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Citrus season is here, and we’re celebrating with lemon layer cake made from scratch with real lemons! Follow these steps at home to make this soft lemon cake topped with lemon cream cheese frosting. Recipe makes one 8-inch layer cake.

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
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Why you’ll love this lemon cake recipe:

Flavored with fresh lemon zest and lemon juice, this easy lemon cake is made in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. The cake layers bake up perfectly fluffy and moist with a tender crumb.

Topped with lemon cream cheese frosting and lemon slices, this homemade layer cake tastes like sunshine!

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Key Ingredients

Here’s what you need to make the best lemon layer cake:

  • Cake flour – The secret to soft lemon cake layers with a light crumb!
  • Baking powder and baking soda – Give the cake layers a lift. Both are necessary since the cake uses buttermilk.
  • Salt – Enhances the lemon flavor.
  • Butter – Use room temperature unsalted butter in both the cake and frosting (room temperature butter is slightly cool to the touch and your finger will make a shallow impression).
  • Sugar – The cake recipe and the lemon syrup both use granulated sugar.
  • Fresh lemons – Fresh lemon zest and juice are essential to this recipe. Lemon zest flavors the cake and cream cheese frosting, and lemon juice plus sugar makes a quick lemon syrup to brush over the cake layers.
  • Vanilla – A splash of pure vanilla extract enhances the flavor of the cake and frosting.
  • Eggs – The cake batter uses two large eggs.
  • Buttermilk – The acidity helps activate the baking soda, which makes the lemon cake fluffy and light.
  • Greek yogurt – The creaminess of Greek yogurt helps keep the cake moist.
  • Full fat cream cheese – The frosting is made with butter and cream cheese. Use full fat cream cheese at cool room temperature (not softened) for best results.
  • Powdered sugar – For perfectly smooth lemon cream cheese frosting!

Best Lemons to Use

I love baking with Meyer lemons and highly recommend them. Meyer lemons are a cross between regular lemons and mandarin oranges, and the zest and juice is sweet and aromatic.

If you can’t find Meyer lemons, you can also use regular lemons. Regular lemons will add a slightly more tangy, zesty flavor to the cake and frosting.

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

How to Make Lemon Layer Cake

Room Temperature Ingredients – Bring butter, eggs, buttermilk, and Greek yogurt to room temperature before beginning. Room temperature ingredients incorporate more easily and create a smooth cake batter.

Cake Pans – Bake this cake in two 8-inch round cake pans. To prepare the pans for baking, spray the pans with non-stick baking spray and line each pan with a round of parchment paper.

For perfectly even cake layers, place your cake pans on a kitchen scale and weigh each pan as you add the batter.

Bake – Bake cake layers for 24 to 25 minutes, until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few crumbs attached.

Lemon Syrup – In the last 5 minutes of baking, combine lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and syrup thickens, about 4 minutes.

Cool – Remove pans from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Brush the warm cake layers with lemon syrup and let cool for 1 hour. Remove cake layers from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting – To make the frosting, beat butter, cream cheese, and salt until combined. Mix in vanilla extract and fresh lemon zest. Gradually add powdered sugar, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix in lemon juice and beat frosting until smooth.

Assemble and Decorate Lemon Cake

Place one cake layer on a rotating cake stand and use an offset spatula to swirl lemon cream cheese frosting over the cake. Add the second cake layer and chill the stacked cake for 20 minutes.

Apply a layer of frosting to the top and sides of the cake while you rotate the cake stand, then gently smooth the sides with a bench scraper.

If desired, transfer remaining frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe frosting decoratively on the top cake layer.

I love decorating this cake with fresh lemon slices, edible flowers, or fresh berries (raspberries and blueberries are my favorite!). For added indulgence, serve slices topped with scoops of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Make Ahead and Storage Tips

The cake can be made and assembled a day ahead and refrigerated overnight. Before serving, let the cake stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Store leftover cake tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; bring to room temperature before serving.

To freeze cake slices, wrap pieces tightly in plastic wrap and transfer slices to a freezer bag. Freeze up to 2 months for the best flavor and texture. When you’re ready to enjoy, thaw slices at room temperature.

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Our favorite lemon desserts:

Did you try this Lemon Layer Cake Recipe? Let me know by leaving a comment and rating below!

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Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 5 reviews
  • Author: Laura Kasavan
  • Prep Time: 2 hours
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 25 minutes
  • Yield: 1 8-inch cake
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Bake
  • Cuisine: American
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Description

Lemon layer cake made from scratch with real lemons! Follow these steps at home to make this soft lemon cake topped with lemon cream cheese frosting. Recipe makes one 8-inch layer cake.


