Lemon Cake with lemon cream cheese frosting is sunshine served on a plate! Perfectly sweet and melt-in-your-mouth tender, this lemon cake recipe is positively bursting with bright lemon flavor.

Beautifully frosted lemon cake with lemon cream cheese frosting and lemon slices on top

Pin this recipe on Pinterest to save for later

Pin It!

Of all the wonderful lemon recipes on my site (from the best Lemon Bars to Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake), this fluffy lemon cake takes the crown.

Among lemon desserts, this is hands-down the best lemon cake recipe I’ve ever tasted, anywhere, and quite possibly the best cake I’ve ever baked.

In the comments below, you’ve called this simple lemon cake recipe:

  • “Super moist”
  • “Easy”
  • “Perfectly fluffy,” and even
  • “The best lemon cake recipe in the world”

As for the frosting: its creaminess is exquisite.

It’s not overly sweet, thanks to the tang of the cream cheese to balance it out.

Between the cake and the frosting, the amount of lemon is perfect.

It’s elegant, easy to make from scratch, and can turn any day into a sunny celebration.

Lemon layer cake with lemon cream cheese frosting on a cake stand with birthday candles, ribbons and fresh flowers

5 Star Review

“This is a beautiful and delicious cake. The crumb is tender and soft. The level of that lemon flavor you would expect from a lemon cake is perfect!”

— Barbara —

The Very Best Lemon Cake Recipe

Here are just a few of the reasons why this cake deserves a spot at your table.

It’s 100% worth making lemon cake from scratch.

  • The cake crumb is sublimely soft and fluffy but still holds together when you cut into it.
  • The lemon flavor is balanced and fresh.
  • The layers are easy to work with and frost.
  • It slices cleanly and looks beautiful on the plate, an important quality in any cake, especially a celebratory layer cake.
Slice of lemon layer cake with lemon cream cheese frosting on a white dessert plate

How to Make Lemon Cake from Scratch

This lemon cake comes together easily with just a handful of simple ingredients.

Top it off with tangy lemon cream cheese frosting for a truly special treat.


The Ingredients

While I wouldn’t consider this a healthy lemon cake, it’s absolutely worth the indulgence (remind yourself that you are baking with real, simple ingredients, not making lemon cake with cake mix).

For the Lemon Cake Batter

  • Cake Flour. It’s lighter and airier than regular flour, making it essential for the cake’s texture.

Substitution Tip!

Cake flour is very important for making this recipe light and fluffy. If you don’t have cake flour on hand, you can make your own using all-purpose flour and cornstarch. See the instructions listed at the end of the recipe card below.

  • Egg Whites. Another key component for the cake’s light texture (save the yolks to make Banana Ice Cream).
  • Buttermilk. Helps create a tender crumb.

Substitution Tip!

If you don’t regularly keep buttermilk on hand, you can make your own homemade buttermilk substitute.

  • Mix 1 cup of milk with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar and let it sit for 5 minutes. Then add to the recipe as directed.
  • Lemon Zest + Lemon Extract. How you make lemon flavor cake! Lemon extract has a concentrated flavor, which helps the lemon shine.

What Does Lemon Do to a Cake?

Lemon can significantly impact the outcome of your cake. While you can add lemon juice to cake mix (like this Lemon Poppy Seed Cake), I do not recommend lemon juice for this recipe, as it can alter the acidity level which can affect the rise of the cake and the overall flavor.

If you can’t find lemon extract, opt for extra zest in the cake rather than swapping lemon juice.

  • Butter. How does lemon cake taste like pure melt-in-your-mouth goodness? Butter is the answer! It adds rich flavor and ensures a moist lemon cake recipe.
  • Baking Powder. Acts as a leavener to make this cake rise.

For the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Cream Cheese. It gives the frosting body, balances the sweetness, and gives it a pleasantly tangy flavor. Personally, I prefer lemon cream cheese frosting to a lemon buttercream.
  • Butter. Gives the frosting some structure and subtle richness.
  • Powdered Sugar. Adds sweetness without taking it over the edge.
  • Lemon Juice + Lemon Zest. Bold, bright, and zippy lemon flavor.
  • Vanilla. I love using vanilla in lemon recipes because it enhances the flavor.

TIP!

Check Expiration Dates. To ensure that your cake tastes great and rises properly, check the expiration dates on your baking ingredients (especially the baking powder) to make sure they’re still fresh.

