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Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream

  • Author: Cindy Gibbs
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: 12 servings 1x
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Bake
  • Cuisine: American


This triple-layer lemon cake is made from scratch with lots of fresh lemon flavor.  It’s moist and delicious and the tangy/sweet lemon cream cheese frosting totally complements it.




  • 3 cups sifted cake flour, spooned and leveled (Sift the cake flour before measuring)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, unsalted, and softened
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups full-fat buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, (not from a bottle)
  • 1 teaspoon pure lemon extract


  • 2 8-ounce blocks softened cream cheese, (not fat-free)
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 1/2 to 7 cups powdered sugar
  • Candied lemon slices, optional  (See notes above this recipe on how to candy lemon slices)



  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and lightly flour three 8 x 2 inch round cake pans.  Make sure to tap the pans and shake out any excess flour.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest.  Set aside.
  3. In a 2-cup measuring cup or bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, lemon juice, and lemon extract.  Set aside.
  4. Add the butter to the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, (or use a hand mixer).  Mix on medium-high speed until it becomes very light and smooth.  Add the sugar and mix on medium speed for about 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture is very light and smooth.  It should be paler in color and there should be no grainy granules of sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing just to incorporate each time, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  5. Add the oil, lemon juice, and lemon extract and mix to incorporate.
  6. Add the dry ingredients and buttermilk mixture in three additions on medium-low speed, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix only to incorporate.  Do not overmix!
  7. Divide the batter equally between the 3 prepared cake pans.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out with slightly moist crumbs on it.  Allow cakes to cool for 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges and gently shake each pan to ensure the cake is loose from the pan.  Invert cake layers onto a wire rack to completely cool.


  1. Make the frosting:  Make sure the cream cheese is very soft.  Add the cream cheese to a large mixing bowl.  I prefer to use the whisk attachment for cream cheese, but you don’t have to.  Beat the cream cheese on medium speed until it’s very smooth and there are no lumps.  Add the butter and beat until the mixture is very smooth and light about 2 minutes.  Add the lemon juice, zest, and salt and mix to incorporate.
  2. Add the powdered sugar on low speed, 2 cups at a time, mixing the sugar in thoroughly before adding more.  If the frosting seems a little too thin for spreading, add a bit more sugar.  If it seems a little too thick for spreading, add a tiny bit of milk or lemon juice, adding only 1 teaspoon at a time.
  3. Assemble & frost:  If you want perfect flat layers, use a serrated knife and slice the dome top off of each cake layer.  I did not.  Place one cake layer on a cake plate or a turntable.  Spread about 1 1/4 cups of frosting over the layer.  Add the second layer and spread 1 1/4 cups of frosting.  Add the top layer and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides. it.
  4. To serve:  For nice neat slices, chill the cake for about 1 hour before slicing.  Use a long sharp knife to slice the cake.  Dip the knife in a tall glass of hot water before each cut and wipe the knife dry, then wipe the knife clean after each cut.  This way the frosting will not stick to the knife and will look perfect on each slice of cake.
  5. Cover tightly and refrigerate the leftover cake for no more than 4 days for best freshness.



  1. Measuring the flour: This recipe calls for sifted cake flour.  This means to sift the flour first, then measure it.
  2. Freezing the cake:  The cake layers can be baked and frozen up to 3 months in advance.  Bake the cake layers and allow them to cool completely.  Wrap each layer tightly with plastic wrap.  Do this twice.  Then wrap each layer with a layer of heavy-duty foil.  If you’re not sure when you’re going to use the layers, use a marker and write the date on the foil of when you froze it.  When ready to use, thaw the cake layers overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. Freezing the frosting:  I don’t recommend freezing the frosting.  You can make the frosting a day or two in advance and bring it to room temperature before spreading it on the cake.
  4. Cake pans:  This cake can also be made in two 9-inch round cake pans.  The bake time will be a few minutes longer.  I don’t advise using three 9-inch pans or the cake layers will be rather thin.  I also don’t recommend using a 9 x 13 pan for this cake.  There’s quite a bit of batter, and the cake may not be done in the center when the rest of the cake is done.
  5. Cupcakes:  I have not made cupcakes with this recipe, but it should easily make 24 cupcakes, maybe more with plenty of frosting.

Keywords: cake, lemon cake, lemon layer cake,