The Ultimate Lemon Layer Cake

Made with moist and fluffy cake, a velvety buttercream frosting, silky bavarian cream and a zesty curd filling, this is The Ultimate Lemon Layer Cake! You won’t find this much fresh lemon flavor in any other dessert.

A Lemon Curd Layer Cake on a White Stand with a Slice Removed

Easy Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Buttercream

This layer cake is a lemon lover’s dream come true. The naturally-flavored lemon cake is super tender and buttery – it has such a lovely texture to it. The fillings and the frosting are also spot-on when it comes to flavor and texture. Once you try a bite with all of them together, your mind will be blown!

Fruit-themed desserts are one of my favorite things about summer. Whether it’s a classic Strawberry Shortcake or a fancy Berry Trifle, I’m there to help devour it. There’s simply no substitute for the flavors of ripe, in-season fruits! If you’re a lover of lemon, this cake has to be the next treat you try. You’ll fall in love!

A Partially Eaten Piece of Lemon Layer Cake on a Plate with One Bite on a Fork

What You’ll Need

Let’s talk about the ingredients for the cake, the frosting, the curd and the bavarian cream. Each one calls for juice and zest from fresh lemons for the most fabulous citrus flavor!

For the Lemon Cake

  • All-Purpose Flour: You’ll need 3 cups.
  • Baking Soda & Baking Powder: This cake uses 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and 2 3/4 teaspoons of baking powder. the combination creates the best rise and texture.
  • Salt: Just a teaspoon, for flavor.
  • Butter: Unsalted; bring to room temperature.
  • Sugar: For a moist cake with the right amount of sweetness.
  • Egg Whites: You’ll need 4 egg whites; you can use the yolks in the lemon curd.
  • Vanilla Extract: This will set the stage for all that lemon-y goodness.
  • Milk: Just over a cup of milk makes this cake super soft and fluffy.
  • Lemon Juice: Freshly squeezed!
  • Lemon Zest: About 2 tablespoons.

For the Buttercream Frosting

  • Unsalted Butter: Room temperature.
  • Powdered Sugar: For volume and the right consistency.
  • Salt: Just a pinch.
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Lemon Zest
  • Lemon Juice
  • Yellow Gel Icing Color

For the Lemon Curd

  • Lemon Juice: About 1–2 lemons’ worth.
  • Lemon Zest: Finely grated.
  • Sugar
  • Egg Yolks
  • Butter: Salted.

For the Bavarian Cream

  • Powdered Gelatin: This gives the cream its custard-like texture.
  • Lemon Juice
  • Egg Yolks
  • Heavy Whipping Cream: You’ll need 3/4 cup to start and another cup later on.
  • Sugar
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Lemon Zest
  • Powdered Sugar
A Frosted and Decorated Citrus Cake with Yellow and White Frosting on a Cake Stand

How to Make the Lemon Cake

These cake layers come together quickly and easily. You just have to combine the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately before mixing them together.

  1. Prepare for Baking: Preheat the oven to 350°F and line three 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper in the bottom and grease the sides.
  2. Combine Dry Ingredients: Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cream Butter & Sugar: Cream the butter and sugar in a large mixer bowl on medium speed for about 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy.
  4. Add Egg Whites & Vanilla: Add the egg whites and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed, to make sure everything is combined.
  5. Start Adding Dry Ingredients: Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the batter and beat on medium speed until incorporated.
  6. Add Milk & Lemon: Add about half of the milk and the lemon juice and zest and beat on medium speed until incorporated.
  7. Complete Batter: Continue alternating adding dry and wet ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, and beating until incorporated after each addition. There should be three total additions of dry ingredients and two total additions of milk. End with the dry ingredients.
  8. Bake: Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Don’t be alarmed if the tops are a little browned – that is normal.
  9. Let Cool: Remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool for 1-2 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

How to Make the Lemon Buttercream

This lemon frosting is also super fast and simple. You’ll be whipping it up to top off all sorts of yummy treats!

  1. Beat Butter: Add the butter to a large mixer bowl and beat until smooth.
  2. Add Half of Powdered Sugar: Slowly add about half of the powdered sugar, mixing until well combined and smooth.
  3. Add Remaining Ingredients: Add the salt, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice and mix until well combined and smooth.
  4. Finish Adding Powdered Sugar: Slowly add the remaining powdered sugar and mix until well combined and smooth.
  5. Adjust to Taste: Add additional lemon juice, if needed, to thin out the frosting.
A Big Slice of Summer Citrus Cake on a White Plate with Half a Lemon Behind it

How to Make the Lemon Curd

Though this cake has plenty of lemon flavor throughout each layer, the curd is where it really shines. Here’s how to make it happen!

