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 extract
- 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:
- 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.