. Ryan, who’s not a fan of fruit desserts, was less-than-thrilled that most of this cake went to Crystal and her family. And tbh, I regret giving so much away too. Hah. I see another lemon cake in the near future.
I hope you love this cake as much as we do. Let me know if you try it!
Frequently Asked Questions:
How can I convert this recipe?
- The recipe as-is will also work in two 8″ pans. For three 8″ pans, 1.5x the recipe. Baking time may need to be adjusted.
- To make cupcakes, all you need to do is reduce the baking time — start checking at 15mins or so. The recipe will make 18-24 cupcakes depending on size.
- For other conversions go here.
Can I make it in advance?
- The cooled cake layers can be baked ahead of time, double wrapped in plastic wrap, and frozen for up to 3 months. Take out 2-3 hours before assembly.
- The frosting can be placed in an airtight container and refrigerated for 1 week for frozen for 3 months. Bring to room temp and rewhip before using.
- The cooled lemon curd can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.
- The finished cake (whole or sliced, stored airtight) can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Can I get the measurements by weight/grams?
- There is a Metric option in the recipe card. If you click it it will convert everything to grams.
- This conversion is done automatically and I cannot guarantee the accuracy but many readers have had success using the metric option for this recipe.
Tips for this Lemon Cake Recipe
- Make sure to use fresh-squeezed lemon juice and zest for this recipe for best flavor.
- Cream the lemon zest with the butter and sugar to help release the lemon flavor and oils.
- Be sure to check my Ermine Frosting and Lemon Curd tutorials for tips and troubleshooting.
- If you prefer, you can use a Swiss meringue buttercream, an American buttercream, or a Cream Cheese Frosting instead.
- I like to prepare my cake pans using Homemade Cake Release then line with parchment.
- Learn how to keep your cakes moist using Simple Syrup.
- To help ensure your cake layers bake up nice and flat, check out my How to Bake Flat Cakes post!
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 Tbsp lemon zest from one large lemon or 2 medium
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 3/4 cup milk room temperature
- 1/4 cup lemon juice fresh squeezed, from one large lemon
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup lemon juice fresh squeezed, from one large lemon
- 2 tsp lemon zest from one large lemon
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter cubed
Vanilla Ermine Frosting:
- 8 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- pinch salt
- 2 cups milk
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups unsalted butter room temperature
- lemon slices
- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour three 6" cake rounds and line with parchment.
- In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt until well combined. Set aside.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and lemon zest until smooth. Add sugar and beat on med-high until pale and fluffy (approx 3mins).
- Reduce speed and add eggs one at a time fully incorporating after each addition. Add vanilla.
- Alternate adding flour mixture with milk & lemon juice, beginning and ending with flour (3 additions of flour and 2 of milk & lemon juice). Fully incorporating after each addition.
- Spread batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops.
- Bake for about 30-35mins or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.
- Place cakes on wire rack to cool for 10mins then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.
- Place eggs and sugar into a small pot, whisk to combine. Add lemon juice, zest, and butter. Cook over medium-low heat whisking constantly until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
- Transfer to a glass bowl and lay plastic wrap directly on surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill for 2 hours to set.
Vanilla Ermine Frosting
- Place sugar, flour, and salt into a medium saucepan. Whisk to combine.
- Add milk and vanilla, stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils. Continue cooking while stirring constantly for 1-2 more minutes until the mixture thickens to a pudding-like consistency. Remove from heat.
- Pour into a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on top of to prevent a skin from forming.
- Cool to room temperature.*
- Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the (room temperature) butter on high until pale and fluffy (3 mins).
- Add the (room temperature) flour mixture 1 Tbsp at a time, incorporating well after each addition. Beat for 2-3mins until smooth and fluffy.
- Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or serving plate. Poke holes into the cake using a bamboo skewer and drizzle with simple syrup if desired.
- Spread a thin layer of buttercream on top of the layer and pipe a border around the outside to hold the lemon curd in. Fill with about 1/3 of lemon curd. Repeat with next layer.
- Place final layer on top and do a thin crumb coat on the cake. Chill for 20mins.
- Frost the top and sides of the cake. Smooth with an icing scraper.
- Pipe rosette dollops using a 1M tip with remainder of frosting. Chill for 20mins. Fill the top with the remaining lemon curd.
- Decorate the bottom with thin sliced of lemon and sprinkle the top with lemon zest if desired.
David kvedaras says
i love it lemon cake sounds nice yummy
Hi David! I hope you try it 🙂
Hi Liv, this cake recipe is amazing and when I first took them out the oven they were lovely and springy but I left to cool at room temperature overnight before icing and in the morning they were really dense and not usable. If I was to substitute the butter for vegetable oil for a lighter cake how much would I need and would that change the ratios of the other ingredients?
