This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

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 citrus flavor.

Slice of lemon layer cake on white plate

Why You’ll Love This Lemon Layer Cake

  • The Texture is PERFECT. The crumb is moist and fluffy, but it still holds together when you cut into it. (If you like a more dense, buttery cake, try this Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake.)
  • Fresh, Lemony Flavor. The lemon is popping and present, yet balanced. (If you prefer more pucker in your lemon desserts, check out the best Lemon Bars and Lemon Tart.) And then there’s the frosting! It’s not overly sweet, thanks to the tang of the cream cheese and lemon juice.
  • Presentation. The layers are easy to work with, the cake slices neatly, and it looks beautiful on a plate—all important when it comes to a celebratory layer cake for a birthday, anniversary, or just because you deserve it.
  • Worth It. Let’s be honest, homemade cake takes effort. Making this lemon cake from scratch is 100% worth it. You’ve called it “perfectly fluffy,” “spectacular,” and even baked it for weddings. It is THAT GOOD!
Whole lemon cake on cake stand

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 —

How to Make Lemon Cake from Scratch

The Ingredients

For the Lemon Cake Batter

  • Cake Flour. It’s ground extra fine and has a lower gluten content than all-purpose flour, resulting in a lighter, fluffier cake with a tender, more delicate crumb. If you don’t have cake flour, you can make your own by swapping in some cornstarch (see recipe notes).
  • 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.
  • Lemon Zest + Lemon Extract. Lemon extract has a concentrated flavor, which helps the lemon shine.
  • 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.

For the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Cream Cheese. It gives the frosting body, balances the sweetness, and gives it a pleasantly tangy flavor.
  • 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.

The Directions

Overhead view of flour in sifter
  1. Sift the Dry Ingredients. Sifting is key for a light, tender cake.
  2. Combine the Buttermilk and Egg Whites. These are your wet ingredients.
Creamed butter and sugar in bowl
  1. Cream the Butter and Sugar. Along with the lemon zest and extract.
Mixing cake batter in bowl
  1. Alternate Dry/Wet/Dry. First half of the dry ingredients go into the creamed butter, then the wet, then the rest of the dry.
Lemon cake batter in 2 round pans
  1. Bake. You can make this a layer cake, or see below for more sizes.
Two baked lemon cake layers in round pans
  1. Let Cool. If you frost when the cake is still warm, the frosting will slide off.
Adding frosting to top of lemon cake
  1. Frost. Don’t worry if doesn’t look perfect, it will taste amazing!

Recipe Variations

  • Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd. Use lemon curd between the layers, then spread the lemon cream cheese frosting on the cake’s outside.
  • Lemon Blueberry Cake. Gently fold blueberries into the batter (coat them with a little flour first to prevent sinking).
  • Lemon Raspberry Cake. Spread a thin layer of seedless raspberry jam between the layers, directly on top of the frosting. Decorate with fresh raspberries.
  • Lemon Strawberry Cake. Thinly slice strawberries and pat dry. Layer them in the center with the cream cheese frosting. Decorate with more fresh strawberry slices.
  • To Use Cake Mix. See Grandma Dorothy’s top-rated Lemon Poke Cake, one of the best lemon cake recipes with cake mix.
  • To Make It Gluten-Free. If you’re looking for a gluten-free lemon cake, try my crowd-pleasing Almond Flour Cake with Lemon instead, or make this lemon cake with a measure-for-measure gluten-free flour.
Slice of lemon cake being lifted from cake stand

Baking in Other 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.
  • 9-Inch Pans. Follow the recipe (which is written for 8-inch pans) as directed, checking several minutes early. Note that your layers will be thinner.
  • Mini Layer Cake. Halve the recipe, then bake in two 6-inch cake pans. Check several minutes early.
  • 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 as is, 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 an experiment. I recommend reading through the comments also, as several readers have shared experiences with baking the cake in assorted pan sizes.

