We spent the 4th of July bbq-ing with friends, and this year I thought I’d bypass the star spangled cake designs and flavors all together. Instead, I reached for the perfect lemon cake recipe (always a crowd favorite!) and paired it with the tastiest lemon cream cheese buttercream. It did not disappoint. I think this lemon cake is so perfect for any Summer gathering (or year round!), and I can’t wait to share this recipe with all of you lemon fans.
Last month, after tons of recipe testing and plenty of fails, this magical lemon cake was created. My insides squealed as I took it out of the oven and discovered that I had finally stumbled upon a lemon cake that’s fluffy, moist, packed with lemon flavor, and has the perfect amount of rise! Since lemon is such an acidic ingredient, you’ve got to be extra careful with which rising agent ratios you choose. I’m happy to say that these ones are perfection, so you can expect a beautiful lemon cake every time you bake it!
The first time I attempted a lemon cake recipe, I was flavoring the batter with fresh squeezed lemon juice. It turns out that lemon juice doesn’t really do much for flavor because most of it bakes off in the oven, and the most potent flavors of lemon actually come from the peel. So in the end, fresh lemon zest and a little lemon extract (which is made from distilled zest) add the perfect amount of zingy lemon flavor to this cake. Don’t worry about wasting any lemon juice though, you can save that for the lemon cream cheese buttercream!
I’ve paired this lemon cake with blueberry buttercream before, and it’s a beautiful flavor combination. This time around, I whipped up some lemon cream cheese buttercream and it is so, so dreamy with this cake. While cream cheese buttercreams tend to be on the softer side, this one is actually perfect for both frosting the cake and piping on designs, so it’s a real winner! And flavoring it with a little hit of fresh squeezed lemon juice really helps bring out the perfect amount of lemon flavor throughout the cake. So tasty!
As a finishing touch, I oven dried some lemon slices and stuck them onto the frosted cake. I think they’re so pretty, and really easy to make if you’ve got some down time. All it takes is slicing some lemons, baking them on a piece of parchment paper for 2-3 hours in a 200º oven (until they’re dry to the touch), and voila! The prettiest little lemon accents for your cake! However you choose to decorate, this lemon cake will have everyone reaching for that second (and third) slice.
Lemon Cake With Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream
Layers of soft, zesty lemon cake topped with delicious lemon cream cheese buttercream.
Lemon Layer Cake
- 3 1/4 Cups (344g) cake flour, sifted before measuring
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 Cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 Cups (410g) white granulated sugar
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- 1/3 Cup (75g) sour cream, room temperature
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 tsp pure lemon extract
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon zest (about 1 small lemon)
- 1 1/4 Cups (200ml) whole milk, room temperature
Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream
- 1 Cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 16 oz (452g) cream cheese, room temperature
- 8 Cups (960g) powdered sugar
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 small lemon)
- 1/2 tsp salt
Make The Lemon Layer Cake
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare three 8-inch or four 6-inch cake pans by spraying the sides with a cooking spray (Baker’s Joy is my favorite) and a wax paper circle fitted to the bottom of the pan. Alternatively, you can grease and lightly flour the pans.
Sift the cake flour and then measure by spooning and leveling it in your measuring cup. Add the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer (a handheld mixer works fine too!), cream the butter for on high for two minutes until it’s light and fluffy. Add in sugar and continue to mix on medium-high for another two minutes, scraping down the bowl and paddle as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add sour cream, vanilla extract, lemon extract, and lemon zest and mix for one minute on high, scraping down the bowl and paddle once more.
With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the milk slowly and mix until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and give it a few stirs to make sure there are no lumps.
Pour batter into prepared cake pans (no more than 2/3 of the way full) and bake for 35-40 minutes. They’re done when they spring back to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pan for five minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack for an additional few hours of cooling. Make sure they’re entirely room temperature before applying any frosting.
Make The Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese on high until light, fluffy, and uniform (no lumps), about five minutes. Turn the mixer to low and add the powdered sugar a few cups at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add the lemon juice and salt, mixing on low for another 30 seconds.
After the lemon cake is cooled, torte each layer to remove the excess cake dome. Fill and frost with lemon cream cheese buttercream. To replicate the design pictured, after crumb coating the cake, divide the lemon cream cheese buttercream amongst three separate bowls. Color one bowl with yellow food coloring (I used Americolor Lemon Yellow). Mix a little of the yellow buttercream into another bowl of plain white to create a middle yellow shade. You should now have one bowl of deep yellow buttercream, one bowl of mid-yellow buttercream, and one bowl of white buttercream.
Frost the bottom third of the cake with the deepest shade of yellow buttercream, the middle third with the mid-tone buttercream, and the top third with white buttercream. Smooth it with an icing smoother to create an ombre finish. Top with pretty piping, oven dried lemon slices, and a few yellow and white sprinkles for good measure.
Make ahead tips: the Lemon Layer Cake can be made ahead and stored at room temperature, covered tightly in plastic wrap, for up to two days. Alternatively, you can cover with plastic wrap and store in the freezer for up to two months before thawing to room temperature.
The Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you’re ready to use it, bring it back to room temperature and re-whip with your stand mixer to bring it back to frosting consistency.
Did you make this cake recipe? I want to know how it went! Let me know in the comments below or feel free to tag @sugarandsparrowco on Instagram. I love to see your cake creations!