The Directions

  1. Sift together the dry ingredients. Mix the buttermilk and egg whites together.
  2. Rub the sugar and lemon zest together (this releases the lemon flavor!), then cream in the butter and lemon extract.
  3. Add the dry and wet ingredients, alternating the two.
  4. Pour the batter into two parchment-lined cake pans, and smooth the tops. Bake lemon cake for 30 to 35 minutes at 350 degrees F. Let cool to room temperature.
  5. Prepare the frosting, then frost and decorate the cake as desired. (If possible let the cake sit for about 40 minutes.) Slice and ENJOY!

TIP!

Serve at Room Temperature. If possible, serve this at room temperature for the best lemon flavor. Since it’s stored in the refrigerator, I like to take it out before we sit down to dinner to give it adequate time to warm up prior to dessert.

A simple lemon cake recipe decorated with cream cheese frosting, flowers, and candles

Lemon Cake Recipe Variations

  • Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd. I filled the cake layers with the same frosting that is on the outside (which tasted fabulous), but if you’d like, you can transform it into a lemon curd layer cake by using lemon curd between the layers, then spreading the lemon cream cheese frosting on the cake’s outside.
  • Lemon Sheet Cake. This small lemon cake recipe doesn’t yield quite enough batter for a full 9×13-inch pan, but if you don’t mind a cake that is somewhat thinner, you can experiment with it or try making 1.5 times the recipe. Bake it at the same temperature indicated in the recipe, but be sure to check early, as it might finish more quickly. *NOTE* I have not tried this myself, so it would be a complete experiment. I recommend reading through the comments also, as several readers have shared experiences with baking the cake in assorted pan sizes.
  • Lemon Cupcakes. Readers have reported they have used this recipe to make 24-26 standard-size cupcakes. Bake at the same temperature for about 16 minutes. Be sure to use paper liners so they don’t stick.
  • Lemon Blueberry Cake. Gently fold blueberries into the batter (coat them with a little flour first to prevent sinking).
  • To Use Cake Mix. While I don’t recommend making this particular lemon layer cake from mix, my Grandma Dorothy’s top-rated Lemon Poke Cake is one of the best lemon cake recipes with cake mix.
  • Lemon Cake with Almond Flour. I do not recommend making this cake with almond flour. If you’re looking for a gluten-free lemon cake, try this crowd-pleasing Almond Flour Cake with Lemon instead.
  • Vegan Lemon Cake. One reader reported being able to make a great vegan version of this lemon cake recipe by making an egg substitute out of cornstarch and instead of the buttermilk, using almond milk with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar added. As always, feel free to experiment.
lemon layer cake recipe frosted with lemon cream cheese frosting, topped with fresh lemon slices

Storage Tips

  • To Store. Cover the cake, and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Let it come to room temperature before serving.
  • To Freeze. Freeze lemon cake for up to 2 months. Let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bring it to room temperature before serving.

Meal Prep Tip

Bake the cake layers up to 1 day in advance, let them cool completely, then wrap airtight. Store them at room temperature until ready to frost. Frosting can be prepared 1 day in advance and stored in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator.

What to Serve with Lemon Cake

Healthy Lemon Cake topped with lemon cream cheese frosting, fresh spring flowers, and candles

Recommended Tools

Essential Stand Mixer

Let’s be honest: a lemon layer cake recipe can be a lot of work. The stand mixer makes it much more manageable!

lemon layer cake frosted with lemon cream cheese frosting, garnished with lemon slices

Did you make this recipe?

Let me know what you thought!

Leave a rating below in the comments and let me know how you liked the recipe.

I hope you all love this bright slice of cream-cheese frosted sunshine as much as we do!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Use Oil instead of Butter?

If you’re wondering if you can make this lemon cake with oil instead of butter, I wouldn’t recommend this swap. Butter is very important to this particular cake’s flavor and texture so avoid using oil in this recipe.

If you’d prefer to make a cake with oil, try this Polenta Cake instead. It’s almost like a lemon pound cake.

Can I Make a Three Tier Lemon Cake?

Definitely! Double the recipe, making the lemon cake recipe twice. There will be some mix leftover, so you can bake an extra layer to save for later or turn it into cupcakes.

Can I Use 9-Inch Pans?

Yes, you can double the recipe and use 9-inch pans instead. Many readers have reported success with this change.

lemon layer cake frosted with lemon cream cheese frosting, garnished with lemon slices

Lemon Cake

4.82 from 169 votes
Learn how to make Lemon Cake from scratch with this simple lemon cake recipe. Moist, buttery, and bursting with bright lemon flavor!

