This Lemon Cake recipe is the ultimate dessert for lemon lovers made with velvety lemon cake, tangy-sweet lemon curd and lemon cream cheese frosting!
HOW TO MAKE Lemon Cake REcipe VIDEo
This Lemon Cake recipe is a show stopping dessert everyone will be raving about and destined to become one of your favorite cakes of all time – it is mine! The cake is soft and airy thanks to the reverse-creaming method, infused with bright fresh lemon flavor, layered with luscious, zingy-sweet lemon curd and lemon curd infused cream cheese frosting! It is a show stopping dessert for every occasion and 100% make ahead friendly. Tips and tricks, Step-by-Step Photos and Video, How to Make Ahead, How to Freeze all included!
Lemon desserts are my favorite bright and fresh desserts in the spring and summer! Don’t miss these favorites: Lemon Blueberry Cake, Lemon Pound Cake, Lemon Cheesecake, Lemon Cheesecake Bars, Lemon Pound Cake and Lemon Curd.
Best LEMON CAKE INGREDIENTS
The ingredient list for this recipe appears lengthy but most of the ingredients are pantry friendly staples and used multiple times in the cake, curd and/or frosting. Here’s what you’ll need for each component (exact measurements in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):
For the cake
FOR THE LEMON CURD
Making homemade Lemon Curd is easy with this recipe! You will need many of the same ingredients you used for the cake:
- Lemons: For the best zingy and citrusy flavor, Lemon Curd should be made with freshly squeezed lemon juice. We will use a full 2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice which is about 3-4 large lemons.
- Eggs: Eggs help the curd hold together like pudding. You will need 4 large eggs and 2 large egg YOLKS only for a total of 6 eggs for the lemon curd.
- Butter: This is essential to help thicken the curd and makes it super creamy, rich and decadent with a velvety mouthfeel and subtle buttery flavor. Use unsalted butter or omit the salt in the recipe.
- Sugar: This provides the balancing sweetness to the tart lemon juice. Please use only granulated sugar or the flavor and consistency will be ruined.
- Salt: A pinch of salt balances the flavors. Use regular table salt and not anything larger.
- Cornstarch: Set yourself up for lusciously thick and smooth success with this secret weapon. Cornstarch not only ensures the curd thickens properly but more importantly, it binds to the egg proteins and acts to protect them from denaturing, helping to prevent your curd from curdling.
FOR THE LEMON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
How to Make the Best Lemon Cake
This Lemon Cake recipe with its irresistible bright, fresh, tangy lemon flavor, mega moistness and silky layers of lemon curd and lemon cream cheese frosting is truly ethereal and worth every second of making. The main tip for making this cake (see entire tips and tricks section to follow) is to give yourself time because the recipe benefits from chilling at multiple stages.
Let’s take a closer look at how to make this Lemon Cake or watch the How to Make Video in the recipe card (full recipe measurements in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):
STEP 1: MAKE THE LEMON CURD
This is the easiest technique I have found for making lemon curd. The key is to work over medium-low heat and to whisk constantly. You can also watch the How to Make Video in my Lemon Curd post.
- Combine the ingredients: Whisk the lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, cornstarch and eggs in a small saucepan until the cornstarch dissolves and most of the sugar has dissolved.
- Thicken the lemon curd: Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 4-8 minutes. You’ll know the lemon curd is done when it’s the consistency of pourable pudding and the curd registers about 180°F on an instant-read thermometer. It will continue to thicken as it cools.
- Stir in the butter: Once thickened, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cubed butter until melted, followed by the vanilla and salt. At this point you can taste and add additional lemon zest for tangier if you’d like.
- Strain the lemon curd: Finally, strain the curd through a fine-mesh strainer/sieve into a small bowl to remove any small egg bits and you have rich, creamy, sweetly tart lemon curd. The lemon curd will thicken and taste even more intensely glorious once chilled.
STEP 2: MAKE THE CAKE BATTER
- Combine the wet ingredients: Whisk the eggs, milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla extract together in a 3-cup (or more) liquid measuring cup. Set aside.
- Reverse creaming method: Using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt on the lowest speed until combined, then add the butter one piece. Increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
- Add the wet ingredients: Add approximately half of the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, approximately 60 seconds. Reduce speed to medium-low and add remaining egg mixture and beat until incorporated.
STEP 3: BAKE THE CAKES
- Bake: Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans (I use a kitchen scale), and bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes.
- Cool. Allow the cakes to cool in pans for 10 minutes then remove cakes to a wire rack and let cool completely.
sTEP 4: MAKE THE FROSTING
- Beat the ingredients together: Using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until very creamy. Beat in ¼ cup lemon curd (from chilled Lemon Curd you made), lemon juice, vanilla extract and salt until smooth.
