Lemon Layer Cake
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A moist and flavorful lemon cake, stacked and filled with sweet and tart lemon curd, and covered in a tangy lemon cream cheese frosting.
Welcome to #LemonWeek 2022 hosted by Rebecca from Devour Dinner and me! This week is sponsored by Rodelle and La Tourangelle. I may have received product samples from these sponsors to help in the creation of my recipes. All opinions are my own. Come join me and my fellow Lemon Week bloggers as we bring you recipes from appetizers to drinks to entrées and desserts!
Day 3 in Lemon Week 2022 brings you my easy lemon curd cake, which is just going to knock your lemon-loving socks right off. If you’ve been a reader for awhile, you may know that I got my start in baking with layer cakes, so this simple lemon cake comes from years of treating people’s tastebuds to delightfully tart and sweet layers of moist lemon cake surrounding lip-puckering homemade lemon curd.
And if that isn’t enough to get your mouth watering, just think about the lemon cream cheese frosting that holds it all together.
Now we’re really talking.
While many lemon layer cakes use a dense lemon pound cake as the base, this version with lemon curd actually uses a slightly lighter lemon cake batter. While it is still rich, with a moderate amount of density, it’s not as heavy as a traditional pound cake.
Buttery, sweet, and filled with fresh lemon flavor, it’s the perfect base for the lemon curd filling and lemon cream cheese frosting. The three elements work together seamlessly, without any one component stealing the show.
LEMON LAYER CAKE
In order to make the lemon cake base, you’ll need some standard ingredients like flour, baking powder, salt, butter, sugar, eggs, milk, and vanilla.
You’ll also need the zest of 2 lemons, and about ½ cup of lemon juice. I’m going to stress how important fresh is here, since you just can’t beat the intense flavor you get from using lemon zest and fresh juice.
In fact, I would say that it just wouldn’t be the same if you opted for the bottled stuff instead, since the lemon zest is really what ups the ante and gives it a punchy citrus flavor.
You’ll also want to make sure your ingredients (like butter, eggs, and milk) are room temperature, as that will give you the smoothest and most lump-free cake batter possible.
LEMON CURD FILLING
You have two options for the lemon curd filling: store bought or homemade. I bet you know which one I’m going to vouch for: homemade of course!
Homemade is almost always better than store bought, but it may not be realistic for every baker, every time. Even though my homemade lemon curd recipe is super simple and straight forward, it’s totally ok to use a good quality store bought version instead.
If you go the homemade route, you’ll need egg yolks, some sugar, the zest of 3 lemons (and about ½ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice), a touch of salt, and some softened unsalted butter.
It’s pretty simple to make, and you will have a good amount leftover for gifting, freezing, or serving with your favorite baked goodies.
LEMON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
The most important thing to remember about the frosting is that it is imperative that you use room temperature ingredients. Both the butter and cream cheese must be softened to room temperature, otherwise your frosting will not blend together well and it will be stiff and lumpy, rather than smooth and spreadable.
The ingredients will need to rest at room temperature for 1-3 hours before they’re ready, so I like to set them out the morning of my planned baking excursion, and then get baking sometime around noon.
For the lemon cream cheese frosting you’ll need some unsalted butter (room temperature of course), some brick style cream cheese that has been softened to room temperature, powdered sugar, the zest of 1 lemon, and a touch of vanilla extract.
HOW TO MAKE LEMON CURD CAKE
This lemon curd cake recipe is so simple to make, and the bright and fresh lemony flavor is so(oooo) worth it. A lemon cake batter is baked until fluffy and lightly browned, then filled with a homemade lemon curd filling, and topped with a rich and decadent lemon cream cheese frosting.
Lemon layer cakes are so great for a variety of occasions, but this works particularly well during Spring and Summer when the refreshing touch of lemon is a real treat during the hot and humid days.
You’ll be happy to know that this simple cake can be made in advance and even frozen, meaning you can plan ahead to have a slice of this delicious lemon cake with lemon curd anytime, anywhere.
MAKE THE CAKE
Before you get started on making the lemon cake batter, preheat the oven to 350°F (171ºC) and prepare two 8″ round cake pans by greasing and flouring them (or using my homemade cake release).