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 35 mins
Total: 3 hrs

Servings: 12 servings

Ingredients
  

FOR THE LEMON CAKE:

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour*
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder I recommend aluminum free
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature (equivalent to 8 tablespoons or 4 ounces)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract

FOR THE LEMON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING:

  • 8 ounces  cream cheese softened
  • 1 stick unsalted butter softened (equivalent to 8 tablespoons or 4 ounces)
  • 2 3/4  cups powdered sugar sifted
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice divided (from about 1/2 a large lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions
 

  • Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 8×2-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, then butter the parchment too.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites until combined.
  • Place the granulated sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a standing mixer or a large mixing bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and beat on medium speed for 3 full minutes, until very light and fluffy. Beat in the lemon extract.
  • Beating on medium speed, add one-third of the flour mixture, then half of the egg/buttermilk mixture and beat until combined. Still beating on medium speed, add the next third of the dry ingredients, then the remaining eggs/buttermilk. Beat until the batter is smooth, then add the remaining dry ingredients. Beat for 2 additional minutes on medium speed, ensuring the batter is very well combined and that plenty of air has been beaten into it.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber or offset spatula. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen, spring back lightly when touched, and a small knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Place the cake pans on a wire rack and let cool 5 minutes, then run a dull knife around the sides of the cake to loosen. Gently invert the cake into your hand so that it comes out of the pan, remove the paper liner, then place the cake directly back onto the wire rack, bottom (flat) side down and right-side up. Let cool to room temperature.
  • Prepare the frosting: Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until smooth and no lumps remain, about 3 full minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low, then add the powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla extract, and salt. Once the sugar begins to incorporate, increase the mixer to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon lemon juice to thin if desired.
  • Frost the cake: First, using a large serrated knife, trim the tops off the cake layers to create a flat surface. Place 1 layer on your cake plate or stand. Tuck wax or parchment paper strips underneath the edges of the cake to protect the plate. Evenly cover the top with lemon cream cheese frosting. Place the second cake layer on top, cut-side down. Top with more frosting and spread the frosting down around the sides. Decorate as desired. You can slice the cake right away, but for the cleanest cut, refrigerate the frosted cake or place in a cool room for 40 minutes to set. Let the cake come as close to room temperature as possible prior to serving—serving cold can cause some of the fresh lemon flavor to be hard to taste.

Notes

  • *Cake flour is important for this recipe to ensure the layers are extra fluffy and light. If you do not have cake flour, you can make your own by measuring 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, removing 5 tablespoons of the measured flour, adding 5 tablespoons of cornstarch, then sifting the mixture together 5 times. Measure out the 2 1/4 c. needed for the recipe, then bake as directed.
  • To Make Ahead. Bake the cake layers up to 1 day in advance, let them cool completely, then wrap airtight. Store them at room temperature until ready to frost. Frosting can be prepared 1 day in advance and stored in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator.
  • To Store. Cover the cake, and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Let it come to room temperature before serving.
  • To Freeze. Freeze your frosted or unfrosted cake for up to 2 months. Let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bring it to room temperature before serving.

Nutrition

Serving: 1(of 12)Calories: 479kcalCarbohydrates: 73gProtein: 6gFat: 19gSaturated Fat: 12gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 52mgPotassium: 235mgFiber: 1gSugar: 54gVitamin A: 588IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 111mgIron: 1mg

Join today and start saving your favorite recipes

Create an account to easily save your favorite projects and tutorials.

Register

More Lemon Dessert Recipes

If you enjoy lemon as much as I do, you’ll love these other lemon dessert recipes:

Did you try this recipe?

I want to see!

Follow @wellplated on Instagram, snap a photo, and tag it #wellplated. I love to know what you are making!

Share this Article

Pin

This post contains some affiliate links, which means that I make a small commission off items you purchase at no additional cost to you.

You May Also Like

Free Email Series
5 Secrets for Cooking Tasty and Healthy
My secrets for making wholesome meals you'll WANT to eat.

Erin Clarke

Hi, I'm Erin Clarke, and I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food that's affordable, easy-to-make, and best of all DELISH. I'm the author and recipe developer here at wellplated.com and of The Well Plated Cookbook. I adore both sweets and veggies, and I am on a mission to save you time and dishes. WELCOME!

Learn more about Erin

Leave a Comment

Did you make this recipe?

Don't forget to leave a review!

