My fluffy Lemon Cake recipe makes a plush, lemon flavored cake using real lemons–no extract or pudding mix required! It’s filled with a tart lemon curd and frosted with an airy whipped cream cheese frosting for one refreshing slice! Recipe includes a how-to video.
A 100% From-Scratch Lemon Cake
This sunshine-y lemon cake recipe is the real deal. It uses no extract, no pudding mixes, and no fancy ingredients–just fresh-squeezed, real lemon flavor. Truly the perfect balance of sweet and tart, this recipe will be a hit with lemon lovers, or anyone who enjoys their desserts on the lighter, less-rich side of things.
The cake layers themselves are super soft, fluffy and plush thanks to whipped egg whites (more on that below!). Even though there’s lemon flavor in the cake, I take things even further with a bold, tart lemon curd filling. We’ll finish it off with a not-too-sweet, whipped version of my cream cheese frosting to complement all that tartness.
If you’ve ever made my white cake or strawberry cake, then you’re already familiar with the process I’m using for this lemon cake recipe. To create a soft and fluffy crumb, you will need to whip egg whites to stiff peaks before folding them into the batter. If you’ve never done this before or just need a refresher, don’t fret–I’ve included some tips to help you below.
What You Need
Here are a few of the ingredients you’ll be using in today’s lemon cake recipe:
- Lemons. I find this recipe typically requires 3-4 lemons, and I always zest my lemons before juicing them–it’s almost impossible to zest a juiced lemon!
- Cake flour. I prefer cake flour for my lemon cake, but I do have instructions on how to use all-purpose flour if that’s all you have. Whichever you use, make sure you measure your flour properly!
- Egg whites. I do not recommend carton egg whites as most will not whip properly (and even say so on the side of the container!).
- Lemon curd. While you could use store-bought, I highly recommend using my homemade lemon curd. Not only does it taste better, but it also uses the exact number of egg yolks that you’ll have leftover after separating your eggs! If you choose to make my recipe, make it first so it has time to cool down. Also note that you’ll have a little extra leftover, so save that for scones or petit fours!
- Cream Cheese. Do not use the tub-style cream cheese for the frosting; use full-fat, brick-style cream cheese and make sure it’s softened, but still slightly chilled. If it is too warm, your frosting will be too soft to spread properly and you’ll need to stick it in the fridge before using.
SAM’S TIP: Always combine your wet and dry ingredients by hand using a spatula–never use an electric mixer for this step! Over-mixing is one of the quickest ways to end up with a dry, dense, or cornbread-y tasting lemon cake.
Remember, this is just an overview of the ingredients I used and why. For the full recipe please scroll down to the bottom of the post!
Tips for Whipping Egg Whites to Stiff Peaks
- Make sure you use a completely clean, completely dry, completely grease-free bowl.
- Don’t let any yolk contaminate your whites–not even a tiny drop!
- Use an electric mixer and make sure the beaters are also clean, dry, and grease-free.
- You’ll know you’ve reached stiff peaks when the egg whites have increased in volume and are thick and fluffy. If you pull your beaters out of the mixture, the peak that forms will hold its shape and not fold over or melt back into the bowl (hence the term “stiff” peaks).
SAM’S TIP: Make sure you are using a spatula or spoon to gently fold your egg whites into the cake batter; using an electric mixer or too rough of a hand can deflate all the air you just whipped into them.
How to Make Lemon Cake
- Zest and juice your lemons. Set the zest aside for now and combine the juice with the milk.
- Combine the oil, butter, sugar, reserved lemon zest, and vanilla extract in a separate bowl.
- Combine the dry ingredients in another separate bowl, then begin adding this to the wet ingredients in 3-4 parts, alternating with the milk/lemon juice mixture.
- Use an electric mixer to whip the egg whites to stiff peaks in a separate (clean, dry, grease-free) bowl before gently folding them into the cake batter by hand.
- Divide the batter among greased, floured, and lined pans and bake for 28-31 minutes.
- Let the cakes cool completely before filling with lemon curd, stacking, and frosting.
SAM’S TIP: Over-baking is cake’s #1 enemy! Always bake in the center rack and make sure your oven temperature is accurate (I keep two oven thermometers in my oven to be sure). Even a minute or two too long in the oven can make your lemon cake dry.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! You will want to keep your lemon cake refrigerated in an airtight container. It will last for up to 5 days when stored this way. This cake also freezes well–just wrap it tightly and freeze for up to 3 months.