Set the prepared cake pans aside, and add the flour, baking powder, and salt to a medium size bowl. Stir just enough to combine.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl with a handheld mixer), add your softened butter. Add in the sugar and lemon zest and beat everything on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. This usually takes around 3 minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on medium-high speed until each one is incorporated before adding the next one. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula as needed.
Finally, add in vanilla extract and beat again just until combined.
Add your milk to a large glass measuring cup or bowl, and then add the freshly squeezed lemon juice. Stir well and set aside.
Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl and turn the mixer to low speed. Add the flour mixture in 2 additions, alternating with the milk and lemon juice mixture. Once everything come together, turn off the mixer and stir with a spatula until combined and fairly smooth.
The batter will be light, airy, and fluffy, so try your best not to deflate it.
Spoon the lemon cake batter into the prepared round cake pans and bake for 28-34 minutes, or until the tops are very lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of each cake.
Remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool in their pans until completely cooled.
Once the cakes are cooled, removing them by running a butter knife around the edge of the cake pan and inverting each one onto a wire cooling rack.
MAKE THE LEMON CURD
For this lemon cake, I use my homemade lemon curd as a filling. It’s perfectly lemony, rich, and can easily be made ahead if desired.
If you don’t want to make a lemon curd filling from scratch, that’s totally fine! You can absolutely use a high quality store bought option instead. You’ll need just about ⅓ cup to fill the cake, so even a small jar should be plenty.
To make a homemade lemon curd, the process isn’t as difficult as you might think it is. If you’ve ever worked with a double boiler before, you should be pretty comfortable making your own lemon curd filling.
The first step is to combine egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt in the top portion of a double boiler. The water should be at a steady simmer before you start.
Whisk the mixture until it becomes thick and foamy, which takes about 10-14 minutes.
Once the curd is thickened and has reached a minimum temperature of 160°F (71ºC), remove it from the heat. Then, whisk in the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, adding them in only after the previous addition has mostly melted.
When all of the butter has melted into the curd, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the curd, and press it down gently with your hand to make sure the surface of the lemon curd is completely covered with plastic wrap.
Allow your curd to cool in the fridge for about 2 hours. It will thicken up nicely as it cools. Once you’re ready to use, remove the plastic wrap and use it to fill the lemon layer cake.
Any leftover lemon curd can be stored in the refrigerator (covered tightly) for up to 1 month, or in the freezer for up to 1 year. Lemon curd also makes a much appreciated hostess gift, and is a delicious addition to crepes or cheese blintzes.
You can also use homemade lemon curd in another dessert recipe like my triple lemon cupcakes, a classic lemon meringue pie, or my 5 ingredient lemon mousse recipe.
MAKE THE FROSTING
To make the lemon cream cheese frosting, you’ll need a medium size bowl with a handheld mixer OR a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Add the softened butter, room temperature cream cheese, and lemon zest to the bowl and mix on medium speed until no lumps remain. This normally takes about 3 minutes.
Decrease the mixer speed to low, and add in the powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Increase the speed to high and beat until everything is combined and smooth. This should take another 2-3 minutes.
Set your cream cheese frosting aside, and prepare for the next step, assembling the lemon layer cake.
And don’t forget to check out my book, The Home Baker’s Guide to Basic Buttercream, for expert tips and troubleshooting tips for getting the perfect frosting every single time.
ASSEMBLE THE CAKE
Add one of the lemon cake layers on a plate or a cake stand. Using a pastry bag fitted with a Wilton #12 piping tip (or a zip top bag with the corner snipped off), pipe a round well with the lemon cream cheese frosting along the outside edge of the cake.
This well of frosting will keep the lemon curd filling from seeping out of the sides of your lemon layer cake, and will give you a smooth appearance when you add the frosting to the sides and top of the finished cake.
Fill the cake with lemon curd, smoothing it with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.
Top the lemon curd filled layer with the second cake, with the cut surface down. For the best results, and a cake that holds up to slicing and serving a bit better, refrigerate the cake for about 10 minutes before frosting.
Once the cake has chilled, spread your cream cheese frosting on the top and sides of the cake until smooth and even.
Refrigerate the frosted lemon cake for at least 30 minutes before cutting. This will give the cake and frosting the chance to set completely.
After chilling, decorate your cake however you like it OR leave it plain. It’s totally up to you! I like the addition of a few lemon slices to keep it simple, yet elegant.