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe Rating




594 Comments

Leave a comment

  1. my batter became really wet ugh,,, I dont know what went wrong, but I didn’t know how to make the buttermilk so I made the milk hot and put the butter in and melted it and then i put the egg when it was still hot. And i added everything together and it didnt work. Idk but the recipe is awesome

    1. Hi Kylie! I recommend purchasing buttermilk at the store to make things easier for next time. Also, heating the ingredients is likely part of what caused the cake to not come out as intended. Once you purchase buttermilk, you can follow the directions as written. I hope this helps for next time!

  2. Yes 👋 I made this recipe the cake I haven’t yet made the frosting. Was this cake was to brown on top? The cake is done I know that much. I made a total 4 cakes ima make one 3 Layer the other one for me to have. My friend asked me to make her a lemon 🍋 cake I was searching a great recipe for a lemon cake and guess what you popped up you have recipe so I’m giving it a try I want to ask you about this frosting I am a a beginner in baking. I love baking cooking. 😋 Oh let me get back to my question about the the Frosting can I make Rosetta will it hold up? This will be my first time try to decorate this cake with this frosting. Can it be done?5 stars

    1. Hi Patricia! While the softness of this frosting may make it difficult to pipe, other readers have done so with success. If you decide to try it too, I’d love to hear how it goes! I hope the cake is a hit!

  3. I made this recipe into cupcakes for my hubby’s birthday and they were a hit! 350 degrees, 16 min 30 sec (high altitude) made them come out like heaven! I followed the recipe and was so thankful you added the “how to make cake flour” instructions… The lemon flavor is perfect, the cake is both light and moist, and the cream cheese frosting is just WOW!!! 10/10, will make again!!5 stars

    1. I’m so happy that you enjoyed the recipe, Brittainy! Thank you for sharing this kind review!

  4. I had to search this website to find out that you are American. So I had to Google how much milliliters is one American cup size. And then had to do math to get to your equivalent recipe amount. It is 532ml. Had to do the same for the rest of the recipes in terms of cups and ounces.

    Sad to say that the batter was so thick, and I fear this cake will be a huge disaster.

    Please develop a button that toggles between US and Metric options. This is the internet and there may be others from overseas that do not work in your idea of cups and weight measurements.

    I look forward to a reply. So hopefully my next time around it won’t be an EPIC FAILURE like it was today.

    1. I’m so sorry you had trouble converting the ingredients for this recipe, Jeremy. I’ll certainly keep this in mind going forward. I hope you were able to enjoy the cake!

  5. Saw all the raving reviews so made this cake for a family member’s birthday. I made this recipe as described with the exception of turning the batter into 3 layers instead of 2, with of course a shorter baking time. The taste was fine (I filled one layer with the frosting, one with lemon curd and added berries in between) but it was FAR from light and fluffy. A bit disappointed. Won’t be making this again.2 stars

    1. I’m sorry this recipe didn’t turn out as you hoped. I (and many other readers) have really enjoyed this cake, so I wish it would’ve been a hit for you too!

  6. I made a huge efford to follow the recipe precicely. And I’m usually a good baker. The frosting was so runny I took one half of it, added a WHOLE Cup of Cornstarch and three cups of powdered sugar just to get anywhere near stiff….. Had to throw away so much good ingredients. I guess the ammount of creamcheese ist way to hig. Would not recommend.1 star

    1. I’m sorry this recipe didn’t turn out as you hoped, Salo. I (and many other readers) have really enjoyed this cake, so I wish it would’ve been a hit for you too!

    2. If batter is runny, it doesn’t mean the recipe is wrong necessarily. The best chocolate cake I’ve ever made is super runny from a hot water ingredient, and the best sourdough bread I’ve made is from super wet dough. You have to follow the recipe to the T, then review it to be an honest accurate review. You can’t assume the recipe is wrong, make all kinds of changes, then say it’s a bad recipe in your review, when it’s very possibke your changes could have made it not turn out. Just sayin.’ Happy baking!

  7. A+ for the delicious cake. What I appreciate the most about this recipe is the thoughtful explanation of the steps and why they are needed. I also am grateful for the substitutions for various ingredients. Thank you!!5 stars

  8. Love this cake. Followed the directions -went a little over board with the lemon zest. Definitely will make again.5 stars

  9. Hi there, I would class myself as well versed in the kitchen. I chose this recipe because of the lemon description. It is for a birthday cake for my neice next weekend. I have made the cake and followed the instructions-no variations. I am perplexed by the non use of the egg yolks. I made the egg white/buttermilk mixture and used accordingly. I was expecting to see something like: now add the egg yolks. But it never did, so I did not use them. The cake looks beautiful right out of the oven. But it did not rise very much-maybe because no yolks? I don’t know. Anyways, I would hope that you can clarify the recipe- no egg yolks, right? I have not decorated this yet but I will complete the cake and fingers crossed for next weekend!! Thank you.3 stars

    1. Hi Max! I am not sure what you mean when you say “I would hope that you can clarify the recipe…” As you see in the ingredients there are only 4 egg whites in the recipe and no egg yolks. Also I talk a little about use egg whites in the blog post. I am sorry to hear your cake didn’t rise. Each cake won’t be more than 2 inches thick if using the same pans as suggested in the post.