This frosting is very light and delicate and best suited for a thin, semi-naked covering. I would not recommend using if you are making a cake that is taller than two layers, or if you plan to do decorative piping; instead, I’d recommend using my cream cheese frosting, buttercream frosting, or Swiss meringue buttercream.
To make the cake layers in advance, allow them to cool and then wrap well with plastic wrap. Store at room temperature for up to one full day before assembling, or freeze for up to a month before assembling.
The lemon curd layer may be made up to 5 days in advance of assembling the cake, and I recommend making the frosting just before assembling.
While you could, the blueberries sink right to the bottom of this light batter as the cake bakes (even if you toss them with cornstarch or flour). Instead, I recommend my lemon blueberry cake, which was specially designed for this purpose.
One bright and fruity bite of this lemon cake will have you forgetting about that extra egg white step–I promise 😊
Let’s bake together! I’ll be walking you through all the steps in my written recipe and video below! If you try this recipe, be sure to tag me on Instagram, and you can also find me on YouTube and Facebook
Lemon Cake Recipe
- 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon zest¹
- ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice (80ml), I usually need 3-4 lemons, zest your lemons before juicing
- ⅔ cup whole milk (160ml)
- ½ cup vegetable or canola oil (118ml)
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter softened (57g)
- 1 ¾ cup granulated sugar (350g)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 cups cake flour² see note to substitute all-purpose/plain flour (330g)
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 large egg whites room temperature preferred
- ¾ cup lemon curd ³ (175ml)
- 4 oz cream cheese softened, but still slightly cool (use the brick-style, full-fat cream cheese, do not use the spreadable kind sold in tubs 113g)
- 1 cups powdered sugar divided (often called “icing sugar” outside the US, 125g)
- ¾ teaspoons vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cups heavy cream cold (175ml)
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C) and prepare two 8” round cake pans by spraying with baking spray and lining the bottoms with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Zest your lemons and set zest aside. Juice lemons until you have ⅓ cup of juice, whisk this with your milk and set aside.⅓ cup fresh lemon juice, ⅔ cup whole milk
- In a large bowl using an electric mixer or in a stand mixer, beat together oil, butter, sugar, reserved lemon zest, and vanilla extract until completely combined.3 Tablespoons fresh lemon zest¹, ½ cup vegetable or canola oil, 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 ¾ cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk well.3 cups cake flour², 1 Tablespoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt
- Stirring by hand, gradually alternate adding the flour mixture and lemon/milk mixture to the butter mixture, stirring until just combined after each addition (I start and end with the flour and add the flour mixture in 4 parts and the milk mixture in 3 parts).
- Place egg whites in a separate clean, dry bowl, and beat on high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form (see video or photo in post for a visual if needed).6 large egg whites room temperature preferred
- Using a spatula, gently fold egg whites into cake batter until completely combined (don’t use your electric mixer at this point or you will over-beat the batter). Divide cake batter evenly into prepared pans and bake on 350F for 28-31 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
- Allow cakes to cool in pans for 10 minutes then run a knife around the edges to loosen cakes from pan and carefully invert onto cooling rack to cool completely.
- Once cakes have cooled completely, prepare frosting.
- Combine cream cheese, ½ cup (62g) powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and salt in a large bowl and use an electric mixer to beat together until creamy and smooth.4 oz cream cheese, 1 cups powdered sugar, ¾ teaspoons vanilla extract, ⅛ teaspoon salt
- In a separate bowl, combine remaining ½ cup (62g) powdered sugar, and heavy cream. Beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form (mixture should be thick, billowy, and the same consistency as Cool Whip).¾ cups heavy cream
- With mixer on low speed, stir together the cream cheese and whipped cream until completely combined.
- Pipe a dam/border along the inside rim of one cooled layer of cake (see photo in post). Fill with lemon curd and spread evenly inside the dam.¾ cup lemon curd ³
- Top with second layer of cake. Frost the entire cake with remaining frosting.
- Keep cake refrigerated in an airtight container when not eating. Enjoy!
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.