  1. Combine Ingredients: Combine all the ingredients in a double boiler or a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water.
  2. Thicken: Heat while whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and reaches 170-180°F, or coats the back of a spoon.
  3. Chill: Pour the lemon curd into a heat-proof bowl, cover with clear wrap pressed onto the the top of the curd to avoid a film developing, and refrigerate until cold and firm.

How to Make the Bavarian Cream

Last but not least, let’s discuss how to make the light and fluffy bavarian cream. As long as you’re watching it closely while it cooks, you’ll do just fine.

  1. Combine Gelatin & Lemon Juice: In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin onto the lemon juice and set aside.
  2. Whisk Egg Yolks: In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together and set aside.
  3. Heat Remaining Ingredients: Add 3/4 cup of the the heavy whipping cream, sugar, vanilla extract and lemon zest to a large saucepan and heat over medium heat until warm.
  4. Add Cream Mixture to Eggs: Remove the cream mixture from heat and slowly pour the hot cream into the egg yolks to temper them.
  5. Cook: Add the egg and cream mixture back into the saucepan and return to the heat. Continue cooking over medium heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, or reaches about 160°F. It should happen fairly quickly.
  6. Add Gelatin Mixture: Add the gelatin mixture to the hot cream and stir until smooth.
  7. Let Cool: Pour the custard into another bowl and set that bowl inside another bowl over ice. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  8. Whip Cream & Sugar: While the custard cools, add the remaining cup of heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar to a large mixer bowl and whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form.
  9. Fold Into Custard: When the custard is ready, gently fold the whipped cream into the custard. Be sure it’s at least room temperature, so the whipped cream doesn’t wilt/melt.
A Lemon Layer Cake on a Tall White Cake Stand Sitting on a Table with Fresh Lemons

Assembling Your Cake

Now that everything is prepped and ready to go, let’s get to the exciting part – putting it all together!

  1. Cut Cakes & Gather Fillings: The cake layers should be pretty flat, but if there’s a dome, trim the tops of the cakes so they are flat. Cut each cake in half, so that you end up with 6 layers of cake. Get the lemon curd and bavarian cream from the fridge and stir them until smooth. The bavarian cream may need a little hand whisking to work out any lumps.
  2. Start Layering: Place the first layer of cake on a serving platter. Pipe a small dam of frosting around the outer edge. Fill the dam with 1/3 of the bavarian cream. Place the second layer of cake on top of the cream. The cake layers are very tender, so I recommend using a cake lifter.
  3. Continue Layering: Add another dam of frosting around the out edge of the cake. Fill the dam with about half of the lemon curd. Repeat with another layer of cake, a dam of frosting and 1/3 of the bavarian cream. Then repeat with another layer, a dam and 1/2 of the lemon curd.
  4. Finish Layering: Repeat with the another layer of cake, a dam of frosting and the remaining 1/3 of the bavarian cream. Add the final layer of cake on top, then frost the outside of the cake with a crumb coat.
  5. Chill: Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours for the cake to firm up.
  6. Frost & Serve: Frost the outside of the cake and decorate as you wish. Refrigerate the lemon layer cake until you’re ready to serve.

Tips for Making Lemon Layer Cake

With a cake this luxurious, it never hurts to have some extra recipe tips and tricks. I’ve got you covered!

  • Make-Ahead Option: If you want to start working on this cake a day in advance, you can prepare both of the fillings ahead of time and store them in airtight containers in the fridge. Just give them an extra good stir before assembling the cake so they’re nice and smooth.
  • Use a Cake Lifter: This cake is super soft and tender, which is amazing in every way, but it does come with some difficulty in terms of assembly. I recommend using a cake lifter to move the thin layers around without breaking them.
  • Don’t Forget the Dams: The dams of frosting along the edges of the filling layers are super important. They hold everything in place so that nothing comes spilling out down the sides, so make sure you include them and that your frosting is thick enough to stay in place.
  • Easy Decorating Idea: Roughly frost the cake on top of the crumb coat, then color the remaining frosting a nice shade of yellow. Place little blobs of the yellow frosting around the cake, then finish smoothing out the sides and you’ve got a lovely watercolor design going on. I piped the rest of the yellow buttercream around the edges and I love the final look! So bright, summery and lemon-y.
A Piece of Lemon Layer Cake on a White Dessert Plate with a Metal Fork

How to Store Frosted Cake

This cake should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge. If you can’t fit the whole leftover cake in a container, cut it into slices and store them separately. Enjoy leftovers within 3-4 days for the best results.

Can I Freeze Lemon Layer Cake?

