Lemon Layer Cake

This perfectly moist, tender and soft Lemon Layer Cake is iced in a wonderful lemon cream cheese frosting and bursting with irresistibly zingy and tangy lemon flavor!!!  

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A delicious lemon layer cake sliced into with lemons in the background on a white cake stand

Spring is around the corner! Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. Down coats and hat hair have sent me spiraling into a Winter blues that I’m too ready to rid myself of.

I absolutely love Spring. And while lemons feel springy, they are actually in season during the winter.

Lemons are tangy, sweet, sour and wonderfully acidic. This Lemon Layer Cake is an ode to my love of all things that feel Spring. And maybe, just maybe, this recipe might encourage Spring come around just a little sooner!

The Heart and Soul of the Best Lemon Layer Cake

Cuisine Inspiration: American
Primary Cooking Method: Baking
Dietary Info: Vegetarian, Contains Gluten and Dairy
Key Flavor: Bold Lemon
Skill Level: Intermediate

Sweet Highlights:

  1. Intense Lemon: Packed with lemon juice and zest for a vibrant citrus burst.
  2. Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting: Tangy, creamy complement to the zesty cake layers.
  3. Versatile for Events: Ideal for birthdays, gatherings, or any lemon-love moment.
  4. Visually Striking: Bright layers make a stunning, sunny presentation.
  5. Great for Advance Prep: Flavors deepen beautifully overnight.
A close up of lemon buttercream on cake with lemon slices and mint garnish

Ingredients

This cake texture is perfectly soft and tender.  And each bite is filled with a wonderfully nuanced yet bright lemon flavor.  It will make you pucker.  But the frosting is even better!

It has such a creamy yet light and fluffy texture with hints of lemon and vanilla to offset the cake.  The following ingredients truly make a difference in the nature of this recipe.

  • Neutral Oil
  • Butter
  • Sour Cream
  • Lemon Zest
  • Lemon Extract
  • Cream Cheese
  • Heavy Whipping Cream
  • Vanilla

The base of this cake is a wonderful mix of both oil and butter.  The oil adds a wonderful moistness to the cake and the butter adds incredible fat and richness to this cake.  Together they are the best of both worlds.

For additional richness and a moist crumb, I use sour cream.  I adore sour cream in cakes.  There is nothing better than a full fat cream in a cake. You will taste the difference.

For lemon flavor, both lemon zest and extract are used.  Fresh lemon zest brightens the batter in a bold way and extract is more of a subtle brightening.  Together they make this cake pucker perfect!

Cream cheese is my secret in creating the best buttercream for this cake.  It adds a flavor profile that contrasts the zing of the lemon.  I whip this along with heavy whipping cream to make the texture more like a whipped cream.  Finally, I also add vanilla to both the cake and buttercream that brings another flavor profile to this cake.

A lemon cream cheese frosting covered layer cake with lemon and mint garnishes

How To Build A Layer Cake

Building a layer cake can be intimidating and honestly, a bit more difficult than I’d like it to be. Luckily for you, I’ve made my fair share of layer cakes and I’m here to help you out so you can make this lemon layer cake a success.

  1. Don’t Stack Uneven Layers

Uneven cake layers make for a wobbly cake that might not withstand assembly. Taking the extra time to create a stable cake will ensure a more visually appealing result.

After your layers have completely cooled (and I mean COMPLETELY) use a sharp serrated knife to trim both the tops and edges. Each layer should be flat, even and a bit crumbly. Be patient and careful; this process is one that takes practice.

  1. Don’t Frost a Warm Cake

Frosting a cake before it has cooled is a recipe for disaster. The moment your frosting hits the cake it will begin to melt and run everywhere. You want your frosting to work like glue, so let it!

If you’re as impatient as I am, it might be a good idea to bake and cool your cakes the day before assembly. 

  1. Don’t Skip the Crumb Coat  

By this point in the process you’ve already done so much work, so why skimp out now? Starting with a crumb coating helps you to avoid a clumpy, messy end result.

Once layered, apply a thin, even layer of buttercream to the top and side of the cake. Cover the cake and let refrigerate for about 15 minutes before applying the final coating.

Slices of lemon layer cake on plates ready to give out for

Variations

I love the simplicity of this lemon layer cake; the flavors are straightforward and light while still being indulgent. The simple nature of this cake allows room for fun additions and new flavors. So, if you’re looking to make this cake your own, I’ve got your back! 

Layer of Lemon Curd (Use my Homemade Lemon Curd HERE!)

If you’re feeling fancy, adding a layer of lemon curd is the way to go. Silky smooth, incredibly decadent and packed with pungent lemon flavor, curd is the perfect addition.

Both store-bought or homemade curd will work here. Your layers should consist of cake, frosting, curd and repeat. Yum! It will be similar to my Pineapple Coconut Cake with pineapple filling.

Candied Lemon Peels 

Want to make your cake look like it came from a professional bakery? Decorating your cake with candied lemons is not only beautiful but it adds a textural component no one will expect. The peels are sweet, sour and citrusy; each one takes this recipe to the next level! 

Add Fresh Fruit 

Adding a pop of freshness brings a bit of extra Springtime flare to this cake. Between the layers of frosting and cake add in some raspberries, strawberries of even blueberries. The acidity in the lemon will enhance the sweetness of the fruit perfectly! 

A close up of lemon cake with cream cheese frosting with a lemon garnish

How to Store Layer Cake

You can store this lemon layer cake overnight at room temperature in a covered container. If you plan on making it further in advance then go ahead and refrigerate. You can also make the layers in advance and freeze them as long as they are wrapped (with plastic wrap) very well. 