AWESOME! I’ve been using your recipes for a while now and have not been disappointed at all. But I must say when I presented this creation to guests they were so impressed. And if I say so myself…. I even impressed myself! Thank you!
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Thanks so much for the review, Ziggie! We are so happy everyone enjoyed the cake so much ❤️
I’m a single Dad, and my daughter (10) had a day off of school, so we decided to try something new: bake a cake from scratch, something neither of us had ever done. She gave me the flavor (lemon cake with white icing) and I researched the recipe, finding yours. We shopped (ingredients/pans/spatula), we measured, we made mistakes, we got filthy in flour, practiced separating eggs, discovered a double-yolked egg (which she was SO excited by), and learned how to decorate a cake, using your butter-cream icing.
In the end it was the best lemon cake I’ve ever tasted. The lemon curd was perfectly tart, the icing perfectly sweet. More importantly we experienced a day together that I will never forget, and I hope she never will. Thank you!!
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
What a sweet memory for the both of you, Brady! Thanks so much for using our recipe and coming back to leave a review. 🥰
Why did the cake batter turn out to be a dough and not a liquid batter
Hmmm that’s interesting. Is it possible there was a bit too much flour added into the batter? Were there any substitutions made? It shouldn’t be really runny but it shouldn’t be super thick either.
I have a question about the lemon curd. Can you leave that part off. Will the cake still have a lemon taste.
Hi Val! You can leave off the lemon curd. It just adds an extra bit of lemon flavor to the cake. 🙂
I have a question about flour. Is unbleached unenriched cake flour good to use or does it matter.
Hi Valerie! I suspect it would work here, but I haven’t tried it before.
I made this cake (with different icing/filling) as the base for a Marie Antoinette cake and it was amazing! I will definitely keep this recipe on hand! Perfect texture and the lemon flavor was on point.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it so much, Leslie! 🙂
Can this recipe be used for cupcakes?
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Ines! That should work just fine. 🙂
Hello! I was wondering why this cake has more sugar in it than your lemon blueberry one?
Essentially because they are different cakes, but also the blueberries will add some sweetness as well. 🙂
Hi! I was curious on the milk portion. I try not to use dairy free as much as possible, and I love oat milk. How would this affect the cake other than just taste? Would it make it not rise or anything? Thank you warmly!
Hi Lindsay! To be honest I am not very familiar with baking with oat milk, but I suspect it would be OK in this recipe. Because of the baking powder and egg whites it should still rise just fine. I hope that helps, and if you try it I would love to know how it turns out for you!
I use 2% milk will this work?
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Yes! Enjoy 😊
Hello Lindsay! I am curious, did you make the cake with the sub of Oat milk? How did it turn out?
This cake is speaking my language with the exception of the cream cheese frosting. Do you have any recommendations for a substitute frosting that does not include cream cheese? Thank you 🙂
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Laura! Our ermine frosting, swiss meringue buttercream, or traditional buttercream would all be great here 🙂
Thank you, Emily! Can’t wait to try this!
Miriam Rose Blanar
Hi, would it mess up the cake if I added blueberries to it?
Hi Miriam! It won’t cause any issues, but the blueberries will sink to the bottom.
Miriam Rose Blanar
That is good to know. Thank you so much for the fast answer!
I’d like to use this recipe for my cheesecake cake. Is it strong enough to hold up with a cheesecake in between layers? I made your cheesecake from your chocolate cheesecake cake recipe but I want a lemon cake version 😋
Hi Jody! It is a lighter cake, but I think it could potentially hold up to a cheesecake layer in the center. 🙂
Can I use this recipe for a 9×13 sheet cake without the lemon curd?
Hi Lohil! This batter will fit in a 9 x 13, but I’m not sure on a bake time. Enjoy! 🙂
Forgot to ask if sugar can be reduced in this recipe? If so, by how much without affecting texture etc. We try to reduce sugar when possible. Thanks 😊
Hi Jody! Unfortunately I am not sure on how much you could reduce the sugar. That would be a trial and error thing here. 🙁
would this cake work with your white chocolate frosting ?
Thank you for all your great videos !
Hi Anna! That will work just fine. It’s a personal preference when it comes to the frosting. 🙂
How could I make this ahead of time without it getting soggy? (Two days)
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Jay! We cover how to make the cake in advance in the post 🙂