Delight citrus lovers with this triple layer lemon cake from scratch! This tender cake, filled with lemon curd and topped with vanilla icing is one of my most popular from-scratch cake recipes!
This cake, darlings… this exact flavor combination, dates back to the bakery days. Not only because lemon cakes were of my favorite to make – California grows amazing lemons – but because many of my lemon cake loving clients were among my favorite people in general. And this cake was especially beautiful, a tender lemon cake, filled with fresh lemon curd, and topped with a vanilla buttercream. The times this cake was ordered, it was always for an extra special celebration, and that earned it a unique place in my heart and recipe book. I hope it does for you too.
The best lemon cakes, in my opinion, don’t come from a box. Box mixes can be great for some things, and they’re nostalgic, but lemon cake from scratch is where it’s at. The lemon flavor in the cake is bright and zippy thanks to lemon zest, juice, and a bit of extract.
Better though is that this cake has a very nice soft crumb. You can see it in the cake slices. They’re not quite perfect even though the cake was cold when cut. This is because the cake layers are pretty tender. They’re firm enough to layer, but I would hesitate to make this the base layer for a large tiered cake. Just putting that out there in case you’re feeling like baking a 3 tier cake for fun today. 😉
What’s the best filling for a lemon cake?
My personal favorite, as a lemon lover, is lemon curd for a double lemon punch! But lemon cake is incredibly versatile, so feel free to get creative. Any berry filling works beautifully, and if you want something really rich, maybe even a white chocolate ganache. You can also make an extra half batch of the frosting recipe and use that to fill the cake. As written the frosting is enough for me to dam the cake for the lemon curd filling, crumb coat, and frost with a very basic design (no huge swirls).
Can I make lemon cake from scratch in advance?
If it works better for your schedule, please do! I have made this cake up to a month in advance, double wrapped while still warm, and frozen until the day before I plan to decorate. At that time I move it to the refrigerator to thaw. Done this way, the cake will still taste very fresh and not dry out.
Side note, I know some bakers are very against freezing cake layers, but it’s a great time saver! I use this trick quite a bit when I’m planning holiday desserts. There’s just no time to add baking a layer cake to the myriad of other things that must get done in the 48 hours leading up to hosting a large event. Bake the cake in advance, double wrap in plastic while still warm, and save yourself some time. It’s easy enough to thaw and frost before needed, no loss in quality! My only caveat is that I won’t keep a frozen cake longer than about 4 weeks because I don’t have a deep freezer.
Why is this a triple layer lemon cake?
Why not? I actually just love the height and the cake to filling ratio. As written I use almost an entire batch of lemon curd to fill the cake. I appreciate not having a lot of leftover, and a three layer cake looks impressive.
I love 3 layer cakes enough that I purchased a third 8 inch cake pan. BUT, I have also divided the batter into 1/3 and 2/3, baking 1/3 in my 8 inch by 2 inch cake pan and the other 2/3 in my 8 inch by 3 (maybe 4? I don’t remember) inch cake pan. If you go this route, use a flower nail or something in the deeper pan to aid heat distribution through the batter for an even bake. The deeper pan may end up with a little extra coloring on the edge as well.
Before you think I’m suggesting an extra cake pan, *READ THIS*… I don’t recommend purchasing extra kitchen gadgets you won’t use regularly. No one has space for that! This is why I’m explaining how to do this with 2 pans… because I did this for yeeeears. And if you only have 2 shallower pans, you can make 1/3 of the batter wait while the other 2/3 bake. It may not rise quite as high, but it will work and no one will notice with a mouth full of tasty tasty lemon cake.
I really hope you love this recipe as much as we do!
p.s. – The greenery decorating the cake is lemon thyme from my garden. This is the first year I grow it, but it won’t be the last. The scent is lemony and beautiful, and the flavor is so perfect for summer cooking.
Lemon Cake Batter
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (but I have made this with cake flour too... a straight substitution which you technically don't do, but it's worked)
- 1 cup milk
- zest from 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1/4 lb butter, softened
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 4-5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, 1 scraped vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat your oven to 350 F and butter 3 8" cake pans. Line with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Beat the butter, sugar, and lemon zest together until light and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
- Stir in the eggs one at a time, mixing and scraping the bowl after each addition.
- In a large measuring cup, combine the milk, lemon juice, and vanilla. Set aside.
- In a smaller mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
- Add the dry mixture and the wet mixture to the butter and sugar in 3 batches. Stirring in dry ingredients, then wet. Scrape the sides of the bowl between each addition.
- Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake 23-25 minutes until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Be careful not to over-bake.
- Allow the cakes to cool 10 minutes in the pan before inverting onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
- When the cakes are cool, fill with lemon curd - homemade (https://goodiegodmother.com/lemon-curd-recipe/) or store bought - and frost with vanilla cream cheese frosting.
Make the Frosting
- Cream together the butter and cream cheese. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Stir in the vanilla.
- Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until desired consistency is reached. Use immediately.
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