Keep your leftovers covered tightly and they should keep at room temperature for up to 3 days, or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
MAKE THIS CAKE AHEAD OF TIME
To make this lemon cake recipe ahead of time, you can easily prepare many of the elements and assemble later on. You can prepare your cakes, frosting, and lemon curd filling up to 1 day in advance, or you can make and freeze the cake portion for up to 2 months.
To store the lemon cakes, cover them tightly with plastic wrap or in an airtight container and store at room temperature (or in the refrigerator) until you’re ready to pull everything together.
Store the prepared lemon cream cheese frosting in an airtight container, and the lemon curd with plastic wrap pressed onto the top layer.
About an hour before you’re ready to serve the cake (or the morning of), assemble the cakes as described in the recipe and chill for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.
You can freeze your lemon cake either unfrosted or frosted, and it can be frozen for up to 2 months!
To freeze your cake unfrosted, wrap the layers tightly and add to a labeled freezer bag. Store it in the back of your freezer (or in a deep freezer) and use within 2 months.
If you want to freeze cake that has been frosted, you can absolutely do that. Wrap your cake tightly and gently, pressing the plastic wrap against the frosting to prevent freezer burn. Transfer to a large labeled freezer bag and store in the back of your freezer, or in a chest or deep freezer for up to 2 months.
When you’re ready to serve, thaw your lemon cake overnight in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature before serving. Then frost, fill (if the cake wasn’t frozen assembled), and serve.
And now that you’ve made this bright, simple, and elegant lemon layer cake with lemon curd filling, you’re probably wanting to make ALL the layer cakes. Am I right, or am I right?
Good news, I have made TONS over the years. You have to try a few of my favorites, including my orange creamsicle layer cake, yellow layer cake (with chocolate buttercream of course!), milk and berries cake, and (obviously) my dark chocolate layer cake with peanut butter frosting. That’s right, I said peanut butter! Talk about scrumptious!
Wednesday #LemonWeek Recipes
- Lemon Poke Cake by Blogghetti
- Lemonade Cake by Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks
- Crepes with Lemon Curd and Mascarpone by Art Of Natural Living
- Braided Lemon Bread with Blackberries by Karen’s Kitchen Stories
- Chicken Costoletta by Cheese Curd In Paradise
- Lemon Lush by Devour Dinner
- Lemon Cheesecake Bars by Best Cookie Recipes
- Lemon Pudding Cake by The Freshman Cook
- Lemon Cheesecake Bombs by Simply Inspired Meals
- One Pot Lemon Garlic Pasta Recipe by The Fresh Cooky
- Lemon Loaf Cake by A Day In The Life On The Farm
- Glazed Lemon Poppy Seed Pudding Cookies by The Spiffy Cookie
- Lemon Blueberry Crumb Bars by An Affair From The Heart
- Mini Lemon Cheesecakes by Kathryn’s Kitchen Blog
- Lemon Sorbet by Jen Around The World
- Lemon Blueberry Waffles by Lemon Blossoms
- Lemon White Chocolate Chip Cookies by Home Cooked Harvest
- Lemon Rosemary Marmalade by That Recipe
- Lemon Crepes by The Redhead Baker
- Glazed Lemon Bundt Cake by Jonesin’ For A Taste
- Lemon Coriander Soup by Magical Ingredients
Lemon Curd Cake
- 3 cups (360g) all-purpose flour be sure to measure properly
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (227g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 1 and ¾ cup (350g) granulated sugar
- zest of 2 lemons
- 4 large eggs room temperature1
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ cup (120mL) fresh lemon juice2
- ¾ cup (180mL) milk room temperature1; any but whole cow preferred3
- ⅓ cup (240g) homemade lemon curd store bought is fine
LEMON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
- ½ cup (113g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 8 ounces (225g) full fat block cream cheese softened to room temperature
- 2 cups (240g) powdered sugar
- zest of 1 lemon
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF (177ºC). Grease and flour (or use homemade cake release) two 8" round baking pans. Set aside.
- In a medium size bowl, toss together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl with a handheld mixer or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and lemon zest on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
- Add each egg, one at a time, beating on medium-high speed until fully incorporated, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the vanilla extract and beat again until combined.
- Stir the lemon juice into the milk. Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl and turn the mixer speed to low. Add the flour in 2 additions, alternating with the milk/lemon juice. Remove bowl from mixer and stir with a spatula until everything is completely combined.