- Add the powdered sugar: Gradually beat in the powdered sugar then continue to beat until smooth and fluffy.
STEP 5: ASSEMBLE THE CAKE
- Cut the cakes in half: Slice the cakes horizontally through the equator using a long-serrated knife to create 4 even layers.
- Layer 1 – Frosting: Place one layer, cut side up, on a serving plate or cake pedestal. Transfer some frosting to a piping bag. Pipe a ring of frosting just inside the top edge of the first cake then evenly fill with a generous amount of Frosting (about one heaping cup). Note: The piping is helpful but optional if you don’t own piping tips.
- Layer 2 – Lemon curd: Top with the 2nd cake layer, top side down. Pipe a ring of frosting just inside the top edge of the cake then fill with half of the chilled Lemon Curd.
- Layer 3 – Frosting: Add the third layer, and repeat piping a ring of frosting and evenly filling with about one heaping cup of Frosting. Add final cake, top side down.
- Chill: Time permitting, place the cake in the refrigerator for 2 hours (cover if refrigerating longer) or the freezer for 30 minutes for the frosting to chill and harden a bit. This interim step means there isn’t any chance of the top layer sliding around on slick warm frosting as you try to apply your crumb coat.
Step 6: FROST CAKE
- Crumb coat: If your cake is sufficiently chilled, you may find you don’t need a crumb layer because a chilled cake does not produce many crumbs. To make a crumb coat, separate about ¾ cup frosting and frost the cake starting with the top and working down until the cake is evenly, thinly frosted.
- Frost cake: Frost the outside of cake as you desire with the remaining frosting, then evenly spread remaining Lemon Curd on top of the cake.
STEP 7: CHILL and Slice
- Chill: Freeze the cake for 30 minutes to firm up before slicing, or if not serving immediately, refrigerate until ready to slice.
- Slice: Slice, then serve the cake at room temperature, or pop slices in the microwave for no longer than 8-10 seconds.
Tools Used in This Recipe
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- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/3 cup milk (anything but nonfat), room temperature
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups cake flour (See DIY in Notes)
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 16 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 16 pieces, room temperature
LEMON CURD (MAY USE STORE BOUGHT) ***
- 1 recipe lemon curd (or 2 cups store-bought)
- Prepare the lemon curd according to recipe directions (click here). It must chill for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator before using. It can be made up to three weeks ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of two 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Spray with nonstick cooking spray WITH flour or butter and flour the pans.
- Whisk the eggs, milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla extract together in a 3-cup (or more) liquid measuring cup. Set aside.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt on the lowest speed until combined, about 20 seconds. With the mixer still running at the lowest speed, add 1 piece of butter at a time and continue to beat until all the butter is added. Increase speed to medium and continue to beat until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas.
- With the mixer running on low, add approximately half of the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, approximately 60 seconds. Reduce speed to medium-low and add remaining egg mixture and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds (batter may look slightly curdled.) DO NOT OVERMIX.
- Cool the cakes in pans for 10 minutes then remove cakes to a wire rack and let cool completely.
- Time permitting, after cooling, freeze the cakes for 30-60 minutes to make them easier to slice in half. (Make ahead: Alternatively, tightly wrap the cooled cakes in plastic wrap at this point and refrigerate until ready to slice and frost.)
- Using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together at medium speed until very creamy. Beat in ¼ cup lemon curd (from chilled Lemon Curd you made), lemon juice, vanilla extract and salt until smooth.
- Gradually beat in powdered sugar then continue to beat at medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy. If frosting is too runny, then refrigerate until more set.
- Place four strips of parchment paper around the edges of a plate or cake stand to create a square with an open space in the middle (to keep cake stand clean).
- Cut cakes in half horizontally using a long-serrated knife or cake leveler to create 4 even layers. Place 1 layer, cut side up, on the prepared serving plate/cake stand.
- Transfer some frosting to a piping bag (or ziploc bag). Pipe a ring of frosting just inside the top edge of the first cake then evenly fill with a generous amount of frosting (about one heaping cup) and spread into an even layer. (Note: The piping ring is helpful but optional if you don't have piping tips.)
- Top with the 2nd cake layer, top side down. Pipe a ring of frosting just inside the top edge of the cake then fill with half of the chilled Lemon Curd and spread into an even layer.
- Add the third cake layer and repeat piping a ring of frosting and evenly filling with about one heaping cup of frosting and spreadig into an even layer.
- Add final cake, top side down.
- Time permitting, place the cake in the freezer for 15-30 minutes for the frosting to chill and harden a bit. This interim step prevents the top layer from sliding around on slick warm frosting as you try to apply your crumb coat. (Make Ahead: Alternatively, cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you're ready to continue.)