Hi Jerrica! My cakes tend to be more on the dense side rather than light and fluffy, but it shouldn’t be too dense and should rise to the top the cake pans. Overly dense cakes can be from overmixing the cake batter once the flour is added (it develops too much gluten) or not using room temperature ingredients so the cake batter doesn’t emulsify properly. I haven’t made this cake with oil myself but you would replace the butter in equal parts. Or you could do part butter part oil. The oil will change the texture and leave a greasier mouthfeel, just keep that in mind!
Kara Leistyna says
Liv, Your cakes always come out amazing! I always turn to your recipes. I’ve made the Ermine frosting before and it came out fine but his time it came out very buttery and kind of pasty. What did I do wrong? Did I over cook the roux? Is the roux supposed to be like pudding after cooling? Keep the recipes and post coming! Thank you!
Hi Kara! Hmm, I can’t say I’ve seen that before. Have a look at my detailed tutorial to see if that will help 🙂 https://livforcake.com/ermine-frosting/
I’m so excited to bake this but I’ve got a potentially ridiculous question – would using Meyer lemons in curd and cake batter alter the overall taste of the cake? I’ve never tasted them but was recommended to use them and am now wondering if I’ll still have that tarty taste of a lemon dessert with Meyer lemons.
I’ll be sure to come back and drop a rated comment when I make this and could really do with your inputs on my question! 🙂
Hi Karishma! Meyer lemons are sooo delicious and you could totally use them here! Meyer lemons are a little bit sweeter but you will still have that tartness. You could reduce the sugar in the recipe if you like, but I dont think it’s necessary.
as with all your cakes that I’ve made, this one was a huge hit! So, thank you for sharing your wonderful recipes! However, I keep running into an issue with butter-based sponges: the cake is delicious and soft right after I make it, but the next day, it tends to be extremely dense and tough, even if I freeze it over night to make sure it’s super fresh. One thing that may be at stake is my potential over-mixing of the batter, since it takes a minute to incorporate the dry and wet ingredients together. Otherwise, I make sure the cake is never over-baked, and I adjust my ingredients since I live above 5000 ft. I never have this issue when substituting vegetable oil for butter. The cakes end up being much more moist and last a lot longer. Do you think that vegetable oil may be a better ‘medium’ for me given that I live in altitude? Or is there any other trick that I could use when baking with butter so that I don’t end up with rock hard cakes? Thank you so much!
Hi Petra! Vegetable oil will always make for a softer cake because it’s a liquid at room temperature vs butter which firms up. Butter-based cakes will be especially more noticeably dense when chilled (though they should soften again at room temperature and not be overly dense). I’m not sure what adjustments you’ve made for baking at high altitude as that could have something to do with it. If you find vegetable oil works better then I would just stick with using that 🙂
Thank you, Olivia! I use the general high altitude baking guideline available online or actually from your book – I’ve experimented a lot and thought that I found a good solution. Generally, more liquid in the batter and less baking time does the trick! But, I do wonder whether overmixing may be the culprit. I will try again and if all else fails, I will stick to the vegetable oil. Thank you so much! And I love your book collection – so glad I purchased it! 🙂
Hi! Which type of flour do you prefer for this cake…cake or all purpose flour?
Hi Frank! I use AP but you can replace it with cake flour if you like. It will make a slightly fluffier cake.
If I wanted to bake a 8” cake pan instead, how long is the bake time?
Hi Cheyenne! For two 8″ cake pans baking time will be similar, but every oven bakes differently so be sure to check on the cakes as they are baking. Here are my tips for testing if a cake is done:
1. Peek through the oven window. To see if the cakes are a nice golden brown (doesn’t really work for chocolate cakes).
2. Nudge the oven. Gently nudge your oven (assuming it’s free-standing and not built-in). If there is any jiggle in the center of the cakes, leave the oven door closed and bake for a few minutes longer.
3. Nudge the pans. Open the oven and gently nudge the pans. If there is any jiggle in the center of the cakes, close the oven door and bake for a few minutes longer.
4. Poke the cake. Gently poke the top of the cake with your finger. If the cake is firm and springs back, it’s ready for the next step.
5. Toothpick test. Insert a toothpick into the middle of the cake. When there are a few crumbs on the toothpick, the cake is ready. You want crumbs on there because the cake keeps cooking when you take it out of the oven.
Hello! This cake is sooo good! I made it for my coworkers bridal shower & everyone loved it. I’m having one problem though. I have never had such tippy or unstable cakes before. I’m not sure if it’s because the frosting is softer than American buttercream or because of the lemon curd filling (I have a feeling it’s the later). Do you have any tips?
Hi Alexa! Soft fillings will make cakes a little less stable for sure. I do a thick dam of buttercream to hold the filling in and sometimes chill each layer so the dam sets before stacking. For more stability though you could do a dam with white chocolate ganache. That would give the best structure as it sets quite firm.
Hi – I was wondering how deep the 8inch pans are that you are using? I have 4x 8inch pans that are 0.59 inch high which I believe are thinner than your recipes.
What would you recommend in this case?
Hi Chantalle! Mine are all 2″ deep. Those are really shallow. I’m not sure I’d recommend baking this one in ones so thin. You can give it a try though and make cupcakes with any extra batter.