Here’s a beautiful lemon cake with lovely, bright lemon flavours both in the cake and the fluffy lemon frosting. The cake layers are based on my signature Vanilla Cake recipe that readers around the world have fallen in love with. Far superior to typical butter cakes in texture, flavour and appearance, the bonus is that it stays perfectly fresh for 4 whole days (unheard of!) and it’s more foolproof to make!

Pulling out a slice of Lemon Cake with Fluffy Lemon Frosting

Quick look: Lemon Cake with Fluffy Lemon Frosting

  • Lemon sponge cake with 2 or 3 layers – Based on this Vanilla Cake batter which is one of the all-time most popular recipes on this website. It has an elegant, tender patisserie-style crumb that stays fresh for 4 days. Made with fresh lemon juice and zest.
  • Not–too-sweet Lemon Frosting – Based on this frosting, which has gained a huge following, this lemon frosting is fluffy, 100% smooth, but not cloying because it’s far less sweet and rich than buttercream. The texture sits between buttercream and whipped cream, but more towards the lightness of whipped cream. It behaves just like buttercream, ie. spread, pipe, fill cakes. More information here: My Secret Less-Sweet Fluffy Vanilla Frosting.
Whole Lemon Cake with Fluffy Lemon Frosting

Lemon Cake

This is a three-layer Lemon Cake with a beautifully tender crumb that’s adapted from my Vanilla Cake batter. The Vanilla Cake batter is one of my master recipes that I adapt to all sorts of cakes. It could be blueberry-studded ones, a pink, real strawberry cake (in the works!) or even a layered chestnut cream Mont Blanc Cake.

The sponge is unique because it’s made using a French-Japanese cake-making method that relies on whipped eggs more than baking powder to lift the cake. This yields a much more elegant, softer crumb than typical Western cakes which often start with a “cream butter and sugar” instruction.

Here’s a comparison of the Vanilla Cake Crumb vs a typical butter cake:

As mentioned, this makes is an excellent general-purpose foundation for so many other cakes. Like this Lemon Cake! Here’s a little behind the scenes Instagram video from when I was experimenting:

So, this recipe was actually the outcome of cake sample number 3 you see in the above video! After keeping it to myself for a few months, I decided it was time to share!

Side photo showing crumb of Lemon Cake with Fluffy Lemon Frosting
Lemon zest for Lemon Tart

Ingredients in Lemon Cake

Here are the ingredients required for the signature, soft and fluffy Lemon Cake Layers! The Vanilla Cake post on which this batter is based already has additional detail about some of the ingredients, which I won’t repeat in full here.

Lemon Cake with Lemon Frosting ingredients
  • Lemon zest and juice – Powers the lemon flavour! Most of the lemon flavour comes from the zest, while the tartness comes from the juice.
  • Natural lemon extract (oil), OPTIONAL – Made from lemons, this is a concentrated oil that gives this cake a little extra lemon flavour leg-up. No matter how much fresh lemon you put in a cake batter, I find you can never achieve the quite same flavour intensity you can with just a a small amount of lemon extract (we just use 1/4 teaspoon).

    It comes in little bottles like food colouring, found in the same baking section of stores. However, if you don’t want to get a bottle especially for this cake, I do get that. So just skip it – I promise this cake still has sufficient lemon flavour!

  • Flour – Just plain/all-purpose flour works better here than cake flour. However, if you can only get cake flour, that works just fine. The only difference is that the cake surface becomes a bit tacky the next day (not really a big deal in this frosted cake);
  • Sugar – Superfine / caster sugar is best as it dissolves more readily. But ordinary granulated white sugar is fine too. Please do not attempt to substitute with brown sugar or any sugar substitutes;
  • Butter – Unsalted, the default for baking;
  • Eggs – Fresher is better, and at room temperature. Fresh eggs fluff better, and fridge-cold eggs take longer to fluff to the same volume. If you don’t know how, here’s how to check how fresh your eggs are;
  • Milk, full-fat – Just plain old cow’s milk! Low-fat does work too but rises marginally less. Do not substitute with non-dairy milk or buttermilk;
  • Baking powder – For lifting power. If you don’t use yours regularly, make sure sure it’s still good. Inactive baking powder is a common hidden culprit of cake fails;
  • Vanilla – For it’s beautiful flavour which compliments the lemon so well;
  • Salt – Just a little brings out the flavours of everything else in the cake; and
  • Oil – For a touch of extra moisture but more importantly, it keeps the cake fresh for 5 days. Any neutral oil works fine here – vegetable, canola, peanut etc.

How to make Lemon Cake

The batter for this cake is based on my Vanilla Cake. There I’ve already provided comprehensive process steps as well as the the why-is-it-so’s in the method. Rather than repeating it all, I’ll focus on the essentials relevant to this particular cake.

  1. Beat eggs and sugar for 7 minutes until tripled in volume. This is the secret to the beautifully light, plush texture of the cake!
  1. Add dry ingredients – Whisk the dry cake ingredients in a bowl (ie. flour, baking powder, salt). Add the dry Ingredients in 3 batches to whipped egg mix, mixing on Speed 1 for 5 seconds after each addition. Stop as soon as most of the flour is mixed in.
  1. Hot milk mixture – Whisk hot milk, hot butter, oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and lemon oil in your now-empty flour bowl. You will see little lumps which is the zest.

    Lighten the sour cream mixture – Add some of the egg batter into the hot milk mixture. The purpose of this step is to lighten the hot milk mixture before combining it with the batter so it is incorporated more easily. The batter is beautifully aerated and this technique thus helps preserve all those air bubbles we created in Step 1.

  1. Mix on low speed until just-combined. We don’t want to knock out all those air bubbles we created, remember!
  1. Cake pans – Divide the batter between the cake pans, then smooth the surface.

