This moist lemon cake recipe has become one of our go-to cakes for birthdays and family celebrations no matter what time of year. Lemon lovers, this one's a keeper!
Not only are the homemade lemon cake layers super moist and fluffy, but a simple lemon curd filling and lemon cream cheese frosting bring a triple dose of lemon to this fantastic dessert.
We love lemon desserts and am always looking for an excuse to make this cake! Over the years, this scratch lemon cake recipe has become one of our most popular.
There's just something about lemon, isn't there?
Lemon Flavor Pairings
One of my favorite things about lemon cake is that it pairs wonderfully with so many filling and frosting flavors, including raspberry, blueberry, coconut, lime, and strawberry! You can really get creative when working with this lemon cake recipe.
However, for today's lemon cake, we're going FULL Lemon with a dreamy Lemon Curd Filling and my FAVORITE silky smooth Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting. We hope that you enjoy the recipe!
How to Make a Lemon Cake from Scratch
Our Lemon Cake recipe is one of my favorite year-round desserts, but it is an especially popular choice for spring and summer gatherings, when everyone's cravings for light and citrus filled desserts are at their highest!
*You can find our full, printable scratch lemon cake recipe further down in this post. Here is a quick look at our steps.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Prepare the Pans: Grease and flour two 8 inch pans. (We bake with 2-inch deep pans). You could also divide the batter between three 8 inch pans for slightly thinner layers which allows for an additional layer of filling! It's always a good idea to line the prepared cake pans with circles of parchment paper to ensure that nothing will stick.
- Add Flour, Leavening, Zest: In a medium sized bowl add the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest. Whisk to blend and set aside.
- Combine Liquid Ingredients: In another bowl, add the milk, vegetable oil, fresh lemon juice, and lemon extract. Whisk to blend the wet ingredients and set aside.
- Cream Butter & Sugar: In the bowl of your mixer (fitted with paddle attachment if using a stand mixer), beat the softened unsalted butter until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and mix on medium speed 3 to 5 minutes until it is lightened in color and fluffy.
- Eggs: Add the room temperature eggs one at a time, mixing until the yellow of the yolk disappears.
- Adding Wet and Dry Ingredients Alternately: With the mixer on low speed (if using a stand mixer, use a paddle attachment), add the flour mixture and the milk mixture alternately. Begin and end with the flour. We do three additions of flour and two additions of milk.
Stop as needed to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Then, slightly increase the speed and mix the cake batter until combined and smooth, do not mix above medium speed and be careful not to overmix.
- Fill the Pans: Pour batter into the prepared cake pans, spread over the top with the back of a spoon. Bake at 350 degrees.
- Time to Bake! If baking three 8 inch pans, bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. For two 8 inch pans, bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake layers comes out clean or with only a few crumbs attached.
- Let the freshly baked layers cool for ten minutes before turning out.
While the lemon cake layers are the stars of the show, the homemade lemon curd and lemon cream cheese frosting are each so delicious that you will be tempted to forget the cake & just grab a spoon!
Lemon curd is one of my all-time favorite fillings. We've used it (as well as other fruity curd flavors) for countless cakes over the years.
It is not difficult at all to make and totally worth the extra few minutes! It's bright lemon flavor is perfect for our lemon layer cake.
We often pair lemon curd either with lemon cream cheese frosting as we're doing today, or a light sweetened whipped cream. You can't go wrong, it is an amazing filling.
How to Make Lemon Curd
- Preparing the curd involves combining sugar, cornstarch (for thickening), and water in a small saucepan until it thickens and begins to boil.
- Next, spoon about a half cup of the hot mixture into a small bowl along with egg yolks and stir quickly to combine, then return to the saucepan.
- Return to the saucepan, stirring until thickened, and remove from heat, adding the butter, lemon juice and lemon zest. Allow to cool and then place plastic wrap over the surface and refrigerate. It is silky smooth and delicious!
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
We frosted our cake with a flavorful, simple Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting Recipe.
This lemon frosting is divine, and so simple to make with cream cheese, butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, extract (optional) and powdered sugar.
We love the creamy consistency and it is pipeable also. Chill it in the refrigerator if it becomes too soft while you are decorating the cake. If you love cream cheese frostings like we do, don't miss our full roundup of Favorite Cream Cheese Frosting Recipes!
Lemon Buttercream: As much as we love the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting, Lemon Buttercream is a great option as well and the consistency is not quite as soft, making it even better for designs with a lot of piping.
This easy recipe is another favorite, and comes together in no time: Lemon Buttercream Frosting Recipe!
Can The Lemon Cake Layers be Frozen?
Yes they can! In fact, we freeze our cake layers whenever time allows, even if just for a few hours. They will taste amazing once thawed, and this allows you to work well in advance (up to a few months)!
Trust me, make your life easier and bake in advance when possible. ;0)
How to Freeze the Cake Layers
- After baking our lemon cake layers, we allowed them to cool in the cake pans for about 10 minutes on a wire rack before flipping them out onto foil-wrapped cake cardboards. We then wrapped each layer with plastic wrap and then foil while the cakes were still a bit warm.
