This lemon cake features light and fluffy cake layers topped with a zingy homemade lemon frosting. Great for baby showers, Easter, and Mother’s Day!
This homemade lemon cake is sweet, yet slightly tart, and full of lemon flavor. I wasn’t shy when adding the lemon juice to this cake.
Freshly squeezed lemon juice is added to both the cake batter and the cream cheese frosting. I also added lemon zest to the batter to amp up the lemon flavor. Because no one should have to guess if there’s lemon in a cake or not!
I made this recipe as a layer cake, but I’ve included instructions on how to modify it for various pan sizes. Use the pans you have on hand, and enjoy every bite of this delightfully lemony cake!
Ingredients in This Recipe
Don’t let the fact that this is a lemon layer cake intimidate you. The ingredients list is fairly basic, and I’ll walk you through them first.
- Cake flour: Cake flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour, which results in a lighter cake. If you don’t keep cake flour on hand, you can make your own.
- Baking powder & baking soda: Help the cake layers rise in the oven.
- Salt: Enhances the lemon flavor.
- Buttermilk: Real buttermilk is preferred, but you can make your own buttermilk substitute in about 10 minutes if needed.
- Oil: Use a neutral-flavored oil, like vegetable or canola.
- Lemons: You will need about 3 to 4 medium lemons to have enough zest and lemon juice for the cake and frosting.
- Vanilla extract: Pure vanilla extract is my preference, but use what you have.
- Butter: Always use unsalted butter when baking. The amount of salt in salted butters can vary between brands.
- Granulated sugar: Balances out the lemon juice without making the cake too sweet.
- Eggs: You’ll need four large eggs for this recipe. Set them out ahead of time to bring them to room temperature.
- Cream Cheese: Make sure to use brick-style cream cheese for the frosting. Cream cheese spread in a tub is thinned out and will result in a runny frosting.
- Powdered sugar: To thicken and sweeten the frosting.
How to Make a Lemon Cake
Before making the cake batter, prep the cake tins. I used two 9-inch round cake pans and sprayed them with nonstick spray. I also lined the bottom with parchment paper to prevent anything from sticking.
To make the cake batter, you’ll first need to mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, lemon juice, and vanilla.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the softened butter until smooth. Gradually add the sugar to the bowl and mix until combined. Add the lemon zest, then beat the butter mixture until light and fluffy.
Don’t rush this step. You need to incorporate lots of air into the butter and sugar if you want your homemade lemon cake to be nice and fluffy.
Add the eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions to ensure everything is fully incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture to the bowl last, alternating between the two.
Divide the batter evenly between the two cake tins and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake layers cool completely before making the frosting.
For the lemon cake frosting, I used my homemade cream cheese frosting but scaled it up and swapped out the vanilla extract for fresh lemon juice. I suggest starting with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in the frosting, then adding more if desired.
You can also swap out the lemon juice in the frosting for 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of pure lemon extract.
Once you’re ready to assemble the lemon cake, level the tops of each cake with a knife or cake leveler. (Save the cake scraps as a cook’s treat!).
Place one cake layer on a cake stand, top with frosting, then repeat the process. It’s easiest to frost a layer cake with an offset spatula, but use what you have on hand.
I garnished my homemade lemon cake with lemon slices, but you can leave it as is, if desired.
How to Adjust the Pan Size
Don’t have two 9-inch round cake pans or don’t want to make a layer cake? You can easily adjust the pan size to suit your needs!
For a 9×13-inch cake: Grease a 9×13 pan with nonstick cooking spray, pour the batter into the pan, and spread it out into one even layer. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
For a three layer cake: Divide the batter between three 8-inch round cake pans. Adjust the baking time to 23 to 28 minutes.
I recommend storing your lemon cake from scratch in the fridge since the frosting contains cream cheese. Keep it in an airtight container so the cake layers don’t dry out.
- Do not add more lemon juice to the cake batter than the recipe calls for, even if you want it to be more lemony. Adding extra lemon juice can alter the texture of the batter and affect the final product.
- If desired, you can substitute the lemon juice in the frosting with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of pure lemon extract.
- Cake slices can be frozen once frosted, or you can freeze the cake layers and the lemon frosting separately. Thaw overnight when ready to enjoy.
More Lemon Desserts to Make!
- 3 cups (345 grams) cake flour (spooned & leveled)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk (room temperature)
- ¼ cup (60 ml) canola or vegetable oil
- ¼ cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup (2 sticks, or 230 grams) unsalted butter (softened)
- 1 ¾ cups (350 grams) granulated sugar
- Zest of 3 medium lemons
- 4 large eggs (room temperature)
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
- 12 ounces (340 grams) brick-style cream cheese (softened)
- ¾ cup (1.5 sticks, or 170 grams) unsalted butter (softened)
- 3 cups (360 grams) powdered sugar
- 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 ml) fresh lemon juice
- To make the lemon cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper, and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together until well combined. Set aside.
