Lemon and sugar are a match made in heaven, and this delectable lemon cake is proof of that. Incredibly soft, moist and tender cake oozing with fresh tangy lemon flavor, layered with a silky lemon curd and cream cheese frosting = one of the best cakes you will ever have. Seriously, it's that good.
I've also tried to make this recipe as easy as I possibly can. The cake uses a combination of melted butter and oil, which not only makes it extra moist, but also removes the need for an electric mixer and complicated steps such as creaming. This is therefore a one-bowl, straightforward recipe which comes together with a hand-whisk.
Let's make it, shall we?
Here is everything you will need to make this lemon cake (exact quantities are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post)
- Lemons for both their zest and juice
- Unsalted butter
- Cake flour - cake flour lends to a more tender cake, but if you don't have any, don't worry! You can make your own using all purpose flour and cornstarch, as described in the FAQs below
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Sour cream - if you don't have sour cream available where you live, you can make your own; again, read the FAQs!
- Lemon juice
- Eggs and yolks
Cream cheese frosting:
- Cream cheese at room temperature - try to use block cream cheese like Philadelphia, as tub cream cheese has more water content in it and makes for a runnier frosting
- Unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- Powdered sugar
HOW TO MAKE LEMON CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
Now, let's walk through the steps required to make this cake one by one.
First, check out this video:
1. Make the lemon cake
Before getting started, pre-heat your oven to 350F (conventional), and line 2 8.5" (or 9") cake pans with parchment paper and butter.
Mix the sugar and lemon zest in a bowl, and use your hands to massage the two together. This helps release the extracts in the zest, enhancing the lemon flavor and scent. Once done, add in the melted butter and oil, and whisk for 1-2 minutes until well combined.
Add the eggs and vanilla, and whisk for another 1-2 minutes until the mixture starts to look fluffy and aerated. You don't need to whisk too long, though, as we will be adding raising agents to help the cake rise.
Now, sift in the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda), and fold gently until combined. Don't overmix at this point. The batter may be a bit thick, but don't worry! Lastly, fold in the sour cream and lemon juice. With the addition of these two ingredients, the batter will become thinner in consistency, making it easier to work with.
The lemon juice and sour cream are purposefully added at the end, because they start to react with the baking soda almost immediately, and we want as much of that reaction to happen inside the oven as possible to get the most beautiful rise in our cake.
And you're done with the batter! See - I told you it was straightforward 🙂 Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, using a scale for precision, and place them into the oven for ~25-28 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached to it (but no wet batter).
Leave the cakes inside the pans for 10-15 minutes, then gently remove them from the pans and place on a wire rack to allow them to cool down fully. I personally like to place my cakes in the freezer to make them thoroughly chilled before I frost them!
2. Prepare the lemon curd
While the cake is baking, you can get started with the lemon curd. This, too, is easy! I don't like unnecessary complicated steps, so I have simplified this recipe and you still get a beautiful curd from it.
Simply mix the water, lemon juice, sugar, eggs, egg yolks and cornstarch in a nonstick saucepan. Place the pan over low heat, and stir using a rubber spatula as you cook. It is critical to keep an eye on this mixture and keep stirring as you cook on low heat, because the eggs can otherwise curdle and cause the curd to become lumpy. Once the curd reaches a thick consistency that coats the back of a spoon, remove it from the heat and add the butter and stir until it melts and combines.
Pass the lemon curd through a fine sieve mesh to remove any lumps from it. Transfer it to a large plate with plastic wrap on it, cover with more plastic wrap, and place in the fridge to cool down fully. Using a large plate provides more surface area, allowing the curd to cool more quickly.
3. Prepare the simple syrup
Simple syrup is simple! 🙂 Mix the water and sugar together over medium low heat until the sugar dissolves. Then remove from the heat and let cool down fully.
4. Make the cream cheese frosting
The last element of this cake is the luscious cream cheese frosting. And cream cheese frosting is simple (provided you have access to good quality cream cheese).
First, place the butter in the bowl of your stand mixer, and whisk it for a good 5-7 minutes using the whisk attachment until it starts to look almost white in color and becomes very fluffy. Then, add the sugar and vanilla, and whisk for another 3-5 minutes until the sugar is almost dissolved and a fluffy buttercream is forming.