Wrapping the lemon cake layers while still warm and then placing them in the freezer is a great way to make your layers even more moist! The dramatic change in temperature creates additional moisture that becomes trapped within the layers.
- If you are working in advance, you can freeze your cake layers for up to three months, and then allow them to thaw on the countertop when ready to use.
We thaw our cake layers on the countertop while still wrapped...for about thirty minutes or so and unwrap as condensation begins to form on the foil. (It's better for the condensation to form on the wrapping than on the cake itself!)
- I think it's easier to assemble and fill the lemon layers while they are still partially frozen or at least well chilled since the layers are less fragile.
Assembling the Lemon Cake
- When you are ready to assemble the cake, pipe a dam of the lemon cream cheese frosting around the outer edge of the bottom cake layer-- we pipe about ¼ inch from the edge. Then, spread the cake layer with a thin coat of lemon curd.
- Follow that by spreading on a layer of lemon cream cheese frosting. You may find it easier to pipe a spiral of lemon cream cheese frosting on top of the lemon curd, and then lightly spread it with an offset spatula. Then, add the next layer of cake.
- Once the two layers are stacked, I like to pipe lemon cream cheese frosting in the gap between the two layers to make sure that the filling is well sealed inside.
- *One note about the filling...it is SO good that you will be tempted to really slather it on thick between the layers. However, doing this will make your layers more likely to slip in slide.
Decorating the Cake
- Next, we crumb coated the outside of the cake cake with a thin layer of Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting, and followed immediately with large rosettes piped using a large star tip (1M or 2D).
As always, if the cake or frosting seems too soft to easily decorate, chill it in the freezer for about 15 minutes (or longer in the refrigerator) to firm up the crumb coat and proceed with your decorating.
Should this Lemon Layer Cake be Refrigerated?
Because of the cream cheese frosting and lemon curd filling that we used for our lemon cake, it does need refrigeration.
Remove the cake from the refrigerator about 2-3 hours before serving so that it can come closer to room temperature. Cakes have their best texture and flavor when they are room temperature.
If you are unable to chill the cake, a buttercream filling and frosting would be a better option! (We have TONS of buttercream frosting recipes in our Recipes Section.)
The Best Way to Measure Ingredients
*As with any of our scratch cake recipes, we highly recommend measuring the ingredients (especially dry ingredients) by weight with a kitchen scale. This will ensure that you are using the intended amount of flour, etc.
However, if you do not have a digital scale, lightly spoon the dry ingredients into your measuring cup and slide a knife across the top to level.
This is a much more accurate way to measure than "scooping" the ingredients, which will give you more than the intended amount. Make sure to put a digital scale on your wish list if you don't have one--they are very reasonably priced and SO helpful!
Delicious Lemon Cake that starts with a Cake Mix
We LOVE this Lemon Cake Recipe from scratch but good lemon cake is good lemon cake no matter if it is a scratch recipe or starts from a mix.
Some bakers prefer to work with box mixes for convenience, consistency, or just because they love the flavor-and the options are endless when it comes to add-ins to make it extra special.
If you are someone who prefers to work with doctored cake mixes, we have you covered! You can find our Lemon Cake from a doctored cake mix here: Lemon Cake: Doctored Cake Mix Recipe.
This delicious, fluffy cake is perfectly lemony and works well for cupcakes also!
*last updated 5/8/18
Lemon Cake from Scratch
This light and lemony scratch lemon cake is so moist and flavorful! I love it year-round, but especially in the spring and summer months! This has been one of our most popular recipes over the years!
- 1 ½ sticks (12T) (170g) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 ½ cups (300g) sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature (if cold, place in a bowl of warm water for 5 min.)
- 3 cups (342g) cake flour *if you do not have cake flour, see note below
- ½ teaspoon (3g) salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons (7g) baking powder
- ½ teaspoon (3g) baking soda
- 1 cup (242 g) milk
- ¼ cup (57g) lemon juice
- ¼ cup (53g) vegetable oil
- zest of 2 lemons
- 1 Tablespoon (10g) lemon extract
For the Lemon Curd Filling
- ¾ cup (150g) sugar
- ¼ cup (30g) cornstarch
- 1 cup (236g) water
- 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 2 Tablespoons (28g) butter
- 1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest
- 4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
For the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 sticks (226g) unsalted butter, slightly softened but still cool to the touch
- 2 8oz packages Cream Cheese (453 total gram weight) Use full fat cream cheese. Do not use reduced fat or cream cheese in the tub containers. Soften very slightly
- 2 teaspoons (8g) lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon (4g) lemon extract, optional
- Zest from 1 lemon, approximately 1 ½ teaspoons (3g)
- 6 to 6 ½ cups (690g - 747g) powdered sugar, adding more if necessary
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
- Grease and flour two 8 inch pans ( my pans are 2 inches deep). You could also divide the batter between three 8 inch pans for slightly thinner layers which allows for an additional layer of filling.
