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 until smooth.
- With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the granulated sugar. Once all of the sugar is added, add the lemon zest, and increase the speed to medium 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.