Easy Lemon Cake

Easy Lemon Cake
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lemon cake
Lemon cakes taste nice and bright.

In a few months we’ll be putting together a cake for a party, and a lemon cake was requested. One that is very lemony, with a lot of frosting. Since this is a special occasion, we’re going to be testing, testing, testing over the next couple of months, trying to get the flavors right, the size right, and texture right, so you’ll be seeing a few posts with our test cases.

When we finish all the testing, we’ll have a three-layer 9-inch lemon cake with a lemon curd filling and lemon Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. We settled on this, figuring that the lemon curd will use egg yolks, and the frosting will use the egg whites, so we won’t have leftover whites or yolks.

First up, the cake. There are a couple things we want from a lemon cake: a nice yellow color, a nice bright lemony flavor, and a nice, fine texture that holds up well. Preferably with no artificial flavors or colors. And, of course, all made by hand, as we think box cakes taste like chemicals. So, with this in mind, we wanted to flavor the Basic Yellow Cake we made for a 50th anniversary; it’s already a nice yellow from the eggs, and it uses whole (but separated) eggs, so we just need to add lemon, but how much?

For this testing, we made only a half batch, so our photos will show thin layers, but we’ll post a full-up ingredient list, so you can make a three-layer 8-inch cake and a three-layer 9-inch cake.

Easy Lemon Cake

Yield: Three 8- [or 9-inch] cakes

Easy Lemon Cake


    For a three-layer 8-inch cake
  • 2 2/3 cups (266 g) sifted cake flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs separated
  • 2 medium lemons
  • ~2/3 cup buttermilk
  • Pinch of cream of tartar (optional)
  • For a three-layer 9-inch cake
  • 3 1/3 cups (333 g) sifted cake flour
  • 2 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • rounded 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cup (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups (500 g) granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs separated
  • 2 medium lemons
  • ~3/4 cup buttermilk
  • Pinch of cream of tartar (optional)

Abbreviated Instructions

Zest and juice lemons. Place zest in a bowl with the sugar and use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until it feels like wet sand. Strain juice to remove seeds and pulp.

Follow directions for the Basic Yellow Cake, using the lemon juice in place of vanilla extract.


The amount of lemon juice and buttermilk should be 1 cup for the 8-inch cakes and 1 1/4 cup for the 9-inch cakes.


Ingredient discussion:

If possible, use organic lemons as they don’t have wax applied to the rind. Otherwise, scrub the lemons very well using dish soap and hot water.

Note: we give an approximate amount for the buttermilk because you should measure the amount of lemon juice and use enough buttermilk to make 1 cup liquid (8-inch cakes) or 1 1/4 cup liquid (9-inch cakes).

Procedure in detail:

zest and sugar
The zest of citrus fruits is packed with more flavor than the juice. Don’t let it go to waste.

Zest and juice lemons. We use a microplane to remove the zest. It works very well, but we’ll tell you to be careful, as we can attest that it’ll zest your thumb just as quickly as it’ll zest lemons. Once you juice the lemons, use a small strainer to strain out the seeds and pulp.

lemon zest and sugar
As you rub in the zest, the sugar will start to feel like wet sand from absorbing some of the lemon oil.

Rub zest into sugar. Place the lemon zest in a bowl with the sugar and use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until it feels like wet sand.

Follow the Basic Yellow Cake recipe. From here on out, follow the Basic Yellow Cake recipe, substituting the lemon juice for the vanilla extract. If you’re using 9-inch cake pans, use the ingredient amounts listed above.

We had some leftover Swiss Meringue buttercream frosting that we used for our cake to make it look nice, and to give use some idea how the cake will taste once decorated. It’s very good, a nice light fresh lemon flavor, on a very nicely-textured cake. Ours, of course, came out thinner that yours will, as we made just half the batter to test and see if the amount of lemon needs to be adjusted up or down. We think not. This is definitely a five-star cake.

Worth the trouble?

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