Recipe Tips and Tricks

  • Make Sure Your Ingredients are All Room Temperature. Especially the eggs and butter. Room temperature ingredients blend more easily, allowing for better incorporation of air, resulting in a fluffier cake.
  • Yes, You Must Sift. It aerates the flour, ensures an even distribution of ingredients, and ultimately gives your cake a lighter texture.
  • Don’t Be Temped to Add Lemon Juice. While you can add lemon juice to some cakes (like this Lemon Poppy Seed Cake), it’s important that the recipe was developed for it, as it will alter the acidity level, affecting the rise of the cake. If you can’t find lemon extract, opt for extra zest in the cake rather than swapping lemon juice.
  • 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.
  • 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.
Slice of lemon cake on plate with fork digging in

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Double This Cake?

Yes, but proceed with caution—when doubling cake batters, the leavening agents (baking powder and/or baking soda) should NOT be completely doubled, as this throws off the baking science. If doubling the cake, use only 5 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder. Note that when doubling cakes, things can just go awry—it’s harder to evenly incorporate a larger amount of ingredients—so if you want to be 100% safe, you are best off baking the cake twice (annoying but worth it for perfect cake).

Why Don’t I Add the Egg Yolks?

This cake calls for egg whites only. Egg yolks add heaviness and richness to cake, thus omitting them results in a lighter cake.

Can I Pipe The Frosting?

If you’d like to pipe the frosting, I’d suggested adding more powdered sugar so that it is a stiffer, more pipeable consistency. You could also make a different lemon frosting designed for piping, such as lemon buttercream, though that will make the cake sweeter.

Can I Use Oil Instead of Butter?

In a word, no. When butter is creamed, it is very important not only for flavor, but for a cake’s texture. 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! Just make the batter twice in a row (or double it per the guidance in FAQ 1 above). There will be some batter leftover, so you can bake an extra layer to save for later or turn it into cupcakes.

Lemon Cake

4.83 from 193 votes
The best lemon cake recipe in the world! A buttery, moist cake bursting with lemon flavor and topped with lemon cream cheese frosting.

Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Total: 3 hours

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.

Video

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.
  • Doubling. Please see FAQs (below), reduce the baking powder to 5 1/2 teaspoons (not 2 tablespoons), and double at your own risk.
  • Other Pan Sizes. See notes in blog post (above) regarding baking this recipe as cupcakes or in a differently-sized pan.

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 recipes and access FREE meal plans.

Sign Me Up

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!

You May Also Like

Free Email Series
Sign Up for FREE Weekly Meal Plans
Each includes a grocery list, budget, and 5 healthy dinners, helping you save time, save money, and live better!
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

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. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




683 Comments

Leave a comment

    1. Hi Francisca! I haven’t tested it out with yogurt so I am not sure that would work. Yogurt is thicker than buttermilk. If you decide to experiment, I’d love to know how it goes!

    2. You can always add one tbsp of either lemon juice or white vinegar per cup of milk to make it similar to buttermilk.

      Also if you have heavy whipping cream, keep mixing it until it turns to butter. The liquid around the butter is buttermilk.

      1. Hi! Sorry, I am not sure what you are asking me. How big is the cup? For which ingredient are you asking about?

  1. I baked this cake, but found that it was fluffy but dry. What could I have done wrong or what could be missing?
    The frosting is awesome though!

    1. ’m sorry this didn’t come out perfectly for you, Ginger! Were you using a glass or ceramic pan? Glass conducts heat very differently than metal, so that will change how the cake bakes and can make it become dry. Also, if you baked the cake in a 9-inch pan (vs the 8 inch in the recipe) that can cause it to cook more quickly too. Every oven is also different. It might be that your oven runs a little hot. I recommend using an oven thermometer, just to be safe.

  2. This cake was delicious!! I don’t usually like icing because they are often too sweet but this lemon icing was delicious! I made lemon curd with the leftover egg yolks and put a layer of lemon curd and the lemon icing on top of each other in the middle layer! It was just for my husband and I so I am probably going to end up freezing a lot of it.5 stars

  3. This was suuuuch an amazing cake!!! I didn’t use cake flour because it was a lil last minute and still turned out so well. Have had so many people from the birthday hit me up for more baking or the recipe! Thank you5 stars

  4. absolutely fantastic! I’ve made this twice to rave reviews. made exactly per recipe, to die for!!! yumyumyum5 stars

  5. This is one of the best cakes I’ve ever had in my life. I did not know I could physically create something this enjoyable. This needs to be someone’s wedding cake. My 4 year old initially asked for a blueberry cake for his birthday, but I gently steered him towards this because I trust Erin. (Is that bad?) He loved it so much!!

