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Lemon Layer Cake

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With layers of moist cake and lemon-infused mascarpone whipped cream, every bite of this Lemon Layer Cake is a citrus lover’s paradise. Sweet but not overly so, this lemon dessert is perfect for spring and summer!

The Best Lemon Cake with Lemon Whipped Cream

Today I’m bringing back my favorite lemon cake, the one I’ve used in recipes such as my lemon raspberry cake, and taking it to a brand new citrusy level by layering it with lemon mascarpone whipped cheese. Every bite of this cake is a bite of citrus heaven!

Bright in both color and flavor, and not overly sweet, this lemon dessert is perfect for spring and summer. I love that it has a little tangy flavor to it that balances out the sweetness.

Not to mention that the mascarpone whipped cream is just addictive. I could eat it by the spoonful! I tweaked my normal recipe by adding lemon zest to the whipped cream instead of vanilla extract and it makes the cake even better.

A slice of lemon layer cake on a white plate

All the Ingredients You’ll Need

This lemon cake uses primarily pantry staples, plus lots of lemon and lemon extract for flavor.

For the Cake:

  • Granulated sugar
  • Vegetable oil
  • Eggs
  • Lemons – You’ll need both the zest and the juice.
  • Lemon extract – You can also use vanilla extract.
  • Light sour cream – Helps to keep the cake super moist.
  • All-purpose flour
  • Salt
  • Buttermilk – I like to use buttermilk because it helps create a tender crumb but you can also substitute milk. If you don’t have any buttermilk in the fridge, you can make your own buttermilk by adding lemon juice to milk.
  • Fresh lemon juice

For the frosting:

  • Mascarpone cheese – The mascarpone should be cold, not room temperature.
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • Powdered sugar
  • Lemon
  • Fresh fruit for garnish

How to Make a Lemon Layer Cake

You’ll need about an hour of prep time plus time for the cake layers to cool to get this lemon dessert on the table.

Make the cake:

  1. Prepare the pans. Line the bottom of each 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper and grease the sides. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Beat the wet ingredients. Beat the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and lemon extract until well incorporated and light in color. Add the zest of 2 lemons and the sour cream.
  3. Add the dry ingredients: Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Alternate adding half of the dry ingredients with the lemon juice and buttermilk.
  4. Bake. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, that’s about 1 2/3 cups per pan. Bake for 20 to 23 minutes/ I recommend rotating the pans in the oven halfway through baking to allow for even cooling. Cool the cake completely before frosting.

Prepare the Lemon Whipped Cream

  1. Freeze the tools. Freeze the mixing bowl and whisk for 5 to 10 minutes. This helps keep the cream cold while it’s whipping.
  2. Beat the ingredients. Beat the mascarpone cheese on medium-low and slowly pour in the heavy cream (about 1/4-1/2 cup), the mascarpone will turn to a liquid consistency. Then add the remaining heavy cream and increase the speed to beat until soft peaks form.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients. Add the powdered sugar and lemon zest. Beat on high until stiff peaks form.

Frost and Decorate the Cake

  1. Level the cakes. Use a cake leveler to cut the domes off the top of the cake. This will ensure the cake won’t tilt.
  2. Layer the cake: You’ll need about half the frosting in a large piping bag, and cut off the tip about 1/2 inch up. Add a dollop of frosting to the cake board and place the first layer on top of that. Then pipe a thin layer of frosting, working your way from the outside edge into the middle. Place the second layer on top and repeat with a thin layer of frosting. Then add the third layer, and invert it so the bottom of the cake layer is now the top of the cake. This gives you a nice even top to work with.
  3. Add the crumb coat: Use the remaining frosting to pipe a thin layer on the outside and top of the cake (also called a crumb coat). Use the piping bag to fill in any gaps between the layers as needed. Then use an angled spatula or cake scraper to smooth the edges out and remove excess frosting. I don’t recommend adding this back into the bowl and it usually contains cake crumbs.
  4. Frost the cake. Separate out 1/4 cup of frosting to use for decorating. Use the remaining frosting to add the final layer. Pipe around the edge of the cake, from the bottom up, and then smooth out with a cake scraper.
  5. Decorate and garnish with fresh berries.

Everything You Need To Know About Mascarpone Whipped Cream

I love mascarpone whipped cream because it’s more stable than your traditional whipped cream and works perfectly for cupcake frosting. I wrote an entire post about making mascarpone whipped cream but if this is your first time, here are a few essential things to know.

  • What is mascarpone cheese? Mascarpone is like soft cream cheese. It has a more distinct flavor and a creamier texture, as it has more fat than cream cheese.
  • Can I use cream cheese instead? Yes, if you can’t find mascarpone cheese you can also make this with full-fat cream cheese.
  • Keep everything as cold as possible. Both the heavy whipping cream and mascarpone cheese should be kept cold until used. I also recommend freezing the bowl and whisk before starting.
  • Beating to the proper consistency: If you find that the cream is not thick enough to pipe, it’s likely due to undermixing the cream. Try returning the whipped cream to the mixer and beat at the highest speed. You should be able to run a knife through it without it falling in on itself.
A slice of lemon layer cake on a white plate

Tips for the Best Layer Cakes

While they look fancy, layer cakes are pretty easy to make. Here are a few tips to make them even easier.

