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 (80 ml) fresh lemon juice I usually need 3-4 lemons, zest your lemons before juicing
- ⅔ cup (160 ml) whole milk
- ½ cup (118 ml) vegetable or canola oil
- 4 Tablespoons (57 g) unsalted butter softened
- 1 ¾ cup (350 g) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 cups (330 g) cake flour² see note to substitute all-purpose/plain flour
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 large egg whites room temperature preferred
- ¾ cup (175 ml) lemon curd ³
- 4 oz (113 g) cream cheese softened, but still slightly cool (use the brick-style, full-fat cream cheese, do not use the spreadable kind sold in tubs)
- 1 cups (125 g) powdered sugar divided (often called “icing sugar” outside the US)
- ¾ teaspoons vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cups (175 ml) heavy cream cold
- 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 (80 ml) fresh lemon juice, ⅔ cup (160 ml) 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 (118 ml) vegetable or canola oil, 4 Tablespoons (57 g) unsalted butter, 1 ¾ cup (350 g) granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk well.3 cups (330 g) 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 (113 g) cream cheese, 1 cups (125 g) 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 (175 ml) 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 (175 ml) 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.