Ingredients

Lemon Cake

  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour (see note below)
  • 1 1/2 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon zest
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt, at room temperature

Lemon Syrup

  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp sugar

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 8 oz full fat cream cheese, at cool room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon zest
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and spray two 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray. Line the bottom of the cake pans with parchment paper.
  2. Make cake: Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. Beat butter and sugar in a large mixer bowl at medium speed until light and fluffy; beat in lemon zest and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined. Combine buttermilk and Greek yogurt in a small bowl. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk mixture (begin and end with flour mixture).
  4. Divide batter evenly between cake pans and smooth with an offset spatula. Tap pans sharply to reduce air bubbles.
  5. Bake cake layers for 24 to 25 minutes, until the top and edges are golden, cakes spring back to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few crumbs attached.
  6. Make lemon syrup: In the last five minutes of baking, combine lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and syrup thickens, about 4 minutes. Remove pans from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Brush the warm cake layers with lemon syrup and let cool 1 hour. Remove cake layers from pan and cool completely on wire racks.
  7. Make lemon cream cheese frosting: Beat butter, cream cheese, and salt in a large mixer bowl on medium speed until combined. Beat in vanilla and lemon zest. Mix in powdered sugar on low speed 1 cup at a time until incorporated, scraping down bowl as needed. Mix in lemon juice and beat frosting until smooth. If frosting is too soft to use immediately, chill for 15 to 20 minutes in the refrigerator before using.
  8. Assemble cake: Place one cake layer on a rotating cake stand and use an offset spatula to swirl frosting over the cake. Add the second cake layer and chill the stacked cake for 20 minutes.
  9. Use offset spatula to apply a layer of frosting to the top and sides of the cake while you rotate the cake stand, then use a bench scraper to gently smooth the edges of the cake and remove any excess frosting. If desired, pipe remaining frosting decoratively on the top cake layer. Chill the frosted cake for 30 minutes before serving.
  10. Store leftover cake covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; bring to room temperature before serving.

Notes

Lemons: I made this cake with Meyer lemons. A cross between regular lemons and mandarin oranges, the zest and juice is sweet and aromatic. If you can’t find Meyer lemons, you can also use regular lemons. Regular lemons will add a slightly more tangy, zesty flavor to the cake and frosting.

To make your own cake flour: For every 1 cup of cake flour, place 2 tablespoons cornstarch in an empty 1-cup measure, then top up with all-purpose flour. Sift the mixture several times to evenly distribute the cornstarch.

Cake layers: For perfectly even cake layers, place your cake pans on a kitchen scale and weigh each pan as you add the batter.

Make Ahead: The cake can be baked, cooled, and frosted one day in advance. Cover the frosted cake and chill overnight. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Freezing Instructions: Wrap slices tightly in plastic wrap and transfer slices to a freezer bag. Freeze up to 2 months. When you’re ready to serve, thaw slices at room temperature.

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Meet Laura

Hi, I'm Laura and I'm so happy you're here! Welcome to Tutti Dolci Baking Recipes, a baking blog celebrating all things sweet! I share approachable baking recipes and elevated classic desserts for every home baker. My goal is to inspire you to bake from scratch with kitchen-tested recipes you can count on.

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19 Comments

  1. Make this cake! If you’re even considering it – you will not be disappointed. It was one of the best cakes I’ve ever made or eaten. The recipe was straightforward and easy to follow (I did make it in a 9×13 pan instead of a layered cake) and it turned out beautifully. Thanks for sharing!






    1. Thank you so much, Amy! I really appreciate this feedback – great to hear that the 9×13 cake pan worked well too. 🙂

  2. Looks amazing!

    Can I use a substitute for buttermilk? Also, would plain flour be ok if cake flour isn’t again available?






    1. Thank you! If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can make buttermilk substitute with 1 cup room temperature milk and 1 teaspoon acid (lemon juice or white vinegar). Stir, then let stand for 10 minutes before using. You can use all-purpose (plain flour), though the cake will not be as soft as it is with cake flour. See the note in the recipe card about how to make your own cake flour.

    1. Hi Irma, yes absolutely. Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with nonstick spray and line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper. Baking time will be approximately 25 to 27 minutes, until the top and edges are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few crumbs attached.

  3. Making this cake for a wedding cake. What can I do to make the frosting stiffer and more able to withstand sitting out on display for an hr or two?

    1. Hi Chris, it’s still fairly cool this time of year, so as long as the cake is thoroughly chilled first, it should be able to withstand sitting out at room temperature for an hour. Alternatively, you can replace the cream cheese with butter (for a total of 2 cups unsalted butter) and make the frosting as directed. You’ll have a buttercream-style frosting instead of the lemon cream cheese frosting. Hope that helps!

  4. A favorite restaurant no longer exists but their limoncello cake reminds me of this one… what do u think about replacing the syrup with the liqueur??

    1. Hi Lori, absolutely! Make the syrup with 2-3 tablespoons limoncello and 2-3 tablespoons sugar. Happy baking!

  5. Wonderful lemon cake! The cake is soft and buttery, with nice lemon flavor, and the frosting is perfectly sweet and tangy.






  6. This cake is divine! Light, fluffy, with perfect lemon flavor. The lemon cream cheese frosting is incredible too (my kids couldn’t stop “sampling” it). Highly recommend this recipe!