- In a separate large mixing bowl or measuring cup, whisk the buttermilk, oil, lemon juice, and vanilla extract together until well combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the butter on low speed until smooth, then slowly mix in the granulated sugar.
- Once all of the sugar is added, add the lemon zest, and increase to medium speed and continue mixing for another 4 to 5 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Mix in the eggs, one at a time, make sure to stop and scrape around the bottom and sides of the bowl after each egg.
- Add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk mixture (begin and end with the dry ingredients) on low speed. Mix in each addition until just combined, making sure not to over mix the batter.
- Use a rubber spatula to scrape around the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure that everything is well combined.
- Evenly divide the cake batter between the two prepared cake pans and spread it around into one even layer.
- Bake for 28 to 32 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Slide a knife around the outside of the cakes, then carefully remove the cakes from the pans, and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- To make the lemon cream cheese frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle or whisk attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the butter and mix for about 30 seconds to 1 minute until well combined and smooth.
- Add the powdered sugar and lemon juice (start with 1 tablespoon and add more if needed) and continue mixing until fully combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- To assemble the cake: Level the tops of each cake with a knife or cake leveler. Place one of the cakes on a cake stand, top with a layer of frosting, and smooth it out into one even layer. Place the second layer on top, then use the remaining frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake.
You read my mind! I was just think of making a lemon cake this weekend, and of how I might adapt your vanilla cake recipe to create a lemon cake but then I open my email and lo and behold, here it was! And not quite the same as just vanilla cake + lemon juice, so I’m very glad I waited a few days!! Thank you so much for posting this one! Quick question, I don’t have cake flour or cornstarch (I don’t use it) and with the world being as it is at the moment, I doubt I’ll be able to get either of those before I bake this weekend. Would the recipe suffer a lot by using all-purpose flour? Or is there something else I can use as a substitute for cornstarch in making my own cake flour? You say it is called corn flour sometimes, I do have tapioca powder and arrowroot powder, would I be able to use either of those? Or just stick to all purpose instead? And would I use the same amount of all purpose flour, or adjust it a little?
I haven’t tried it, but I imagine that you could use my cake flour substitute and just swap out the cornstarch with an equal amount of arrowroot powder. Hope that helps!
I made the cake exactly as instructed. Instead of using cake pans, I made cupcakes for a Mother’s Day outdoor gathering. The cupcakes were light, fluffy, and moist. The amount of lemon in the batter was perfect, So delicious! Everyone loved them. I am not a fan of cream cheese frosting so I made a lemon buttercream frosting. This recipe is a keeper.
So glad you enjoyed the recipe, Corban!
How long did you bake the cupcakes?
Hi, Cara! The recipe will probably make about 32 cupcakes, if you only fill each liner about 2/3 of the way full. Baking time should be 16 to 20 minutes at 350°F.
I made a mini six inch cake and cupcakes for my daughter’s first birthday (I also swapped out the cream cheese frosting for a lemon buttercream frosting). Delicious! Possibly the best cake I’ve ever had!!! Thank you!
Thank you, Cara! That’s so wonderful to hear!
This cake is so good! I’m not big on lemon flavored desserts but man, I could not stop eating this! Your recipes are so great!
Thank you, Chelsea! I’m so glad you loved the lemon cake recipe!
Hi there, would you recommend halving the recipe if I want to make this in three 6 inch pans? Thank you in advance!
You may need more batter than that for three 6-inch pans. I’d recommend making the full recipe, then using any left over batter to make some cupcakes.
Hello! I’ve made this recipe as instructed and loved it!! Now, I have a client asking for a gluten free lemon cake – do you think it would work to substitute the cake flour with bobs red mill 1:1 gf flour? I also have xanthan gum, would you recommend adding a small amount of that as well? Thank you!
You probably could, but I’d recommend looking for a gluten-free cake flour substitute. There’s quite a few recipes for how to make it online, that may be the best option!
I can’t wait to make this cake next month! Do you think it’s okay to make the cake in two 8×2 cake pans? If so, how long should I bake them in the oven?
That would be fine! I would guess about 35 minutes for 8-inch pans.
I made them last night and oh my I must say it’s The Best!! This will be my go to recipe for lemon cakes. Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe.
So, I scoured the Internet and Pinterest looking for a lemon sponge cake that would be soft, moist and taste good. I finally settled on this recipe and baked it in a 9 by 13 sheet pan. I am so happy I chose this recipe, this cake is so so good I followed the recipe exactly as written and the result is sublime. It is soft, moist and a real pleasure to eat. I cannot wait to make it again. I will now look forward to trying some of your other recipes. I honestly can’t recommend this cake highly enough.