- In a medium sized bowl add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and zest of 2 lemons. Whisk to blend and set aside.
- In another bowl, add the milk, vegetable oil and lemon juice, and lemon extract. Whisk to blend and set aside.
- In the bowl of your mixer, beat the softened butter until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and mix on medium speed 3 to 5 minutes until it is lightened in color and fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until the yellow of the yolk is blended.
- With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture and the milk mixture alternately. Begin and end with the flour (3 additions of flour and 2 of milk). Slightly increase the speed and mix until combined and smooth, do not mix above medium speed or over mix.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans, smoothing the tops with the back of a spoon. Bake at 350 degrees. If baking three 8 inch pans, bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. For two 8 inch pans, bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with only a few crumbs attached. Let the cakes cool in the pans 10 minutes then turn out.
(This recipe makes 7 cups of batter)
For the Lemon Curd Filling
- Combine sugar, cornstarch and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly, until mixture thickens and comes to a boil (3-4 minutes).
- Boil, stirring, for 1 minute more.. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Spoon about ½ cup of the hot mixture into a small bowl with egg yolks and stir quickly until combined. Continue stirring, while pouring the egg mixture back into the saucepan.
- Return pan to medium heat and cook, stirring, until the curd is thickened and lemon colored (1-2 min). Remove from heat and stir in the butter, lemon juice, and lemon zest.-- Let the lemon curd cool, then press plastic wrap onto the surface, this will prevent a skin from forming on the top. Refrigerate.
- This will fill a 2-3 layer 8 or 9 inch cake with some leftover. The recipe can be halved.
- I have refrigerated the lemon curd for a week and it was fine....I'm not sure how long it will keep beyond that. Makes 1 ¼ cups
For the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
- Cut butter into ½ inch slices and add to the bowl of your mixer, beat until smooth.
- Cut the cream cheese into pieces and add to the butter, beating until blended.
- Add the lemon juice and lemon zest. 1 teaspoon lemon extract, optional for a stronger lemon flavor.
- Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until well blended.
This frosting will pipe best if used while still chilled. You can make it in advance, refrigerate and when ready to use let it soften slightly and remix. Do not microwave to soften.
ASSEMBLY OF CAKE
- For the cake pictured in this post, we piped a dam of lemon cream cheese frosting about ¼ inch inside the edge of the first layer.
- We spread a thin layer of lemon curd frosting, piped and spread a layer of lemon cream cheese frosting on top of it, and added the top cake layer. We thinly crumb coated the cake with our lemon cream cheese frosting before piping large rosettes all over the cake (use a 2D or 1M tip).
Cake Flour Substitution: ** If you don't have cake flour, for each cup of all purpose flour (or plain flour in the UK) remove 2 Tablespoons of flour and replace with 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch ( corn flour in the UK) For this recipe, measure out 3 cups all purpose flour, remove 6 Tablespoons and replace with 6 Tablespoons cornstarch. Whisk to blend.
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More Lemon Cakes and Desserts!
We've made so many delicious lemon cakes and lemony desserts over the years that we've fallen in love with.
Don't miss these other popular recipes in our Recipes section that are sure to satisfy all of your lemon cravings!
We're sharing a few favorites below, but you can find our full collection here!: Favorite Lemon Cakes, Fillings, and Frostings
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Found and made your recipe, big hit!. Added fresh strawberries to middle, and berries and candied lemons on top, as you can see my decor skills are lacking, and used a wee too much yellow jelly, but overall pretty proud of it. As a true, home maker, find a recipe and make it sort, I really wish that you would not assume that everybody has a stand mixer. I have not the resources or the counter space for such an item, so hand mixer it is. I fear I over mixed it, the dough was tasty but a little dense, delish, and will certainly make it again. Thank you for sharing the recipe.
Hi Barbara, I'm so happy you gave the recipe a try and enjoyed the cake. Melissa and I don't mean to imply that everyone has a stand mixer. A hand mixer will work just as well with all of our recipes, you may need to mix a bit longer with some of the steps but that is not a problem. Thanks so much for posting your thoughts on the recipe, and your cake looks delicious.
can i cover the cake with fondant with the lemon curd filling?
what can i use if i don't want to make my own lemon curd
Hi Karen, You can usually find lemon curd in grocery stores.
Made this recipe as a vanilla birthday cake the other day adding some sour cream...it was delicious!
How many people does this recipe feed?
Hi Shelby, this cake recipe makes about 7 cups of batter- enough for a 3 layer 8 inch cake--about 15-20 servings.
I have tried this recipe three times and it always comes out dense. I do not use dairy milk or regular sugar. I used coconut/almond milk and stevia. I thought that might have something to do with it so I used regular sugar and it only made a small improvement in the height of the cake.
Hi Marie, I am sorry you have had a problem with the recipe. I think the ingredients you have been using are causing the problem. We have not tried using coconut/almond milk or Stevia. Those milk substitutes do not have the same fat content so will effect the moisture and texture of your cake. When butter is creamed with sugar air is trapped and later released when baking giving you a light and fluffy texture.