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.

Not just among lemon desserts, this is hands-down the best lemon layer 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 lemon layer 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

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.
Slice of lemon layer cake with lemon cream cheese frosting on a white dessert plate

How to Make Lemon 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.


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

  • 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. I used low-fat buttermilk to lighten things up.

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 + Extract. The flavor stars! Lemon extract has a concentrated flavor, which helps the lemon shine.

Ingredient Note

While you can put lemon juice in cake batter, I do not recommend it 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. Adds rich flavor and gives the cake its melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

Substitution Tip!

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. Try this Polenta Cake instead.

  • Baking Powder. Acts as a levener to make this cake rise and become fluffy.

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 + 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 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 set 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 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 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 lemon cake for up to 2 months. Let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bring it to room temperature before serving.

Pair this with

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

Recommended Tools

Essential Stand Mixer

Let’s be honest: layer cake 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!

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

Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

4.96 from 121 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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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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457 Comments

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    1. Hi Ann! I’d add extra lemon zest to the batter at the same time that you cream the butter and sugar. I hope you love it!

    1. Hi Stephanie! I’ve never tried this as anything but a round layer cake, and this cake recipe doesn’t actually yield quite enough batter for a full 9×13-inch pan in the thickness you are probably hoping for. If you don’t mind a cake that is somewhat thinner, you can certainly experiment! Bake at the same temperature as indicated in the recipe, but be sure to check the cake early, as it might finish more quickly since the layers are somewhat thinner.

  1. 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! The cream cheese butter cream is delightful.
    Thank you for sharing!5 stars

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