    Bake for 21 minutes. If they don’t all fit on one shelf, put 2 on the middle shelf and one on shelf below. Take the top 2 from the oven at 21 minutes, then move the bottom one up a shelf and bake for a further 2 minutes.

    Let the cakes stand for a few minutes in the pan then cool upside down on a rack. Why upside down? Because the weight will will flatten out any slight doming on the upper surface so there’s no need to trim to make the cakes level.

You’ll know straight away when you touch the cake that it’s a very special cake because you can feel how plush and velvety it is even on the surface.

Be sure to let it cool fully before frosting, otherwise it will melt your frosting!

How to make my secret Less-Sweet Fluffy Lemon Frosting

Ah, that magic fluffy frosting that’s 100% smooth yet not cloying and overly-sweet like buttercream! This frosting uses a flour-based roux as the thickener which is whipped up with icing sugar / powdered sugar and butter.

It’s gained a bit of a cult following for good reason. 🙂 For this cake, we’re making a lemon-flavoured version of the recipe.

Lemon Frosting ingredients

All you need is butter, milk, sugar, salt, lemon and … flour. “Flour??”, I hear you cry. YES. That is what thickens this into a frosting texture and gives it its delicious texture. It’s a vintage frosting technique from the days before cream cheese frosting was ever a thing. I promise you will not detect even the faintest bit of flour once finished – not in texture and certainly not taste.

Lemon Cake with Lemon Frosting ingredients

Why salt? As with the cake, just a little brings out the flavours of everything else in the frosting. You won’t taste it!

How to make this Magic Fluffy Lemon Frosting

First, we make the roux. It’s just like how we start creamy-sauce savoury foods like Mac and Cheese, only it’s sweet and we take it much further until it’s very thick.

1. Thickening roux for frosting

How to make Less-Sweet Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
  1. Milk, sugar, flour – Stir the sugar and flour in a dry saucepan over medium heat – this just toasts the sugar lightly to bring out some flavour. Then slowly pour the warm milk in as you whisk (this avoids lumps)
  2. Cook over medium heat until it thickens in a thick, dolloping-texture custard. The range of thickness possible is actually quite broad – I’ve made it way thicker and it still worked perfectly. In fact, the frosting holds its structure longer, and it pipes with sharper, more defined edges even though it is just as fluffy. Just don’t take it off when it’s still watery. 
  3. Scrape roux into a bowl;
  4. Cover roux with cling wrap, pressing onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming (or use paper if you’re plastic-conscious). Now, and very importantly, allow to fully cool otherwise it will melt the butter. It will become like a thick, pasty, thoroughly unappetising jelly. At this stage you may start doubting me. Have faith and remember this is a real, age-old frosting technique – I did not just wake up yesterday and make it up! 😂

Cooling the roux / making ahead – I usually cool on the counter for 20 minutes then refrigerate for 30 minutes or so to speed things up. Don’t let it get fridge-cold because otherwise it won’t mix together well with the room temp butter (because the temperatures are too different). You can also leave it overnight in the fridge but take it out about 1 hour prior to de-chill it and bring to room temperature.

Now, we whip it up like any other frosting.

2. Whip frosting

How to make Less-Sweet Fluffy Vanilla Frosting

Beat butter until creamy – just for a couple of minutes. We don’t need it to become aerated because we will be whipping the combined mixture like you do whipped cream. At that stage it will fluff up more;

6. Add dollops of the roux in, beating as you go. Take 1 minute or so to add all the roux in batches, this will ensure your frosting stays smooth.

7. Beat, beat, beat – Add the lemon zest, juice and a pinch of salt, then beat for another 2 to 3 minutes, just like you’re whipping up a big bowl of cream. Only beat until it’s got a whipped cream consistency. Once it does, stop beating. Do not beat more than 4 minutes because this may activate the starch in the flour and make the frosting undesirably sticky.

8. Voila! Your Fluffy Lemon Frosting is done, ready to use!

Bowl of whipped Fluffy Vanilla Frosting - Ermine Frosting

Decorating the Lemon Cake

This Lemon Frosting behaves just like buttercream. So you can spread it or pipe it into beautiful swirls, even into sky-high mounds on Cupcakes if you wanted to!

In the cakes shown in this post and the recipe video, I’ve kept it pretty simple:

  • Lemon slices and fresh flowers – As shown in the photos above, I just finished the cake with a smooth frosting on the surface then decorated it with lemon slices and edible flowers. (Planting my own edible flowers is one of the best things I’ve ever put in my garden! If you’ve ever thought about planting your own, do it! They are completely low maintenance and are still thriving 9 months after planting.)
  • Lemon quarters and decorative piping – In the cake I make in the recipe video below, you’ll see that I just use leftover frosting to pipe decorative blobs around the edge of the cake, then tuck a quartered slice of lemon next to the blobs. (I’m sure there’s a proper word for the blobs, it just eludes me right now 😂)
Fork cutting into piece of Lemon Cake with Fluffy Lemon Frosting

I just realised what a complete fabrication the photo above is. Look at that pathetically narrow sliver of a slice. As if I would ever cut myself a slice that tiny. What was I thinking?? 😂

Stays 100% fresh for 4 days

One very unique characteristic of this cake batter is that the crumb stays 100% perfectly fresh for 4 days, and is still excellent after even 7. That’s basically unheard of in the cake world! See the video and photo demos in the Vanilla Cake recipe.

Because this Lemon Cake has milk and butter in the frosting, it is best to store it in the fridge. But as with any cake, it must be brought to room temperature before eating. Nobody wants to eat cold, firm frosting! It must be creamy, fluffy and melt-on-the-mouth!!! – Nagi x

Watch how to make it

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