You can! Though I recommend freezing individual slices. To freeze your lemon cake, wrap it tightly in a layer of plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil. Thaw frozen cake overnight in the fridge before enjoying.


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A Lemon Curd Layer Cake on a White Stand with a Slice Removed
Recipe

The Ultimate Lemon Layer Cake

  • Author: Life Love and Sugar
  • Prep Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 7 hours, 55 minutes
  • Yield: 12-14 Slices
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Made with moist and fluffy cake, a velvety buttercream frosting, silky bavarian cream and a zesty curd filling, this is The Ultimate Lemon Layer Cake! You won’t find this much fresh lemon flavor in any other dessert.


Ingredients

For the Lemon Cake

  • 3 cups (390g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (336g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups (414g) sugar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups (300ml) milk
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp lemon zest

For the Lemon Buttercream

  • 2 1/4 cups (504g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 9 1/2 cups (1093g) powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 23 tbsp lemon juice
  • Yellow gel icing color

For the Lemon Curd

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) fresh lemon juice (about 12 lemons)
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup (69g) sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp (28g) salted butter

For the Lemon Bavarian Cream

  • 1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin
  • 4 1/2 tbsp (68ml) lemon juice
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 3/4 cup (420ml) heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 3 tbsp (26g) sugar
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup (58g) powdered sugar

Instructions

Make the Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Line three 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper in the bottom and grease the sides.
    Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar in a large mixer bowl on medium speed for about 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the egg whites and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed, to make sure everything is combined.
  4. Add about one-third of the flour mixture to the batter and beat on medium speed until incorporated.
  5. Add about half of the milk and the lemon juice and zest and beat on medium speed until incorporated.
  6. Continue alternating adding dry and wet ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, and beating until incorporated after each addition. There should be three total additions of dry ingredients and two total additions of milk. End with the dry ingredients.
  7. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans.
  8. Bake the cakes for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Don’t be alarmed if the tops are a little browned, that is normal.
  9. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool for 1-2 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Make the Buttercream

  1. Add the butter to a large mixer bowl and beat until smooth.
  2. Slowly add about half of the powdered sugar, mixing until well combined and smooth.
  3. Add the salt, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice and mix until well combined and smooth.
  4. Slowly add the remaining powdered sugar and mix until well combined and smooth.
  5. Add additional lemon juice, if needed, to thin out the frosting.

Make the Curd

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a double boiler (or in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water). Heat while whisking constantly until mixture thickens and reaches 170-180 degrees, or coats the back of a spoon.
  2. Pour the lemon curd into a heat proof bowl, cover with clear wrap pressed onto the the top of the curd to avoid a film developing, and refrigerate until cold and firm.

Make the Bavarian Cream

  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin onto the lemon juice and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together and set aside.
  3. Add 3/4 cup of the the heavy whipping cream, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon zest to a large saucepan and heat over medium heat until warm.
  4. Remove the cream mixture from heat and slowly pour the hot cream into the eggs to temper them.
  5. Add the egg and cream mixture back into the saucepan and return to the heat. Continue cooking over medium heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, or reaches about 160°F. It should happen fairly quickly.
  6. Add the gelatin mixture to the hot cream and stir until smooth.
  7. Pour the custard into another bowl and set that bowl inside another bowl over ice. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  8. While the custard cools, add the remaining cup of heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar to a large mixer bowl and whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form.
  9. When the custard is ready, gently fold the whipped cream into the custard. Be sure it’s at least room temperature, so the whipped cream doesn’t wilt/melt.

Assemble

  1. The cake layers should be pretty flat, but if there’s a dome, trim the tops of the cakes so they are flat. Cut each cake in half, so that you end up with 6 layers of cake. Get the lemon curd and bavarian cream from the fridge and stir them until smooth. The bavarian cream may need a little hand whisking to work out any lumps.
  2. Place the first layer of cake on a serving platter. Pipe a small dam of frosting around the outer edge.
  3. Fill the dam with 1/3 of the bavarian cream.
  4. Place the second layer of cake on top of the cream. The cake layers are very tender, so I recommend using a cake lifter.
  5. Add another dam of frosting around the out edge of the cake. Fill the dam with about half of the lemon curd.
  6. Repeat with another layer of cake, dam of frosting and 1/3 of the bavarian cream.
  7. Repeat with another layer of cake, dam of frosting and 1/2 of the lemon curd.
  8. Repeat with the another layer of cake, dam of frosting and remaining 1/3 of the bavarian cream.
  9. Add the final layer of cake on top, then frost the outside of the cake with a crumb coat and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours for the cake to firm up.
  10. Frost the outside of the cake and decorate as you wish. To create the watercolor look I used, frost the outside of the cake roughly, then color the remaining frosting with yellow gel icing color. Place a few blobs of yellow frosting around the outside of the cake, then smooth out the cake a few more times to spread the yellow frosting around and create the effect. Use the remaining yellow frosting to pipe around the edges.
  11. Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve. The cake is best when stored in an air tight container and eaten within 3-4 days.

