Lemon Cake With Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream

lemon cream cheese buttercream recipe

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. 

lemon layer cake with cream cheese buttercream

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!

lemon cake recipe with cream cheese buttercream
lemon cream cheese cake recipe

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! 

lemon cake recipe decorated with oven dried lemon slices

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!

oven dried lemon slices recipe
lemon cake by sugar and sparrow

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 cream cheese buttercream recipe
4.84 from 6 votes
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Lemon Cake With Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream

Layers of soft, zesty lemon cake topped with delicious lemon cream cheese buttercream.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

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

Instructions

Make The Lemon Layer Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare three 6-inch or two 9-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. 

  2. 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. 

  3. 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. 

  4. 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. 

  5. 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

  1. 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. 

Assembly

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Recipe Notes

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!

63 Comments

  1. Michelle

    Do you think lemon curd could be added between the layers or would it be too much? Thanks…love your cakes!

    • Hi Michelle! This cake is already super lemony as it is, but lemon curd would make a lovely addition if you’re a real big lemon fan! And if you’re worried about it being too much, you could always substitute the lemon juice in the buttercream recipe with vanilla extract to make a regular cream cheese buttercream instead of a lemon cream cheese buttercream.

  2. Mehera G

    Have you tried this recipe using 2 8 in pans? I’ve used 6 in pans recipes calling for 2 8 in pans, so I’m thinking this would work fine? Thoughts?

  3. Absolutely delicious! I’m getting married in September and I have decided to make my cake(s). I have been practicing for months now and your website has helped me tremendously. Now I know why they charge so much! Anyway, this lemon cake was the star of my Poolside BBQ and cake tasting, lol. Thank you so much for sharing your gift!

    • That’s so awesome, Xenia! So happy my recipes and tutorials have been helpful and that the lemon cake was a hit. Good luck on your wedding cake and congratulations!!

  4. The cake flour used in this lemon cake is same as your homemade cake flour recipe….made of plain flour & corn starch?

    • Hi Ruchi! You can definitely use my homemade cake flour instructions in this recipe if store bought cake flour isn’t available.

  5. Hello. Recently found your beautiful and inspirational site. Looking forward to trying some of your recipes, but probably beginning with this lovely lemon. Wondering, as you bake in 6″ pans like I typically do, can you tell me approx how tall your layers are meant to rise? I like tall cakes (usually in the 5-6″ range), so I often make thicker layers, or just several layers. Are your recipes around the same in expected layer height? Thanks very much!

    • Hi Paula! Can’t wait for you to try this lemon cake. I usually bake the layers in three 6-inch cake pans (2 inches tall) and fill the pans 2/3 full. They bake up to about 1 3/4 inches tall per layer. When the layers are filled and frosted, three layers should be enough to get your cake in the 5-6 inch tall range. I really like thick layers as well, so I’ve written all of my recipes to rise just as much.

  6. Cassandra Wan

    Hi Laura, this looks amazing! Do you think I can airbrush the lemon butter cream? Thanks!!

    • Thanks so much, Cassandra! I’ve never tried airbrushing a cake before but I’m sure you could airbrush this buttercream.

  7. 4 stars
    I use professional 6″ pans – should’ve trusted my gut & used FOUR pans …WAY too much wasteful, messy overspill in my oven 🙁

    • Hi there! Not sure what the difference is with a professional 6″ cake pan (sounds like they’re more shallow than normal 6″ cake pans?) The sides on mine are 2 inches tall, and when filled with batter to 2/3 full I have not had a problem with batter overflowing. Next time try less batter per pan or like you said, four pans if they’re shallower than 2″.

    • The pans make all the difference! I wish someone had told me the before I made the first cake. The layers were not flush since the pan was on an angle, it overflowed and the sides were too crisp. I got the Winton pans the next round and the cakes were PERFECT! I also used baking strips around the outer side of the pans to avoid crisp sides.

      • So happy to hear that your new cake pans are doing the trick, Dana! I am gonna have to try cake strips someday, I hear they work wonders.

    • I oven dried the lemons! You can oven dry lemon slices by baking them on a piece of parchment paper for 2-3 hours in a 200º oven until they’re dry to the touch.

  8. Hi! I’m planning to make this frosting for a 6-inch cake with four layers. Should I make a batch and a half of it, or will the original amounts be enough with the additional layer? Thanks!