Thank you, Jayne! I’d love to hear if you try any other recipes!
Hi there, have you ever used any other fillings with this cake? Like a raspberry or strawberry?
I haven’t yet, but I think either one would be fine! Lemon curd would be great too.
Could you make this a bunt cake?
Yes, that would be fine! Baking time would probably be about 50 to 70 minutes.
I’m going to be making this lemon cake and the cream cheese frosting for my boyfriends birthday. That’s what he wants is a lemon cake and it really does look good. Oh and I might ask him if he wants cupcakes instead. I hope I do a good job. 🙂
I made this cake in a 9×13 pan and it was great!
May I decreased the butter by 1/4 cup and increase the oil by 1/4 cup?
I haven’t tried decreasing the butter and using more oil. It may work, but it may also change the texture and how well the cake rises.
Would it be too different if I changes the cream cheese frosting to your lemon buttercream recipe?
I don’t think so! A lemon buttercream would pair really well with this cake!
Thank you so much! I’ll have to try it out
Do you have a lemon buttercream recipe? I can’t find it on your website.
I haven’t posted one that’s just lemon buttercream yet. You can use my buttercream frosting recipe here and add either 1 to 2 teaspoons of lemon extract, or a little lemon juice and lemon zest. I’d recommend increasing the recipe by half too, so you have enough to cover the whole cake. I hope that helps!
Is the 1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice the regular amount for the buttercream or the 1 1/2 amount?
For the regular amount of buttercream. If you’re increasing the recipe by half, I would still start with 1 to 2 teaspoons of lemon extract and add more as needed. If you’re using lemon juice, I’d start with one tablespoon and add more as needed. You can also add some lemon zest to help add more lemon flavor without thinning out the buttercream.
Hi, we loved this lemon cake compared to others! I want to make this again to feed 100 people and also, will this do well as cupcakes? Can you help? Thanks for sharing!!
If you’re wanting to make cupcakes, this recipe will make about 30 to 32 cupcakes and the baking time will be about 16 to 20 minutes.
Mmm! Yummy! So soft and perfect but I was mad I had to share ?
My only concern is that the recipe was hard to follow and I did not understand some of it, overall it was great!
Can I double this recipe? Or should I make one cake at a time?
It would be fine to double it. It will be quite a bit of batter though, so just make sure not to over mix the dry ingredients.
I am excited about trying your recipe. I have tried 2 others from other people, and they have failed my expectation because the lemon cake is missing the lemon flavor despite the fresh lemons used.
Is this a real lemon taste for a lemon cake. Please let me know.
Yes, but you can feel free to add more lemon zest to the batter.
Love the cake!!! Added lemon Emulsion!!!! I really can taste the lemon flavor. Thanks
Wonderful recipe, fluffy, moist with the right amount of lemon and zest. Simply delicious!
Thank you 🙂
I just made this recipe for my family! We used two square pans instead and baking for 40 minutes. For the cream cheese frosting we used half the amount of powdered sugar as we don’t like our frosting to be overly sweet. We also added more lemon zest to the frosting. It’s a great recipe and super easy to follow!
This is a very good lemon cake. I made it exactly like the recipe but made four layers instead of two. I got very good feed back from family and friends.
Even though I messed up the first step( had all the sugar in at once)- the cake looks great smells yummy and as soon as it cools I’m gonna pounce on it! Thanks for sharing this recipe! I’m making it again next week for my daughter’s birthday
Can the lemon juice and lemon zest be removed to make a vanilla cake? Maybe do a full tablespoon of vanilla?
Yes, that would be fine! Or you can use my vanilla cake recipe here.
Very good recipe. I made it with 2-8” layers as that’s what I had. It made 2 nice layers but needed to bake @10 extra minutes since the layers was thicker. It’s a keeper.
I can’t wait to try out your recipe after reading all the good reviews. 🙂
Can I bake using just one 8-inch round cake pan? And if so, how long should my baking time roughly be?
Thank you 🙂
If you have a pan that’s deep enough, it may be okay, but this recipe makes quite a bit of batter. If you only have one pan, I would recommend just baking half of the batter at a time.
Do you adjust the heat for high altitude
I’m not familiar with high altitude baking, but some readers have found this guide helpful for adjusting my recipes.
Lemon cake perfection! 🍋
This looks amazing! Going to try it out this weekend but with Yuzu’s instead of lemons. Do i need to adjust anything if add some dessicated coconut into the batter also?
No, you won’t need to make any adjustments. I would probably use about 1/2 cup of coconut in the batter.
I’m going to make this soon. Can you replace lemon extract instead of using the zest of lemons?
You could add 1 to 2 teaspoons of lemon extract, but I highly recommend using the lemon zest.