Before serving, be sure to bring your cake to room temperature. Butter based cakes tend to harden while refrigerating and you’ll miss out on that melt in your mouth experience.  

More Delicious Lemon Recipes

If you ask me, there’s no such thing as too many lemon recipes. After a slice (or three) of this cake you’ll find that you just can’t get enough zing. Try out one of my other favorite lemon based recipes below! 

A delicious lemon layer cake sliced into with lemons in the background on a white cake stand

Lemon Layer Cake Recipe

This perfectly moist, tender and soft lemon layer cake is iced in a wonderful lemon cream cheese frosting and bursting with irresistibly zingy and tangy lemon flavor!!!
4.32 from 154 votes
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Course: Dessert
Servings: 18 servings

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour sifted
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Frosting

  • 1 cup unsalted butter room temperature
  • 8 oz cream cheese room temperature
  • 4 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 2 tsp heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp lemon extract
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

For the Cake

  • Start by preheating your oven to 325°F then liberally spray 2 (8-inch) round cake pans with non-stick baking spray.
  • In your mixer bowl, add oil and butter and beat for 2 minutes on high speed. Slowly add in sugar and beat on high speed for an additional 4-5 minutes until very pale yellow and fluffy. Next, add eggs, one at a time, combining well after each addition and scraping down the sides as needed.
  • Turn your mixer down to its lowest speed, and slowly add flour into batter in two increments then add baking powder, salt and baking soda. Be careful not to over beat.
  • Lastly, add sour cream, milk, lemon zest, lemon and vanilla extracts, scrape down sides and mix until just combined and turn off mixer.
  • Evenly pour cake batter into prepared baking pans and place in oven to bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes just barely clean but don't over bake (crucial not to over bake this cake)!!  I personally start checking the cakes around 27 minutes just to ensure.
  • Remove cakes from oven and rest in pans for 10-15 minutes. Invert cakes from pans onto cooling racks until cooled.

For the Frosting

  • Add butter and cream cheese to the bowl of your mixer and beat on high speed until it begins to thicken and fluff.
  • Next slow down mixer and carefully add in confectioner’s sugar. Once all sugar has incorporated, turn mixer back to high to continue whipping.
  • Add in heavy cream, vanilla, lemon extract and salt and continue whipping until it is smooth, light and a fluffy frosting.

To Assemble

  • Level the cakes, if necessary, and slice each cake into two layers making a total of four layers of cake.  Add frosting between layers then frost entire cake with remaining frosting.  Serve.

Notes

You can store this cake overnight at room temperature in a covered container. If you plan on making it further in advance then go ahead and refrigerate. You can also make the layers in advance and freeze them as long as they are wrapped (with plastic wrap) very well. 
Before serving, be sure to bring your cake to room temperature. Butter based cakes tend to harden while refrigerating and you’ll miss out on that melt in your mouth experience.  

Nutrition

Calories: 519kcal | Carbohydrates: 59g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 30g | Saturated Fat: 20g | Cholesterol: 87mg | Sodium: 229mg | Potassium: 113mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 44g | Vitamin A: 744IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 60mg | Iron: 1mg
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Filed Under:  Cake, Dessert and Baking, Easter, Mother's Day, Oven, Spring Recipes, Winter Recipes

Comments

  1. I wanted to love this cake but it lacked lemon flavor (in the cake). The frosting was really good but overall it was a lot of work and ingredients for a disappointing result. The cake wasn’t as moist as I’d like to be either.

  2. Making this cake for the third time, all three times as a birthday cake for my now 12 year old. Your recipe is flawless and the cake is out of this world. Thank you! <3

  3. Would you recommend using Meyer lemons for this recipe ? Or one half regular lemons and one half Meyer lemons ? I’m baking a wedding cake for the first time ! Thank you for your amazing recipes !!!

    1. Meyer lemons do tend to be sweeter than regular lemons so it really just depends on your taste preference. The best thing to do would be to test it out all three ways and do a tasting before making the final cake.

  4. Thanks for your delicious cake recipes, all the way from sunny Perth, Western Australia tried the lemon loaf, now hummingbird’s next

    1. Wow!! Thank you so much for making my cakes, I can’t wait to see what you think of the hummingbird cake!

    1. Because this cake is only 2 8 inch round layers, it won’t hold enough volume for a 9×13 pan unfortunately. It would need almost close to double for that pan.

    2. I made this in a 9×13 pan, cut it in half and stacked it, making a 9×6.5” rectangular cake. The layers were not thick enough to split further (as Jocelyn said), so I kept it as a 2 layer cake. The icing was too sweet for me anyway, so I was happy keeping it as 2 thicker layers. The guidance of checking the cake early was very useful, and I took it out at 35 minutes.
      The cake itself was lovely and moist.

      And thanks Jocelyn! Your cake recipes (this and your carrot cake) have given me confidence to bake cakes that I can share with others. I use the metric measurements and everything has turned out perfectly. I look forward to making your Turtles cake next! ❤️

    3. Awe, thank you so much, Alissa, for your kind words and for sharing your tips for making a 9×13!

    1. I would suggest not putting this cake in the refrigerator or any cake in the fridge. If you won’t be assembling for 2 days, I suggest wrapping the layers super well with plastic wrap and putting in the freezer. Then thawing when you want to wrap. This will keep the layers moist.

4.32 from 154 votes (107 ratings without comment)

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