Now, chop the cream cheese into ~1-2 tablespoon blocks, and add them to the buttercream while whisking on medium speed. The idea here is to minimize the amount of mixing after the addition of cream cheese, as cream cheese can become more runny if it is mixed for a longer period of time. If it is at room temperature, it should mix easily, and the frosting should come together within 1-2 minutes.
As soon as the cream cheese has mixed into the frosting and it is no longer grainy (i.e., the sugar has dissolved), stop whisking more! Use the paddle attachment or a rubber spatula to knock out any large air bubbles.
5. Assemble the cake
Now that all the elements have been prepared and cooled down, we are ready to move onto assembly.
First, trim off any domed part from the cakes - this is important and helps create even layers in the cake. Then, divide each cake into 2 even layers, using either a large serrated knife or a cake leveler. The more even the layers are, the straighter your cake will be.
Now this is extra, but I also went ahead and scraped off the edges and bottoms of the cakes using a serrated knife, as I wanted my cake layers to look almost white with no golden brown color between them. If you do this step, make sure your cake is so cold it is almost frozen, as that will make it easier to do this without breaking the cake.
Now, place the bottom layer of the cake onto a turntable, and brush on simple syrup using a pastry brush. The simple syrup helps keep the cake moist for longer. Spread on a layer of the cream cheese frosting, and pipe it around the edges to create a dam. Fill that with a layer of the lemon curd. Repeat for the next 2 layers. Cover with the last layer of cake.
Apply a thin coating of the cream cheese frosting on the top and sides of the cake to hold in the crumbs, and refrigerate until the crumb coat is set.
6. Decorate & serve!
Finally, frost your cake with the cream cheese frosting in any design that you like! I personally divided my remaining frosting into 4 bowls, and colored them varying shades of yellow to create an ombre effect. Using a ½" round piping tip, I piped dollops around the cake, with the bottom ring being the darkest and the top the lightest in color. I poured my remaining lemon curd on top of the cake and used an offset spatula to create a swirl. Then, I decorated with thinly sliced lemon (although, candied lemon would have been better).
See this video for how I decorated the cake:
This cake is best enjoyed when slightly colder than room temperature, so I suggest taking it out of the fridge 15-20 minutes before serving (depending on how hot it is where you live!).
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
You can make your own cake flour easily - for every cup of all purpose flour, remove 2 tablespoon of flour and add 2 tablespoon of cornstarch. You can make this in bulk and keep it in your pantry in an airtight container.
Instead of substituting sour cream, I recommend making it yourself if you don't have access to it. You have to prepare it 12-24 hours in advance. Mix 1 cup heavy cream, ¼ cup milk and 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar in an airtight container or mason jar. Cover and rest at room temperature overnight or up to 1 day. Then mix again, and your sour cream is ready! Excess can be stored in the fridge.
Yes! You can make this cake ahead of time and keep it refrigerated. I like to refrigerate the cake for 2-3 hours for the frosting to harden, then wrap it in cling wrap and place back in the fridge for up to 1 week. The cling wrap prevents it from drying out. You can also freeze the cake, wrapped in cling wrap, for 1 month or even longer. Simply let it thaw in the fridge overnight before eating.
Cream cheese frosting being runny is most likely a result of the quality of cream cheese you are using. In the US, we get cream cheese in blocks which has a high fat %. In many other countries, unfortunately this kind of cream cheese is not available. To help make your cream cheese frosting less runny, try using cream cheese that is still somewhat cold, and minimize mixing as much as possible. Also try refrigerating for it to stiffen up a bit before frosting your cake.
Another trick is to mix both mascarpone cheese and cream cheese, as mascarpone cheese has higher fat content!
Yes! You can halve all the quantities and bake the cake as 6" cake instead of 8 or 9". Alternately, you can keep it as a 9" cake but have only 2 layers instead of 4.
Now - without further ado, let's dive into the recipe!
If you enjoyed this lemon cake, you will also love my other cake recipes! Try out the following: