This luscious lemon layer cake is packed with fresh lemon flavor and covered in a creamy lemon frosting. It’s the perfect cake for a special occasion, is simple to make, and oh so refreshing!
Talk about a lemon lover’s dream! You are in the right place if you need more lemon desserts. During the warmer months, besides this cake, my go-to recipes are lemon meringue pie, lemon pie bars, and this lemon tart that is made with homemade lemon curd. Plus it’s a great way to use up extra ingredients you may already have on hand.
I love how light, bright, and refreshing citrus flavors bring to desserts. If you are hosting a party and need a few more ideas, this cake looks great next to lemon blueberry bites, lemon blueberry muffins, and banana split dump cake.
In my opinion, one of the best things about layered cakes is getting to decorate them! Chantilly cake, Neapolitan cake, and chocolate chip cake are a few simple recipes if you want to get a little more experience with piping frosting, and decorating.
What do I Need for this Recipe?
- Cake Ingredients:
- unsalted butter – we like unsalted so we can control the amount of salt in the recipe. Be sure it has time to soften, as it’s easier to mix.
- butter flavored shortening – helps to create a fluffier cake with a softer crumb.
- granulated sugar – provides the sweetness of the cake.
- lemon zest – adds a little more tangy flavor.
- vanilla extract – adds a subtle hint of vanilla.
- pure lemon extract – a great way for lemon lovers to add more flavor without using more liquid.
- eggs – allow the eggs to come to room temperature before adding them to the batter.
- lemon juice – we love using fresh lemons.
- all-purpose flour – if desired, swap for cake flour. It will make the layers of lemon cake a little airier.
- baking soda and baking powder – the ingredients help to make a fluffy cake so it rises when baking.
- salt – just enough to bring the flavors together.
- milk – we find that whole milk works the best.
- Frosting Ingredients:
- softened butter – definitely let the butter soften beforehand.
- powdered sugar – makes the icing creamy and sweet.
- lemon extract – gives a punch of lemon flavor.
- salt – draws out the flavors and balances the sweetness.
- milk or heavy cream – helps to get the frosting to the right consistency
Piped frosting or whipped cream, lemon zest or slices, a drizzle of lemon curd, or fresh berries
Electric mixer – use a hand mixer or stand mixer to make mixing easier. The paddle attachment can be used to cream the butter and sugar. The whisk attachment works best when you are ready to mix in egg yolks.
Variations and Substitutions:
- Buttermilk – Whole milk is best in this recipe to keep the cake moist and flavorful. Buttermilk can be substituted for a slightly heavier and moist cake.
- Frosting – The frosting is a lemon buttercream. Lemon cream cheese frosting would also be delicious.
- Lemon blueberry cake – Coat 1 cup of blueberries in a tablespoon of flour. This helps them to be dispersed throughout the cake instead of sinking to the bottom. Fold these in before pouring the batter into the pans.
- Sheet cake – This recipe can be used to make 1 cake layer in a 9×13 pan,
- Cupcakes – you will get about 16-20 cupcakes using this same recipe.
- Filling – if desired, add a thin layer of creamy lemon curd in between the cake layers.
PREP: Grease two 9-inch cake pans using nonstick cooking spray. Place two pieces of parchment paper on the bottom. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Step 1: In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter, sugar, and shortening on medium speed until creamy. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Step 2: Mix in the lemon zest and the extracts on low speed.
Step 3: Beat the eggs into the batter.
Step 4: Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl.
Pro Tip: Don’t overmix the batter. This will make the finished cake be denser and a little tough.
Step 5: Add ½ cup of milk to the wet ingredients, then half of the dry ingredients. Pour in another ½ cup of milk, and the remaining flour mixture. Mix until combined at medium-high speed.
Step 6: Transfer the cake batter to the prepared cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to finish. Transfer to a cake plate.
Step 7: Beat the butter and 2 cups of powdered sugar together. Mix in the lemon extract and a pinch of salt. Add a couple of tablespoons of milk at a time until the frosting is creamy and fluffy.
Step 8: To frost the lemon cake layers, use an offset spatula and add frosting to the center of the cake. Spread so it goes almost to the edge of the cake. Place the second cake layer on top and repeat for the top and sides.
GARNISH: Transfer the remaining frosting to a piping bag and decorate as desired or serve as is!
- If the cake layers have puffed up a bit while baking, use a serrated knife to trim the puffy part to make it flat.
- It’s best to spread a crumb coat of frosting on first, then the final coat. A crumb coat is a thin layer of icing for the base that the crumbs usually get in, but once it’s been completely frosted you will no longer see the cake crumbs.
- This buttercream will work well for piping a border or simple decorations on the cake. You may wish to increase the frosting recipe by 50% if you want to pipe a full border or do more decorating.
- If you’re looking for a lighter cake, this lemon sponge cake has more of an angel food cake texture and is filled with whipped cream and lemon curd.
Did you know that the lemon tree produces fruit year-round?
Leftover frosted cake can be kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days or in the freezer for 1 month.
Once the cake layers have been baked and cooled, wrap them in a layer or two of plastic wrap and freeze them. Then decorate before serving. Cold cake layers are also easier to frost than freshly baked.
Most of the time a lemon buttercream or cream cheese frosting works best for this cake.
Lemon Layer Cake
- ½ cup unsalted butter softened
- ½ cup butter flavored shortening
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon lemon extract
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups whole milk warm
- 1 ½ cups unsalted butter softened
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- 3 teaspoons lemon extract
- Pinch of salt
- 3-5 tablespoons milk
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray two 9-inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper.
- Cream together the butter, shortening and sugar in a large mixing bowl until smooth and creamy.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the lemon zest, lemon extract, and vanilla extract. Beat until combined.
- Add in the eggs and lemon juice and mix on high speed for 2-3 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
- To the wet ingredients, add ½ cup of milk, then ½ of the flour mixture, another ½ cup of milk, the remaining flour, and the remaining milk. Mix just until everything is combined.
- Divide the batter between the two prepared baking pans.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cakes comes out with just a few crumbs.
- Cool cakes for 5-10 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way.
- Prepare the frosting by beating the butter and two cups of powdered sugar together until well combined. Add in the lemon extract and a pinch of salt. Continue beating, adding the remaining powdered sugar and a couple tablespoons of milk at a time until the frosting is fluffy and creamy.
- Assemble the cake by spreading a layer of frosting on the first layer, stacking the second layer on top, and then frosting the top and around the sides of the cake. Decorate as desired.
Store the frosted cake in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Freeze for up to 1 month. Notes: This lemon cake is moist and packed with lemon flavor. You can substitute the shortening for butter – shortening helps to create a fluffier cake with a softer crumb. Whole milk is best in this recipe to keep the cake moist and flavorful. Buttermilk can be substituted for a slightly heavier and moist cake. The frosting is a lemon buttercream. Lemon cream cheese frosting would also be delicious. This buttercream will work well for piping a border or simple decorations on the cake. You may wish to increase the frosting recipe by 50% if you want to pipe a full border or do more decorating.