    • Hi Amy! The original frosting recipe will be enough for frosting a 4-layer 6-inch cake. You’ll probably even have a little extra to do some pretty piping accents!

  9. Billy Gardner

    I just made this for my sisters birthday! I added a raspberry jam in between the layers and it turned out so good.

  10. Nancy Herrera

    5 stars
    The BEST lemon cake I have EVER made and eaten in my life! Thank you for sharing your wonderful recipes!
    Nancy

    • Hi Wadzie! You can certainly reduce the amount of sugar in the buttercream, but the less you use the thinner the buttercream consistency will be. To keep it a good consistency for frosting/piping, I don’t recommend reducing by more than 1/2 Cup.

  11. Hi I’m planning on baking this for my birthday on Friday but I only have regular whole milk and buttermilk. Can I substitute the sour cream with buttermilk? Would the cake still be as fluffy?

    • Hi Jo! If you don’t have sour cream on hand, you can omit it and substitute the whole milk in this recipe with buttermilk. The purpose of the sour cream is to add extra moisture, and substituting in buttermilk will help with that.

  12. Sindia Padilla

    5 stars
    Pretty sure this is the fluffiest cake I have ever made! I tweaked it more than usual since I am making a mini layered “smash” cake but don’t have small round pans. I did a half batch baked in a large parchment paper lined cookie sheet with a 1/2 in lip at 350 for 15 min. Used bread flour, plain yogurt instead of sour cream, 2% milk, and omitted lemon extract since I didn’t have any. The batter is thick so I had to spread it the best I could with a spoon. It didn’t spread much baking so its a tad uneven. Tapping to spread the batter may have donethe trick. It isn’t too lemony without the extract even though I used zest from one lemon. Either way, this recipe is a keeper! I’m excited to make the frosting and someday try this recipe exactly as described. Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Sindia! I am surprised that the cake turned out so fluffy with all those alterations, especially with using bread flour. So glad it turned out for you and thanks for letting me know what worked as substitutions! Excited for you to try it as it’s written someday and compare 🙂

  13. Katie Jackson

    I loved your lemon layer cake with the blueberry icing! I see that some of the measurements differ slightly on this lemon layer cake recipe and just wondering if it’s the same cake but with some updates to this version? Love your blog. Big fan!

    • Hi Katie! So happy you love the lemon layer cake recipe! This is the same recipe as the lemon layer cake with blueberry buttercream, it just makes slightly less batter 🙂

      • Katie Jackson

        Awesome! Thanks for the reply. I’m going to try this today with a homemade strawberry buttercream. Can’t wait.

          • Katie Jackson

            It was a big hit! The lemon cake with real strawberry buttercream (I blended the strawberries and then reduced them down) was for a 7 year old birthday party. She raved about it. Fantastic recipe!

            I am wondering if I could sub lime for lemon on this recipe to make a lime flavored cake? What do you think?

          • That’s wonderful, Katie! So happy to hear the recipe was a hit and I want to try that reduced strawberry puree buttercream someday! I’ve never tried subbing lime in for the lemon in this recipe, but since lemons and limes have similar acidity I think it would work just fine. Let me know how it goes if you try it!

  14. Hi Whitney! I am working on this cake today and this is the first time I have made baked lemon slices. I sliced them, trying not to go too thick or thin. I did bake on parchment as you wrote. After around 2 hours, the thinner ones were “done”, but the little bit thicker ones were tacky on the backs. Question: do you bake directly on parchment paper on a cookie sheet or do you put them on a rack on a cookie sheet covered in parchment? I finished off the under done slices by putting on a rack, tacky side up, on a cookie sheet. Help!

    • Also…I used the amounts of butter and cream cheese as stated: 16 oz of cream cheese. Mine was really loose and sticky…did I miss something??

      • Cream cheese buttercream is typically more sticky than other buttercreams by nature, but if it’s too thin, there are a few ways to troubleshoot. If your kitchen environment is too warm, or you began with cream cheese/butter that were too soft, it will make the resulting buttercream thin. If this is the case, just stick the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes and then rewhip it with your stand mixer. Otherwise, you can thicken it by adding more powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time and balancing the sweetness with a pinch of salt, until the desired consistency is reached.

    • Hi Paula! I line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the lemon slices on top. It sounds like the rack method worked for you for the thicker slices though? If the thicker slices are tacky, it just means they still have a tiny bit of liquid in them and need a bit longer in the oven to dry out. But even if they are a little tacky, they should still hold up and work just fine.