Notes

You’ll need about 5 hours total of cooling time.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 Slice
  • Calories: 1144
  • Sugar: 111.1 g
  • Sodium: 346.6 mg
  • Fat: 65.6 g
  • Carbohydrates: 135 g
  • Protein: 9.1 g
  • Cholesterol: 264.2 mg

Keywords: lemon curd cake, lemon buttercream, easy lemon cake

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Recipe rating

208 Comments
  1. Tove

    Coming back to make this cake for the second time, for a friend’s birthday. This cake is the best cake I have ever made. And I love to bake cakes. It is so delicious and flavourful, and fun to make! Thank you so much for this recipe!

  2. Jeannette

    This cake looks amazing I just want to make sure this cake has 3 sticks of butter. I was wondering is this a typo

  3. Lou

    Aaamazing!! My husband wanted a Lemon cake on his birthday. I have never baked 1 from scratch. Me: I don’t know if I can do it. Him: Calmly say you can do it. Hmm, okay! The search begun and came across you cake pix. I read through your instructions/recipe and thought oh my, it’s a lot of work. Long story short, I baked it and it was Amazing!! At the end of the his Birthday dinner the cake was almost gone. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe!!

    1. Lindsay

      This is definitely one of the more complicated ones to take on for your first cake, so kudos to you! I’m so glad you both enjoyed it!

  4. Rho

    I’m using recipe for a wedding, it’s for a friend and it’ll be about 5 hrs away. 1st question: Can I make the cake, freeze it(just the cake) and have it defrost in the fridge? 2nd: I’ve never worked with lemon curd before, does it freeze? If not, how long can it be stored in fridge? If I make and decorate the night before, should storing it in the fridge then putting in a cooler for the be ok?..THANK YOU SO MUCH!! I’M SO NERVOUS, I normally just doctor box cakes but this looks so good, lemon is the bride to be favorite flavor. WISH ME LUCK and thanks in advance for your help and for posting the recipe

    1. Lindsay

      Are you talking about freezing just the cake layers? Or the layered cake after it’s put together? Lemon curd does freeze well, but Bavarian cream doesn’t always defrost very well.

      As for transporting it, it’s hard to say. I don’t transport a lot of cakes and when I do, it terrifies my husband and I both, lol. Because the fillings of this cake are softer, it will be possible that things move around more from a bumpy ride. I would recommend freezing it ahead of the drive, but I’m not sure that the cream would thaw very well.

    1. Lindsay

      You can certainly try it, but I typically prefer all purpose flour. I know there are plenty of people out there who will say cake flour is going to give you a softer cake, but it really depends on the recipe. This recipe was developed with all purpose flour so I believe that will give you the best results. That said, feel free to try cake flour if you have a preference for it.

  5. Mak

    This was absolutely incredible! My son wanted a lemon cake for his birthday and this was perfect! Huge hit! The cake had a great sponge that was light but still easy enough to work with when cutting and adding all the layers. The lemon curd was the perfect tart balance to offset the frosting and cream. It was like 3 levels of lemon to enjoy! My only alteration was substituting 1C of butter flavored Crisco for the butter which is just a preference. I also added 1 tsp of Princess emulsion to the frosting to enhance the citrus. I immediately received requests to make this again for others birthdays My only suggestion would be to zest and juice all the lemons at once rather than 3 separate times. That might be obvious for most but it was too time consuming and messy to do it 3 separate times! This is truly one of the best cakes I’ve ever tasted 🙂

  6. Christy Sloat

    I forgot to comment about this one when I made it in March. There are a lot of steps, I’ve never made lemon curd prior to this, and making bavarian cream scared the heck out of me because last time I tried to make whipped cream it was a HUGE failure. HOWEVER your directions are so detailed that everything was seamless and this cake was a huge hit with everyone! It was delicious, the cake, the curd, the cream…just perfection. I will saw that I personally enjoyed it the next day, after it had a day to sit in the refrigerator. All the lemon seemed to calm down just a bit and I enjoyed it even more. Thank you again for sharing this wonderful recipe!

Lindsay
About Lindsay

I'm a wife and a mom to twin boys and a baby girl! And I've got a serious sweets addiction! Bring on the treats!

Scripture I’m Loving

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29