- Spoon batter evenly into prepared pans and bake 28-34 minutes or until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cakes to cool in the pans completely on a wire rack before removing and assembling.
LEMON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
- In a medium size bowl with a handheld mixer or in the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream cheese, and lemon zest on medium speed until no lumps remain (about 3 minutes).
- Decrease mixer speed to low. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Increase mixer speed to to high and beat until completely combined (approximately 2-3 minutes).
- For more buttercream troubleshooting tips, see my book, The Home Baker's Guide to Basic Buttercream.
- Place one layer, bottom side up, on a plate or cake stand. Using a large zip top bag with the corner snipped off or a pastry bag fitted with a Wilton #12 piping tip, pipe a well with cream cheese frosting around the outside edge of the cake.
- Fill the cake with lemon curd, then place second layer on top, cut surface down. For a sturdier cake, refrigerate at this point for about 10 minutes. When cake is slightly chilled, remove from refrigerator and spread more frosting on the top and around the sides. Refrigerate frosted cake at least 30 minutes before cutting so cake and frosting can set completely. Leftovers stay fresh, covered tightly, at room temperature up to 3 days and in the refrigerator up to 5 days.
- Make ahead: prepare cakes and frosting up to 1 day in advance. Cover cakes tightly and keep at room temperature or in the refrigerator until ready to assemble. Refrigerate prepared frosting in an airtight container until ready to use. Unfrosted cake layers may be frozen, wrapped tightly, up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before assembling. Frosted cake can be frozen, wrapped tightly, up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
- Room temperature ingredients: these incorporate into batter much more easily than cold ingredients. Allow to sit at room temperature for 45 minutes. You can place eggs in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes or until ready to use.
- Lemon juice: you will need approximately 3 lemons for ½ cup of lemon juice. You can zest all 3 lemons, as you’ll use the zest of 2 of them in the cake and 1 of them in the frosting.
- Milk: a higher fat milk brings the best texture to this cake.
- Make in a bundt pan: this recipe also fits in a bundt pan, you just won’t be able to fill it with lemon curd. Bake time is approximately 40 minutes. Top with a simple glaze or half the recipe of the lemon cream cheese frosting.
All nutritional values are approximate and provided to the reader as a courtesy. Changing ingredients and/or quantities will alter the estimated nutritional calculations.
Oh gosh…that lemon curd layer did it for me! Lemon cake is my favorite.
Right? Thanks so much, Lisa!
All those lemon layers have me hungry for this, I need a slice!
This lemon cake is perfect! I love the curd layer and the frosting on top. This cake will be such a hit, I already know it! Ps- I love your photos, they are GORGEOUS!
Thanks so much, Kathryn!
Love that layer of lemon curd. Beautiful cake.
Love your trick for creating a well for the curd! This cake sounds amazing.
Thanks, Karen! It keeps all that goodness inside!
This cake is my new favorite, that crumb, the lemon curd, the frosting!!
It’s just so good!
This sounds delicious! A triple lemon flavored cake sounds so good.
Triple lemon indeed!
This lemon layer cake is perfection! Can’t wait to try it out!
Thank you, Tristin!
I need a slice of this cake asap. It looks so good.
Yes, you do!
What a gorgeous cake! I love the way you made the wells on the top of the layer. Awesome idea!
Yes! It seals in all those goodies!
Love all those layers of lemon goodness!
This cake is everything!! Layers of dreamy perfection for sure! You have the absolute best cake recipes!
Thanks so much, Kathy!
Your recipes are always spot on! Delish!
Thanks, Grace! 🙂
I love a lemon cake in the spring summer time. So refreshing and delish!
This is a gorgeous cake and love the layers of lemon flavor! SO YUM!
Thank you, Radha 🙂
Those layers look perfect! I love that beautiful frosting too!
Thanks so much, Ashley!
I have tried the recipe with ghee and It was great. Thank you for the recipe.
This lemon slab of lushness saved my tail on Thanksgiving!! This icing is OUT OF THIS WORLD – LIGHT! This cake is bold with lemon flavor but not – if that makes any sense! 😊 It is the recipe that everyone is still talking about! It will definitely be on the table for Christmas. Thank you for the detailed instructions and comments on your recipes that you provide all of us!!
Thank you SO much, Heather! I’m so glad it worked out so well for you 🙂