The Best Lemon Cake Recipe
Ok guys, so here’s my disclaimer… When I share a classic recipe like this, I see no point in adding another recipe to the chasm of the online world, unless I can state with some authority that it is the best I’ve ever made and tasted.
Therefore I’m very excited to share this lemon layer cake with you today.
It’s moist, pillowy, and ultra tangy, just as a perfect lemon cake should be.
Southern Lemon Cake
When I first moved to the south, I did not realize there is a difference between a southern cake… And all other cakes.
In fact, I might go as far as to say I never truly had a mind-blowing cake until I moved to North Carolina.
For those of you living anywhere else in the country (or world) a southern cake has nothing to do with the style or flavor of cake. Instead, it has everything to do with the overall texture, moistness, and sweetness.
Good Southern Cakes Are:
- Delicate in texture. The kind you have to be careful about flipping out of the pan, so they don’t fall apart.
- Ultra moist. There is nothing “bready” about a southern cake. If you press down on a piece with your fingers, you can almost squeeze out the butter (or oil.)
- Very sweet. Although I tend to like desserts to be not-too-sweet, I make an exception when it comes to cake. The best cakes I’ve ever eaten have been powerfully sweet.
So What Makes This The Best Lemon Layer Cake?
I have eaten more than my fair share of cakes in my lifetime, and this one checks off all the boxes, plus some!
- It is super soft and light with a fine delicate crumb.
- It is very moist and tender, due to the addition of buttermilk. Plus, the moisture in the frosting protects the cake layers from drying out.
- It is in fact sugary-sweet. However, the lemon flavor balances the sweetness, so it doesn’t come off too overpowering.
Speaking of the lemon flavor, it is derived from three places… Lemon zest, lemon juice, and lemon extract. Therefore it offers both a bright fresh lemon flavor and a deeper underlying lemon essence.
How To Make The Best Lemon Buttermilk Cake Recipe
Don’t be intimidated by the number of steps in this lemon cake recipe.
You can totally do this!
In fact, in the recipe below I actually added steps, just to make sure you didn’t misunderstand an instruction and make a mistake.
The key factors in making this the best lemon cake you’ve ever tasted are:
- Prep your pans. Make sure to grease your pans and add a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan. This will guarantee the cakes come out in one piece.
- Cream the butter and sugar long enough. This is a step rookie bakers often skip. When you beat softened butter and sugar together on high speed, it fluffs the butter for a light airy cake texture and breaks down the sugar crystals. To do this properly, it usually takes a full 3-5 minutes. If you skip this step, your cake will be dense, instead of pillowy.
- Measure properly. Think of cooking as art, and baking as science. If you are heavy-handed with your
measuring,or don’t add enough of an ingredient, the chemical reaction in your oven will be different than mine. Be exact. And don’t forget to sift, or at least stir, your flour before measuring.
- Scrape the bowl. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the mixing bowl in between steps, so all the ingredients are incorporated evenly.
- Don’t disturb the baking cake. Leave it
aloneguys! Don’t open the oven door fifteen times while it’s baking. I would even suggest you walk lightly through your kitchen while the cake is baking. It needs consistent heat, and no movement to rise properly. If you can be patient you will be thrilled with the results.
- Cool completely. Don’t rush the cake frosting. Make sure to give your cake ample time to cool. Even a little warmth will make the frosting slump down the sides as you try to smooth it.
Watch Our Video & Get the Full (Printable) Best Lemon Buttermilk Cake Recipe Below!
I’ve also included pro frosting tips to make this the easiest and most beautiful cake you’ve ever baked!
If you are new to baking, check out our 100 Best Baking Tips Tutorial.
More Classic Southern Cakes
- Strawberry Yogurt Bundt Cake
- Perfect Carrot Cake
- Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberry Frosting
- Hummingbird Cupcakes
- Chocolate Mint Texas Sheet Cake
Best Lemon Buttermilk Cake
The absolute best southern lemon layer cake you will ever try!
- 2 ¾ cups cake flour, sifted (or 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour + ¼ cup cornstarch)
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 4 large eggs
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- Zest of 1 lemon (save juice for frosting)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract
- 3-5 drops yellow food coloring *optional
- 1 ¼ cup whole-fat buttermilk
- 1 ½ cups unsalted butter, softened (3 sticks)
- 3 tablespoons buttermilk
- 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
- 5-7 cups powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray or grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Cut out 9-inch parchment paper circles, and press down in the bottom of each pan. (Trace the pan for perfect circles.)
- For the Cake: In the bowl on an electric stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. (Cream: Beat on high approximately 3-5 minutes to break down the sugar crystals.)
- In a separate bowl, mix the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Once the butter and sugar are well creamed. Scrape the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula. Then turn the mixer on low and beat in the eggs, oil, lemon zest, vanilla extract, lemon extract, and yellow food coloring.
- Scrape the bowl again. Turn the mixer back on low and alternate adding the flour mixture and buttermilk until both are well combined. Turn off the mixer.
- Pour the batter evenly into the two prepared pans. Bake on the middle rack, undisturbed for 30 minutes.
- If the center of the cakes are puffed up, check the cake by inserting a toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean, take them out of the oven. If the toothpick has batter on it, bake another 5-10 minutes and recheck.
- Allow the cakes to cool 10 minutes in the pans. Then carefully flip them out on a cooling rack. Remove the parchment paper and cool completely.
- For the Frosting: Once the cakes are room temperature, place the butter in a clean stand mixer bowl. Beat until fluffy. Then scrape the bowl and turn on low. Mix in the buttermilk and lemon juice. Then add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, beating to incorporate.
- After adding 5 cups of powdered sugar, turn the mixer up to beat out any clumps. Check the consistency of the frosting. If it is too loose, add another 1-2 cups of powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
- To Assemble: Move one cake to a cake stand or platter. Scoop about 2 cups frosting onto the cake. Use a large flat spatula to spread the frosting out evenly.
Set the second cake on top of the frosting, being careful to center the cake. Gently press the cake a little to level the top. Then scoop all remaining frosting on top of the cake. Use the spatula to work the frosting over the top and down the sides.
Turn the cake stand to smooth out the sides with the flat edge of the spatula. Once you are satisfied with the sides, use the spatula to make swooping marks on the top of the cake. Use a wet paper towel to clean up the cake stand.
Cover and keep at room temperature for up to 4 days, or refrigerate for up to a week. When ready to serve, make sure the cake is at room temperature… All classic layer cakes taste best at room temperature!
Pro Frosting Tips: If you have a tendency to get crumbs in the frosting when you try to frost a cake, you can:
- Spread a thin “crumb coat” layer of frosting over the cake to catch and seal in the crumbs. Then spread on the final “pretty” layer of frosting on top.
- Or you can wrap the cakes in separate pieces of plastic and freeze them. Then a few hours later, you can unwrap, level, and frost the cake with a lot of added stability. Just be sure to do this at least 6 hours before serving so the cake layers have time to thaw.
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