Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
One of the best, most exciting, and most humbling parts of food blogging is hearing from you when you make one of my recipes. It is always meaningful to hear from you and know that, of the thousands (maybe millions) of recipes out there, you chose one of mine. I am especially honored when you make one of my recipes, like today’s Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting, for a special celebration, such as a birthday or anniversary. Of all the recipes on my site, this lemon layer cake has been a part of more of your celebrations than any other. You’ve called it “super moist,” “easy,” “perfectly fluffy,” and even the “best lemon cake recipe in the world.”
Lemon desserts always make me think of spring, so I wanted to take a moment to reshare this lemon layer cake recipe with you and add a video for it too.
I originally baked this super moist lemon layer cake for my 30th birthday. Because when you are a food blogger, when you want a lemon birthday cake, you bake it yourself—and it’s funny to read through the old post now. I decided to leave the original post unedited because, now nearly a year later, it’s interesting (and a little humorous) to be able to look back on how I was feeling when I hit the big 3-0. How will I feel at 31? Only this year’s birthday cake post will tell.
Without further ado: how I felt turning 30 (which you can definitely skip) and the Best Lemon Layer Cake in The World (which you definitely should not!).
The Best Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
It took me 30 years to find the recipe for the most perfect, fluffy lemon layer cake with lemon cream cheese frosting. It’s been worth the wait. Despite feeling more unsettled than I care to admit about turning The Big 3-0 today, I can cling to one comforting certainty: if the next year of my life is 1/30th as good as this lemon birthday cake, I am in for an excellent 365 days.
I realize that the online image-appropriate thing to do is to tell you that I’m typing this post with such unwavering confidence in my own security as a woman in her 30s, and the firm clicking of my laptop keys is drowning out the sounds of the espresso machine at the hip, urban coffee shop where I’m currently hanging out with other hip, urban 30-year-olds.
The less image-appropriate truth is…I’m typing this from my couch while eating chocolate chip coconut oil cookies and drinking an $8 bottle of red wine I bought at Trader Joe’s.
OK FINE, that’s not entirely true—the wine cost $7.
I’ve been watching May 1st approach on my calendar the way one watches an ex-boyfriend or irritating co-worker in public: furtively, without eye contact, and with the desperate hope to escape before he or she walks over and starts a conversation. Avoidance is a delicate art, and my 30th birthday is tenacious. It’s arrived, taken its place at my table, and pulled out its fork. I may as well as well sit down with it and pull mine out too.
Please come and join us, my three decades of life and me, for a giant slice of the most luscious lemon layer cake with lemon cream cheese frosting.
It’s the best lemon cake recipe I’ve ever tasted, anywhere, and quite possibly the best cake I’ve ever baked.
It’s also just one of the many things I want to celebrate today.
Although I’m feeling a little funky about turning 30, I have an incredible number of blessings in my life that I want to honor and appreciate today.
Thirty doesn’t look like I thought it would when I was in high school. If you had asked 17-year-old Erin what 30-year-old Erin would be doing, she would have told you that at 30, I would be a happy stay-at-home mom with four well-dressed, angelically mannered children, living in or near my hometown.
She also would have assumed that the people I call family and see the most often would be the same people as my family in high school, and that my friend crowd would be similar too. Overall, my world as a 30-year old wouldn’t look much different than my world at 17. I would just be smarter, prettier, and have everything all figured out.
Cue real-life 30.
I’m not even on Baby #1 (let alone Baby #4), live in Wisconsin, work a job that didn’t exist when I was 17, and have hardly anything figured out. Seventeen-year-old me did get one thing right though: I am happy. So, so happy. And blessed. And crazy busy. I adore it. I have best friends in cities I never knew I’d call home, a husband who I love more deeply than I realized was possible to feel towards another human being, and a family that I never imagined, but whom I love so much too.
On Friday, I received one of the biggest surprises of my life when I ran into my mom and stepdad in the Milwaukee airport. They’d flown to Milwaukee to surprise me for my 30th birthday, and we happened to be on the same connecting flight from Atlanta, they coming from Wichita and me from my trip to Louisiana. In the same moment I realized they’d done this special thing for me, my stepdad told me that he is officially cancer-free. Honestly, it was one of the best moments of my life.
This afternoon, they’ll join us for the 30th birthday party that Ben’s family (my new family) is throwing for me. With the exception of my mom, every single guest at that party will be someone I’ve grown to love, but whom 17-year-old me never could have imagined. I feel closer than ever to two of my best friends who are unable to attend, but whom I know are celebrating with us in spirit, my younger sisters. Seventeen-year-old me never wouldn’t have expected that. Nor would she have guessed that her then 12-year-old younger sister would be picking out her 30th birthday outfit.
I’m not bringing the dessert this afternoon (Ben’s family wouldn’t let me), but I cannot imagine a cake more perfect for any celebration than lemon layer cake with lemon cream cheese frosting.
Sunshine Lover’s Lemon Layer Cake
The best way I can describe this lemon layer cake is that it tastes like sunshine. The cake crumb is sublimely soft and fluffy, the lemon flavor balanced and fresh, and the creaminess of the frosting exquisite. Every bite of this lemon cake combines a burst of citrus with melt-in-your-mouth buttery tenderness.
This lemon layer cake is also fabulously simple to work with and frost. Despite being super moist, the cake layers are easy to trim and stack. This lemon layer cake also slices cleanly and looks beautiful on the plate, an important quality in any cake you hope to serve at a party.
I filled the lemon cake layers with the same lemon cream cheese frosting that is outside the cake (which tasted fabulous), but if you 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.
If you are looking for a classic lemon cake that requires less assembly than a layer cake but is still ultra impressive, try my stellar Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake or this classic Lemon Poke Cake. It has the same level of fabulous-ness as this lemon layer cake, but in breezy bundt cake form.
More Birthday Cake Recipes
- 29th birthday: Mocha Cake
- 28th birthday: Almond Joy Cake
- 27th birthday: Banana Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
Tools Used to Make This Cake
- 8-inch round cake pans
- Parchment paper (for a shortcut, you can also purchase pre-cut parchment paper circles)
- Offset icing spatula (I also have my eye on this set of three)
To my wonderful friends and family, and to you my readers, THANK YOU for making my birthday so special. Because of you, I have more blessings than I can count and so much to look forward to this year and in the ones to follow!
Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
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 (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces)
- 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
FOR THE LEMON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING:
- 8 ounces cream cheese — softened
- 1 stick — 8 tablespoons or 4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
- 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
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 8x2-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, then butter the parchment.
- 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.
- 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.
- *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.
- Cake layers can be baked 1 day in advance—cool completely then wrap airtight and store at room temperature.
- Frosting can be prepared 1 day in advance—place in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Fully frosted or unfrosted cakes can be frozen for up to 2 months—let thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature prior to serving.
Nutrition InformationAmount per serving (1 (of 12)) — Calories: 519, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 14g, Cholesterol: 65mg, Sodium: 229mg, Carbohydrates: 72g, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 55g, Protein: 7g
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