    I asked 3 neighbors and all anyone had were dark 9-inch pans. But it was so fine! My mom showed me the spring-back-when-touched technique Erin mentions here, so we just kept checking! One pan was maybe more full and just took longer.

    The most tedious thing was trying to trim parchment circles the right size and then butter those and not mess up the existing butter/flour coating. Do they sell parchment circles? There must be a hack. Maybe I’m just a lazy baker. But it was all very worth it. I will be eating leftover lemon icing off graham crackers for days.5 stars

    1. That’s so great! Thank you Sharon, and YES! They do sell parchment paper circles. Here’s a link to them: https://amzn.to/48XwIcF (affiliate)

  6. I have made this recipe many times, my son LOVES lemon cake. I personally use about 1/2 the sugar in the frosting, but I really prefer all frosting less sweet. It’s easy, it has come out good every single time. I currently have a sheet cake in the oven for a birthday party, not sure how it’ll come out. I did 1.5 the recipe, fingers crossed.

    Thanks for this recipe!5 stars

    1. Hi Maeve! I see you decreased the amount of sugar in the frosting as you don’t like things too sweet. Neither do I! So I’m wondering if the cake itself wasn’t too sweet for your taste with 1.5 cups of sugar?

  7. After making and eating this, I realized I didn’t have a really good lemon cake recipe until now. Recently I acquired two 6 inch tin lined copper cake pans, to pair with two others I owned in the same size. Now that I have four, I wanted to try this recipe. From the explicit instructions, I could tell this cake had the chance to be exceptional, and it is. My first attempt at this had me making three six inch layers, which was ideal for the amount of batter. Next time, I think I will use all four pans, so I can have two, 2 layer cakes when I bake. This became an instant favorite at first bite! Thank you for your generous sharing of this amazing recipe.5 stars

  8. I made this for my daughter’s first and second birthday. This year she is old enough to say she wants a strawberry cake but I am steering her toward this one again! Such a delicious spring/summer dessert!5 stars

  9. I have made this cake many many times. It is a big favorite of my families. Today I am making it for my husband’s memorial service has this was his favorite cake.5 stars

    1. Hi Danielle! 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. Some have even said they did mini cupcakes. You would bake at the same temperature but just decrease the time. Hope this helps!

  10. I absolutely love the flavour of this cake and frosting – it’s my go to lemon cake recipe. However, I have loads of problems with the thickness of the frosting. It is always so runny and it’s hard to keep the lemon flavour and thickness so you can use it to pipe on cupcakes. I always end up having to add loads more sugar which isn’t ideal or I have to reduce the cream cheese content.
    Other than that, it’s delicious 😋3 stars

    1. Hi Michelle, at which point of beating are you finding it gets runny? If it is happening before you add your extract and lemon juice then the cream cheese and butter are too soft. They should be softened but not warm. If it is after you add the liquid, try reducing it just slightly or leaving out the extract and see if that helps you.

  11. Hi Erin! My family loved this cake – especially the frosting. It looked a bit intimidating at first, but having all the ingredients measured out and prepared in advance really helped. This is one of those recipes you want to read fully and before you start cooking. Thank you for sharing this gem! Will definitely make it again.5 stars

  12. It’s very good. It’s the first cake I have made by myself without a box. Definitely have to wait for the cake to cool off before putting the frosting on. I was just practicing before I made one for my husband’s birthday. I love the detailed instructions. Thank you.5 stars

  13. This recipe turned out perfectly! It was moist and the icing was creamy and delicious. Just enough lemon flavour, without being overpowering. Yum, definitely one of the best things I have made so far!5 stars

  14. I made this for a Ladies’ Luncheon. It was the favorite of all the dishes there. The lemon flavor was wonderful!! Definitely will be saving this one for future use. Thank you for sharing!!5 stars

Load More Comments