- Crumb coat: Separate about ¾ cup frosting to use as the “crumb coat.” Frost the cake starting with the top and working down until the cake is evenly, thinly frosted. Freeze the cake for 15-30 minutes or until the crumb layer has set.
- Frost cake: Frost the outside of cake as you desire with the remaining frosting, then evenly spread remaining chilled Lemon Curd on top of the cake. Decorate the top of the cake if desired (I used fresh flowers and crushed pistachios).
CHILL THEN SLICE
- Freeze the cake for 20-30 minutes to firm up before slicing, or if not serving immediately, refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. Slice, then serve at room temperature, or pop chilled slices in the microwave for no longer than 8-10 seconds.
- The frosted cake should be covered with an inverted bowl or cake cover and refrigerated. Slice while chilled, but bring cake to room temperature before serving.
Tips for And Tricks
- Read the recipe: There are a few components to this recipe, but each step is simple when taken one at a time. As always, I suggest reading the recipe all the way through and allowing plenty of time.
- Start the lemon curd first – or don’t. The lemon curd needs 2 hours to chill before using, so if you’re in a time crunch, make it very first so you can get it in the refrigerator as soon as possible. If you have more time, then make it while your cake is baking or cooling. I typically do the latter and then refrigerate both the cakes and lemon curd until the next day.
- Thicken the lemon curd enough: You’ll know the lemon curd is done when it’s the consistency of pourable pudding and registers 180°F on an instant-read thermometer. A thermometer is so helpful for this and eliminates all of the guesswork!
- Use room temperature ingredients: Room temperature ingredients help the emulsion be more successful between the butter, sugar and eggs, or in other words, they will mix much easier together (so it’s harder to overmix and over-activate the gluten) and whisk to a higher volume which results in a softer cake with maximum volume.
- Room temperature eggs hack: Add warm (not hot) tap water to a bowl then add eggs (still in their shells) for at least 20 minutes.
- Don’t microwave your butter: It is important that the butter be softened at room temperature and not microwaved because we want soft but not warm butter. Also, don’t forget to slice your butter before softening – it’s much easier this way!
- Don’t pack the flour: Whenever you measure flour, don’t scoop it into the flour bag/container or else the flour will compress; packed flour yields denser, drier cakes. Rather, scoop the flour into a measuring cup and then level.
- Beat the batter until fluffy: Make sure to beat the flour with half of the egg mixture until fluffy in order to aerate the batter, otherwise your cakes won’t rise in the oven.
- Divide the cakes evenly: I use a kitchen scale to measure each pan and adjust as needed. This will create even cakes with the most even layers.
- Don’t microwave the cream cheese or butter: For the frosting, use cream cheese and butter softened at room temperature, to room temperature. If you soften either in the microwave, your frosting will be runny and create a wobbly mess.
- Don’t skip chilling before slicing: Due to the lemon curd, the cake is much easier to slice when chilled, otherwise, the cake can fall apart/layers squeeze out, under the pressure of the knife.
Make AheadThis cake can be made entirely ahead of time or it is easy to make in stages:
- Lemon Curd: According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Lemon Curd will keep in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to four weeks. Of course, always use your best judgement. Lemon Curd freezes well for up to one year without any change in quality.
- Frosting: Can be made up to 24 hours, covered and refrigerated. Let it come close to room temperature before re-whipping if needed.
- Cakes: The cake layers can be made, cooled, and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated one day in advance or frozen for up to 3 months.
- Crumb Coated Cake: Let the crumb coat set completely (about 1 hour in the freezer or 2 hours in the refrigerator), then tightly wrap the cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until ready to finish frosting.
- Frosted Cake: Assemble the entire cake, cover with a cake cover or tent with foil then refrigerate for 24 hours before slicing, then allowing to sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours before serving.
How to Store and Freeze
- To store: The assembled and frosted cake should be covered with a cake cover or foil and refrigerated. It may be stored for up to 5 days, but is at peak freshness the first two days. Slice the cake, then bring to room temperature before serving or microwave individual slices for 8-10 seconds.
- To freeze individual cake layers: Tightly wrap the individual cake layers in plastic wrap and freeze for up to three months.
- To freeze crumb coated cake: Tightly wrap the set cake in a couple layers of plastic wrap followed by a couple layers of foil, freeze for up to two months.
- To freeze frosted cake: Flash freeze the cake until solid, then tightly wrap in a couple layers of plastic wrap followed by a couple layers of foil, freeze for up to two months. Remove the plastic wrap, transfer to a cake container and allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator before slicing. After slicing, let come to room temperature before serving.
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