Simple Lemon Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Mary and Brenda Maher

By Brenda & Mary

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Today, we’re diving into an irresistible treat close to my heart. Whether it’s a Sunday brunch or a little celebration at home, this lemonade cake with cream cheese frosting has often been my go-to. It’s a hit every summer at our family reunions, and sometimes, it just feels right to whip this up and watch everyone’s day get a bit brighter!

Lemon Layer Cake

If you’re ready to bring some sunshine into your kitchen, stick with me here. Let’s get our taste buds ready for a delightful burst of lemon!

Why You’ll Love This Lemon Layer Cake Recipe

Let me walk you through a few standout elements that make this cake a showstopper.

  • Texture: The texture combination is just to die for! Imagine sinking your teeth into beautifully soft, moist layers of lemony sponge, only to find your taste buds wrapped in the silky embrace of smooth cream cheese frosting.
  • Flavor: Now, despite its comforting flavor, reminiscent of those lazy Sunday morning treats, the zesty lemon twist really kicks things up a notch. It infuses a kind of freshness that turns this cake from ordinary to extraordinary, ensuring it’s never dull.
  • Customization: A little room for creativity never hurts, right? That’s another great thing about this recipe—it’s your playfield. Fancy tossing in some berries or fresh herbs? Go right ahead. Want to up the lemony ante with a drizzle of extra lemon glaze? Be my guest.
  • Versatility: Whether decking out a table for a lemon birthday cake, slicing up elegance for a wedding, or just sprucing up a weekend get-together, this lemon cake stands out without a fuss. And the best part? You can jazz it up for any theme.
how to make Lemon Layer Cake

12 Steps to Make This Lemon Layer Cake


For the Cake

  • All-purpose flour (3 cups, sifted): Always remember to sift the flour and then spoon it into the measuring cup to avoid packing it down. That is how your cake comes out light and fluffy.
  • Baking powder (2 and ½ teaspoons): The primary leavening agent to help the cake rise.
  • Baking soda (½ teaspoon): Works in harmony with the lemon juice to lift the texture even further.
  • Lemon zest (1 heaping tablespoon): Directly from about 2 lemons to infuse the cake with a bright, zesty flavor.
  • Fresh lemon juice (⅓ cup): From about 2 lemons. They add tang and activate the baking soda.
  • Pure vanilla extract (2 teaspoons): Provides a subtle background flavor that compliments the lemon beautifully.
  • Unsalted butter (1 cup, softened): Make sure it’s at room temperature to ensure smooth mixing for a creamy batter.
  • Eggs (3 large ones at room temperature)
  • Salt (½ teaspoon)
  • Granulated sugar (1 ¾ cups)
  • Whole milk (1 cup at room temperature)

For the Frosting

  • Full-fat brick cream cheese (8 ounces, softened): The rich texture and slight tang beautifully offset the sweetness of the sugar.
  • Unsalted butter (1 cup, softened)
  • Confectioners’ sugar (4 and ½ cups)
  • Fresh lemon juice (2 tablespoons)
  • Pure vanilla extract (1 teaspoon)
  • Pinch of salt: Just a touch to cut through the sweetness and balance the frosting’s flavor.


Make the Cake

Step 1

Before you start mixing, turn your oven to 350°F (177°C). Grab three 8-inch cake pans, grease them up and make sure they have a parchment paper lining. Add another quick dab of grease over the parchment and you’re set.

Step 2

Take flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and whisk them all in a bowl. Just set it aside after that.

Lemon Layer Cake dry batter

Step 3

Throw sugar and butter into a mixing bowl (works best with a paddle attachment), and set your mixer to a high speed. After about 3 minutes, it should look both smooth and creamy. Don’t forget to scrape the sides and bottom of your bowl to mix everything evenly.

Step 4

Switch in your vanilla extract and eggs. Keep the speed high and beat them together for roughly 2-3 minutes until they’re nicely blended. Then, dial it back a touch—slow your mixer down to low—to ease in the dry ingredients, a bit at a time, just until it’s blended.

Lemon Layer Cake ingredient mixing

Step 5

While mixing on a low speed again, gradually send the lemon zest, lemon juice, and milk into the mixture. If the batter fights back with clumps, go manual with a whisk to break them off. Expect the batter to be rather thick; that’s normal.

Make Lemon Layer Cake batter

Step 6

Evenly divide your batter into the cake pans. Place them in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes. You want to see them baking through and turning slightly golden. Once done, let them cool right there in their pans on a wire rack. Make sure they’re chilly to the touch before you even think about frosting.

Make the Frosting

Step 7

Switch to a clean mixing bowl. Beat the butter at a medium pace until it’s sufficiently creamy—about 2-3 minutes. Fold in the cream cheese until it blends seamlessly.

Step 8

Run your mixer at low speed and gradually add sugar, fresh lemon juice, and more vanilla extract. If the mixture is too runny, sift a little more sugar into it; if it is too thick, add a dash more lemon juice. If it’s too sweet, a pinch of salt should do the trick.

Brown Butter Frosting complete

Assemble and Chill the Cake

Step 9

Lemon Layer Cake cutting

Slice off the tops of the cakes using a serrated knife to even them out. You can totally save the cut-offs as a chef’s perk or thrash them over some ice cream.