  10. The cake is very dense and pretty dry (I even cooked for less time than called for.) I weighed all the ingredients, etc but this cake was definitely underwhelming for the amount of effort involved. The frosting was good though.2 stars

    1. I’m sorry you to hear had trouble with the recipe, Emily. I know it’s frustrating to try a new recipe and not have it turn out. I (and many other readers) have enjoyed them, so I really wish they would’ve been a hit for you too! It’s hard to say what went wrong without being in the kitchen with you.

  11. I made this for a party. I did two, one after the other in a pyrex 9×13 glass pan. I had to cook it longer. When I put a knife into middle of the First one, it sunk a little but I continued to cook. That one my husband got to keep as I cut into it to see how it was; it was light and delicious a bit overcooked, but he was happy.. . On my next one, I still cooked at same temp. but maybe should have turned it down to 325 and cooked even longer. I did add about 20 mins to the time and it was too much. The cake itself is light and delicious and the icing is yummy. Still experimenting….but love the recipe. I have a pic but to sure how to add it.5 stars

  12. Amazing flavour! A lot of steps but well worth it. Nice tip for creating cake flour. The frosting should be eaten by the spoonful. Not low in calories I’m sure, but if one is going to splurge, this fresh taste is the way to go. This cake looked and tasted amazing.5 stars

  13. Such a fantastic cake. Have made it a couple of times and it is enjoyed by all.
    The frosting is light and airy.
    I decided to put lemon curd(homemade) between the layers.
    I refrigerated the frosting to thicken it up to pipe the perimeter between the layers.
    Yummy cake!5 stars

  14. Hi Erin, I am really excited to try making this for my baby shower, but I’m thinking of adding in some raspberries for color. Do you think that it would be best to coat them in flour and fold them into the batter or to add them to the frosting layer in the middle? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Julia! Honestly I wouldn’t add them to the batter, I just have no idea how the end result would be. You may have better luck adding them to your icing or in between the layers. If you decide to experiment, let me know how it goes!

  15. Oh my god… the NICEST lemon cake I have ever made, and I’ve tried around 10 different recipes now! 😍 So light and fluffy! I used the buttermilk substitute as per the recipe, used a tbsp lemon juice instead of extract and used 250g sugar instead of 300g as I’m not used to using so much and it turned out great! Cake flour is not widely available where I’m from so I used the method at the end of the recipe and it seemed to work just fine, in case anyone else has a similar problem. Thanks for such a lovely recipe, it’s my new fave 😋5 stars

  16. I love this recipe! Made it for a birthday party and a hit! Any chance you would post the weight measurements? That would be very helpful!

    1. Hi Lauren! Unfortunately, I’m not able to provide metric measurements. There are several online conversion sites—one good one is from King Arthur! Here’s the link: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/ingredient-weight-chart. I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe!

  17. I would say I’m an excellent baker. The ingredients seem like they would make a delicious cake. I was shocked to see you don’t have a conversation button for metric weight, weighing your ingredients ensures for a perfect cake every time. I wish you had the weights instead of trying to make a cake the old fashioned way using cups. I think that’s why so many people are having trouble with consistency, and texture issues.

    1. Hi Teresa, unfortunately, I’m not able to provide metric measurements. There are several online conversion sites—one good one is from King Arthur! Here’s the link: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/ingredient-weight-chart.

  18. I made this cake today for a birthday. I am an experienced baker and the cake fell in the middle immediately. I live at a high altitude and had questioned the amount of baking powder (tablespoon). I had never used that much baking powder but decided to trust the recipe and decreased the amount slightly. Even so It looked like it rose too quickly and then fell. I’m very disappointed and don’t have time to try again.

    1. I’m sorry you to hear had trouble with the recipe, Monica! I know it’s frustrating to try a new recipe and not have it turn out. I (and many other readers) have enjoyed the cake, so I really wish it would’ve been a hit for you too! Unfortunately I don’t have experience with high altitude baking so that was likely the culprit.

Load More Comments