  15. Thank you for your replies Whitney. Going to work on my cake today!!! If it looks good, I’ll post pics. Hope you are doing well!! 🙂

  16. Hi Whitney- Well, I decided to go with a vanilla elderflower buttercream. I took a few pics and posted on my Instagram. Thank you for your inspiration.

    • Just saw on Instagram, Paula! The cake turned out so stunning!! Nice work and pairing this lemon cake with vanilla elderflower buttercream sounds like the best idea ever. I’m gonna have to try that sometime!

  17. Hi! I was hoping to attempt a striped cake soon.. do you think this cream cheese buttercream will be sturdy enough? Or for the first time, err on the side of caution and use a classic buttercream?

    • Hi Mary! I’ve actually never attempted the striped look with cream cheese buttercream, but I know it works perfectly with classic buttercream. If you’re nervous about trying it with cream cheese but want that flavor represented in the cake, you could always fill and crumb coat the cake with cream cheese buttercream and chill it to let it set up firm. Then, you could attempt the stripes with cream cheese buttercream and if it doesn’t work out, it should be fine to create the striped look with classic vanilla buttercream from there as a backup. Let me know if you attempt it with cream cheese buttercream! Now I’m curious!

      • Thank you so much for you thoughtful response! I think I will attempt stripes with the cream cheese buttercream like you said and if it doesn’t work out, then I’ll make some classic buttercream to try again! Thanks for your advice. I really appreciate it. I have just gotten into cake decorating, and your blog has been so helpful to me! I’ll let you know how it turns out 🙂

        • I attempted the stripes today! They didn’t turn out as crisp as I wanted, but I actually think it was user error. I think my grooves weren’t deep enough in some areas – so the issue probably wasn’t with the cream cheese. I will have to try again with a standard American buttercream and see if there is a difference. Thanks again for your advice!

          • Ah yes, stripes definitely take some practice to get those grooves just right. Glad it sounds like the stripes worked out with the cream cheese buttercream though, that’s awesome!

  18. Beth Garrison

    I substituted Greek lemon yogurt in lieu of sour cream. Also used buttermilk instead of milk. Between the cake layers I spread lemon curd.

    • Hi Beth! Sounds like those substitutions worked and I’m happy to hear it! I bet the lemon curd was so tasty with this lemon cake and cream cheese buttercream – gonna have to try that sometime!

  19. Is “cake flour” the same as self raising flour? I’ve never seen “cake flour” where I live.

    Also would this freeze ok with frosting done? I’ve frozen whole cakes with buttercream before but not sure if the cream cheese would make a difference ?

    Thank you !

    • Hi Jess! Self rising flour is not the same as cake flour (self rising has additional leavening agents in it). If you can’t find cake flour locally, you can make a homemade version with all purpose flour using this recipe: http://sugarandsparrow.com/homemade-cake-flour

      You should be able to freeze the cake with cream cheese frosting!

  20. Katherine

    5 stars
    This was the first time making a cake from scratch, something I have been wanting to attempt for a while. I am proud to say I have got the thumbs up from every last person who helped demolish it. The recipe was super easy to follow, the ingredients are easy to find at the shops and the flavours and textures are 100% on point. I can’t wait to try more recipes from Sugar and Sparrow. Thank you for sharing them with the world, I will 100% recommend.

    • Yay, Katherine! That makes me beyond happy to hear! I’m glad the recipe was easy to follow and turned out tasty. So proud of you for nailing your first from-scratch cake and excited for you to try more!

  21. Hi – have you tried making cupcakes with this? If so, how many would it make and should i alter the oven temp?

    • Hi Tori! Yes, this recipe makes great cupcakes! Just be sure to fill the tins no more than 2/3 full and bake at 350ºF for 15-18 minutes. Not sure about the exact amount of cupcakes this will yield, but I would guess about 40+ cupcakes.

  22. 5 stars
    This cake is beautiful! Will you share what piping tips you used to decorate? Thank you.

  23. I’m planning on making this cake soon and noticed the amount of sugar in it. Is it possible to reduce the sugar from 2 cups to 1 1/2 cups or lesser? Thanks!! Can’t wait to bake this cake as it looks fab.

    • Hi Mel! The sugar in the recipe helps soften the cake’s texture and reducing it by too much can throw off the cake’s chemistry. You can certainly try it with 1.5 cups of sugar but any less than that and I think it would alter the chemistry too much.

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