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

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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

4.88 from 156 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

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More Lemon Dessert Recipes

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

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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!

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555 Comments

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  1. This cake was delicious, my family loved it! Although, it came out very dense for me…much like a poundcake (gave gramma a run for her money as shes the one that always makes a lemon poundcake) as opposed to a fluffy cake…any insight on what may have gone wrong for me?5 stars

    1. Hi Samantha! So glad you enjoyed the cake! Thank for this kind review! I don’t have this problem so I Googled what causes a dense cake. One tip was “over-mixing cake batter produces too much air. That trapped air expands then deflates in the oven. A deflated cake is a dense cake” Hope this helps!

  2. Would be helpful to add serving size/amount for recipe ingredients. Can’t do much with this recipe without those details.

    1. Hi Angie. I’m confused because I see it on my end. The full recipe with the measurements was right in the recipe card above the area where you commented. There is also a “jump to recipe” button at the top of the page as well to help get you to the recipe card faster. Can you please double check? Thanks!

      1. Hi! Is it possible to give the measurements in weight? What would 2 1/4 cups cake flour and 2 3/4 cups powdered sugar be in grams?

        1. Hi Melissa, 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 hope you enjoy this recipe if you give it a try!

  3. Turned out absolutely delicious! Not too difficult to make and the cake turned out light and fluffy with a lovely lemon flavour . The frosting was perfect with the cake.5 stars

    1. Hi Naomi, you definitely can make the cake recipe twice. You will have extra cake mix leftover if you are only cooking three layers, or you can bake the extra layer and save it for later. Hope you enjoy it!

  4. Lemon layer cake is my husband’s favorite and he always asks for it for his birthday. I’ve tried several different recipes over the years and this is the one I always come back to. It is simple and produces a lovely moist and fluffy cake with just the right amount of sweetness and lemony flavor. The whole family loves it. I do increase the amount of frosting as the family is crazy for it so I do frost it a bit on the heavy side. Thanks for providing substitues for the cake flour and buttermilk as I did substitute both those items this time around using your instructions and we really cannot taste the difference. Well done Erin & thank you!5 stars

  5. I love the ingredients in this recipe its simple for me!I will be making this for Easter this will be my first time ever using cake flour as well thanks for sharing.🙂

  6. I am an experienced baker, and have baked and decorated wedding and birthday cakes semi-professionally.

    Made this for my birthday, and was sadly disappointed. Followed the recipe exactly, but doubled because I was using 9″ pans. The cakes once out of the pans looked and smelled beautiful. I cooled completely and then wrapped in cling wrap. The following day made the icing, which had barely any lemon flavor at all, and was very runny, so added another Tablespoon of lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon of lemon extract plus almost 2 more cups of confectioner sugar to make stiff enough to hold the filling in place. Perfection! I made lemon curd for the filling. Put the cake together and needed to refrigerate due to the lemon curd. Pulled out of the fridge about half an hour before serving.

    The cake had a very tight crumb and was surprisingly dry. And without the filling or icing, surprisingly flavorless and very underwhelming. It was not moist, it was not light. It was a very mediocre and boring excuse for a cake. My husband thought that a name brand lemon cake mix would have been an improvement.2 stars

    1. Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this cake. Myself (and others) have great results so I wished you would of too. Typically a tight crumb or dry cake is a result of over mixing or over baking. Did you adjust the time when using a 9 inch cake pan?

    2. I loved the flavor and the frosting. It was light and lemony. The cake was just dry. It was light but not fluffy or moist. I am surprised because my daughter and I worked so hard on this. I loved the flavor. I am definitely going to try again but want it moist and fluffy. Keep that lovely flavor but I hate that it was dry.3 stars

      1. I’m glad you love the flavor of this cake! It definitely should not be dry though. A few tips to help for next time: be sure to use cake flour, sift the ingredients, and alternate the wet and dry as directed. The batter might also have been overmixed. I’m glad that you enjoyed the taste, and I hope those tips help for next time!

  7. This is my go-to lemon cake recipe! Make sure the butter is at room temp so the batter gets nice and fluffy. My cakes are usually ready in 23 min. I also usually do 1.5x the frosting to have a little more to work with for birthdays.5 stars

  8. It came out like an eggy dense cake and I wanted fluffy. It’s edible but not what I wanted. I even sifted the cake flour. It had a bit of an aftertaste of baking powder. I use organic no aluminum baking powder. I used all organic ingredients. Not my favorite. Im disappointed I wasted my ingredients on this. Maybe it should be called eggy lemon cake. 😊3 stars

    1. I’m sorry to hear the recipe wasn’t to your taste, Joyce. I know it’s disappointing to try a new recipe and not enjoy it, so I truly wish it would have been a hit for you.

  9. Wow! This is the best lemon cake, maybe the BEST cake overall, I’ve ever made!! It’s very light & tasty. It has a lot of flavor, particularly lemon flavor. I made cupcakes & used a decorating tube & tip to ice them. Instead of using lemon zest as a decoration, I sprinkled tiny multicolored confetti candies on top. So pretty! I wish I could upload a picture. I hope my coworkers love them just as much when I present them at our picnic tomorrow.5 stars

  10. Wow, this is the best lemon cake I’ve tried, and made! My husband loves it & kept telling me how delicious it is, especially the frosting! My coworkers also commented on how tasty it is. I’m impressed. I used the batter to make cup cakes instead of the sheet/layer cake & it worked out well. The cake is very light, lemony & quite refreshing, & the frosting, the real star of this recipe, is also very light & refreshing. I iced the cupcakes using a piping tube then topped the icing with tiny confetti candies instead of the lemon zest & it looks very pretty. I wish I could upload a picture! I am excited about this recipe & plan to bake a sheet cake for Mother’s Day dessert.5 stars

    1. Hi Anna! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review! So glad the cupcakes worked for you!

  11. This is one of the most delicious cakes I have ever eaten. The cake layers are velvety and the icing is creamy. I will definitely make this cake again and again.5 stars

  12. Hi! I’m an amateur baker & wanted to give this recipe a go for my birthday this year, with my best friend who also loves baking. We both bake pretty often, but never professionally. I can say without a doubt – this was my favorite cake to date. Including luxury events, weddings, French bakeries… the BEST cake!

    It’s actually so good that this was the first cake I’ve made that disappeared in the first two days. Completely devoured.

    My partner’s been begging me to make it again (which is why I’m back for the recipe) but specifically requested I double it to make sure we don’t run out on the first night. Usually we have to volunteer cake slices to our neighbors, family and friends to avoid them going to waste in our three-person family. But this one is heaven-sent, irresistible.

    Ignore the poor reviews/ratings. Give this cake a shot, don’t overmix or go off recipe. It’s worth it & then some.5 stars

  13. I made this cake yesterday for my wife’s birthday. I am 73 and this was the first cake I’ve ever made. It turned out great and was a big hit with our guests too. Thank you for this recipe Erin!5 stars

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