This luscious Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting is sunshine served on a plate! It’s just the right amount of sweet, melt-in-your-mouth tender, and bursting with fresh lemon flavor. This is hands-down the best lemon cake recipe I’ve ever tasted, anywhere, and quite possibly the best cake I’ve ever baked. The best part: you all agree.♥
One of the most exciting and most humbling parts of food blogging is hearing from you when you try one of my recipes.
It is incredibly meaningful to know that, of the thousands (maybe millions) of recipes out there, you selected one of mine.
In the comments below, you’ve called this lemon layer cake:
- “Super moist”
- “Perfectly fluffy,” and even
- “The best lemon cake recipe in the world”
This cake has played a special role in our family history, and your kinds words fill my heart with joy.
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. You’ll find it clearly present, but it won’t make you pucker.
Every bite of this homemade lemon cake combines a burst of citrus with melt-in-your-mouth buttery tenderness. It’s elegant, easy to make from scratch, and can turn any day into a sunny celebration.
I originally shared this recipe for my 30th birthday (see below for a flashback).
I joked that it took all three decades to find the recipe for the most perfect lemon layer cake with lemon cream cheese frosting, but it was worth it. It’s become one of our absolute favorite celebration cakes and all-around lemon desserts since.
What Makes This Cake Special?
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 fabulously simple 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.
How to Make Lemon Layer Cake from Scratch
This 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.
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
- Cake Flour. It’s lighter and airier than regular flour, making it essential for the cake’s texture. If you don’t have cake flour, you can make your own with all-purpose flour and cornstarch. See my tip in the recipe notes.
- Buttermilk. Helps create a soft, tender crumb. I used low-fat buttermilk to lighten things up.
- Egg Whites. Another key component for the cake’s light texture (save the yolks to make Banana Ice Cream).
- Lemon Zest + Extract. The flavor stars! Lemon extract has a concentrated flavor, which helps the lemon shine.
- Butter. Adds rich flavor and gives the cake its melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
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. Go for it! This is a delicious frosting.
- Powdered Sugar. Adds sweetness without taking it over the edge.
- Lemon Juice + Zest. Bold, bright, and zippy lemon flavor.
- Vanilla. I love using vanilla in lemon recipes because it enhances their flavor.
- Sift together the dry ingredients. Mix the buttermilk and egg whites together.
- Rub the sugar and lemon zest together (this releases the lemon flavor!), then cream in the butter and lemon extract.
- Add the dry and wet ingredients, alternating the two.
- Pour the batter into two parchment-lined cake pans, and smooth the tops. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 350 degrees F. Let cool to room temperature.
- Prepare the frosting, then frost and decorate the cake as desired. (If possible let the cake set for about 40 minutes.) Slice and ENJOY!
Tips for the Best Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
- Check Expiration Dates. To ensure that your cake tastes great and rises properly, check the expiration dates on your baking ingredients to make sure they’re still fresh.
- Use Cake Flour. 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 the instructions listed under the recipe below.
- Use Lemon Extract. While you can add lemon juice to cake batter, I do not recommend it for this recipe, as it can alter the acidity level. Lemon extract is the best choice for the cake, but you will use lemon juice in the cream cheese frosting.
- 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.
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 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 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. *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 Blueberry Cake. Try this equally delicious Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake.
- 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 .
- To Use Almond Flour. I do not recommend making this cake with almond flour. If that’s all you have on hand, try this crowd-pleasing Almond Flour Cake with Lemon instead.
Make Ahead and Storage Tips
- 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.
More Delicious Celebration Cake Recipes
- Coconut Flour Cake
- Pink Cake
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake
- Mocha Cake
- Banana Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
Recommended Tools Make This Cake
- Cake Pans. Ideal for this recipe (and many other delicious cake recipes).
- Parchment Paper. Prevents your cake from sticking to the pan.
- Icing Spatula. Perfect for frosting cakes. I also have my eye on this set of three.
Whatever the occasion, I hope this sunny lemon cake recipe brings a smile to your face and joy to your taste buds!
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.
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