Step 10

make layer cake

On a cake stand or your plate of choice, start with one layer of cake, spread it with about 1 cup of your lemony frosting, then layer on the next cake, and repeat. Crown it with the third cake layer.

Step 11

Lemon Layer Cake decorating

Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sweep it down the sides. Making it smooth or swoopy, stylistic rights are all yours.

Step 12

Give your cake at least 30-45 minutes in the refrigerator. It helps the cake firm up to make slicing cleaner and prettier. After that, it’s ready to be served.

Want to indulge in this lemony bliss? Check out my lemon blueberry pound cake and lemon blueberry cake!

Lemon Layer Cake final
Lemon Layer Cake

2 Tips on Perfecting This Lemon Cake With Lemon Frosting

Adjustments and Alternatives

If you run out of regular milk, you can swap in lower-fat or non-dairy options. Just keep in mind that your cake may not be as rich and moist as it would be with the full-fat variety.

Now, if lemon isn’t your thing or you’re just a big fan of vanilla, no worries! Ditch the lemon juice and swap milk or heavy cream for the frosting. Don’t forget to toss in an extra ¼ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. It’ll give your frosting that smooth, vanilla kick everyone loves.

If you opt for a two-layer masterpiece, pour your batter into two 9-inch cake pans. Remember, this setup will take a bit longer to cook in the oven. Always do the toothpick test to ensure your cake is baked to perfection—it should come out clean.

Making Ahead

Both the layers and the frosting of this moist lemon cake recipe can be prepared ahead of time. Once you bake your cake layers, let them cool down, then cover them up tightly and leave them at room temperature overnight.

For that yummy frosting, whip it up, cover it, and pop it in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, give it about 10 minutes at room temperature to soften up before you start your cake assembly.

Whether you’re freezing the frosted or bare cake layers, you can freeze them for 2-3 months. Thaw them overnight in the fridge and bring them to room temperature before you plan to serve or continue decorating them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Can I Use If I Don’t Have Fresh Lemons for the Cake?

You can opt for bottled lemon juice, though the flavor might be slightly less vibrant. Lemon extract or lemon zest (even dried) can also be good alternatives to preserve that citrusy punch.

What Are Some Decoration Ideas for This Lemon Layer Cake?

For a touch of elegance, decorate your lemon layer cake with homemade whipped cream, fresh herbs, lemon slices, or food-safe flowers. A raspberry filling between the layers not only introduces a good flavor contrast but also makes for a stunning visual.

Can I Make This Cake Gluten-Free?

Yes, you can use any gluten-free flour blend designed for baking. Remember to check that your baking powder and other additives are also gluten-free.

—Now, dig in, give it a whirl, and let this easy lemon cake recipe be the zesty highlight of your day. Good luck!

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Lemon Layer Cake

Lemon Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This exquisite recipe combines soft citrus-infused layers with creamy frosting for a delightful taste. Each bite will treat you to a summery bliss!
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Course: Cake
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours
Servings: 12
Calories: 772kcal
Author: Brenda Maher



  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 heaping tbsp lemon zest
  • cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • ½ tsp salt
  • cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk, room temperature


  • 8 oz full-fat brick cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt


Make the Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 8-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper.
  • Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt). Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, mix sugar and butter until creamy (about 3 mins).
  • Add eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract to the mixture above, and beat until fully mixed (2-3 mins).
  • Gradually add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed until blended. Then, add the lemon zest, juice, and milk and mix until combined.
  • Divide batter evenly among prepared pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and cooked through. Cool in pans on a wire rack.

Make the Frosting

  • In a clean bowl, beat 1 cup butter with cream cheese until smooth.
  • Gradually add powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and lemon juice. Adjust consistency with additional sugar or lemon juice as needed.

Assemble and Chill the Cake

  • Trim cooled cake layers if necessary.
  • Spread 1 cup of frosting between each layer and over the top and sides of the assembled cake.
  • Refrigerate the cake for 30-45 minutes before slicing.


  • Substitute with lower-fat or non-dairy milk if preferred.
  • Replace lemon juice in frosting with milk or heavy cream for a vanilla flavor.
  • To make a 2-layer cake, use two 9-inch pans, adjusting the baking time accordingly.
  • Cake layers and frosting can be made ahead. Store cake layers at room temperature and frosting in the refrigerator overnight. Thaw and bring to room temperature before assembling.
  • Frosted or bare cake layers can be frozen for 2-3 months. Thaw in the fridge and come to room temperature before serving.


Calories: 772kcal | Carbohydrates: 100g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 41g | Saturated Fat: 25g | Cholesterol: 197mg | Sodium: 342mg | Potassium: 264mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 6.4g | Calcium: 113mg | Iron: 2mg
Did you make this recipe?Mention @cakegirls or tag #cakegirls!

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Mary and Brenda Maher

Mary & Brenda Maher

Mary & Brenda Maher, are the founders of Cake Girls, a Chicago-based online baking shop specializing in cake supplies, party decor, and DIY cake tutorials. They are known for their elaborate and artistic cake creations, which have been featured on the Food Network Challenge and in a reality show, Amazing Wedding Cakes.

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