  • Use a cake leveler. While you can use a knife to cut off the dome on the top of the cakes, I find a cake leveler makes it much easier. This particular recipe is soft and moist and cutting it with a knife can be difficult.
  • Use bake-even strips. To help your cake bake evenly, try using bake-even strips. They’ll prevent a large dome from forming as well.
  • Bake the cake in advance. One important thing to remember with layer cakes is that the cakes need to be completely cool before adding the frosting and layering them. If you can, bake the cake several hours in advance or even the night before. Keep stored in an airtight container if you plan to make them in advance.
  • Add a thin layer of frosting. If your layer cake is sliding all over the place, it’s likely because there’s too much frosting between layers. All you really need is a thin layer to hold the cakes together.
Decorated lemon layer cake with mascarpone frosting, topped with fresh fruit

Lemon Cake Variations

I’m a huge fan of this lemon cake and today’s version with lemon mascarpone frosting isn’t the first one I’ve made. I’ve actually paired this lemon cake with a variety of flavors including raspberries, blueberries, and even coconut! If you’d like to switch things up a bit, here are a few of my favorite lemon cake variations.

Storage & Freezing

Once the frosting has been added to your lemon cake, it must be stored in the fridge. Before frosting it, the cake can stay at room temperature for 2 or 3 days as long as it’s in an airtight container it will stay fresh.

The cake, both frosted and unfrosted, can be frozen. Cake layers should be double wrapped in plastic wrap and can be frozen for up to one month. Frosted cakes can be stored in an airtight container or a cake box that is double wrapped in plastic wrap. Frosted cakes can be stored for one month.

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A slice of lemon layer cake on a white plate

Lemon Layer Cake

  • Author: Julianne Dell
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
  • Yield: 10 slices

Description

With layers of moist cake and lemon-infused mascarpone whipped cream, every bite of this Lemon Layer Cake is a citrus lover’s paradise. Sweet but not overly so, this lemon dessert is perfect for spring and summer!

Ingredients

For the Cake:

  •  2 cups (380g) granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (118 ml) vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 lemons- zested and juiced (1/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) Lemon (or vanilla) extract
  • ½ cup (118 ml) sour cream
  • 2 ½ cups (350 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons (11.2 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
  • 1 cup (236 ml) buttermilk (or milk)
  • 1/4 cup (59ml)  fresh lemon juice

For the frosting:

  • 16 ounces (452g) mascarpone cheese, cold
  • 2 ¼ cups (532ml) heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup (130g) powdered sugar
  • 1 large lemon, zested
  • Fresh fruit for garnish

Instructions

For the Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare three 8-inch round baking pans, line the bottom with parchment paper, then grease and flour the sides. Prepare bake even stripes if desired.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and lemon extract. Beat on medium speed until the well incorporated. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
  3. Next, zest 2 lemons (then set them aside to be juiced) and add it to the batter as well as the sour cream. Beat until well combined.
  4. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Alternate adding half of the dry ingredients followed by half the liquid ingredients (lemon juice and buttermilk) and mix just until the flour starts to incorporate. Repeat until all the ingredients are added and well combined. Mix with a spatula to ensure it’s well combined.
  5.  Divide the batter evenly between the three pans, about 1 2/3 cups of batter per pan. Bake at 350°F for 20-23 minutes. Rotate your pans around in the oven halfway through baking. Test the cake for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

For the Frosting:

  1. Place the mixing bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes to chill.
  2. Spoon the cold mascarpone cream into the bowl and beat on a medium-low speed (speed 3 on your stand mixer). Slowly pour in the heavy cream, about 1/4-1/2 cup, allowing the mascarpone cheese to turn to a liquid consistency. Then adding the remaining heavy cream. Increase the mixing speed to high (speed 8-10) and beat it until soft peaks form.
  3. Next, add the powdered sugar and lemon zest, beating on low until sugar is incorporated. Then continue beating at a high speed until stiff peaks form.

To Assemble the Cake

  1.  Use a cake leveler to cut the domes off the top of the cake. Place a dollop of frosting on your cake board and place the bottom layer of cake on top of that.
  2. Place half of the whipped cream in a large piping bag fitted with a large open round tip, or simply cut off the end of the piping bag. Pipe a thin layer of frosting and spread evenly. Add the second layer of cake and repeat the above steps; add the final layer of cake on top, and invert it so the bottom of the cake layer is now the top of the cake. 
  3. Use your piping bag to fill in any gaps between your layers and to create a crumb coat. Using an offset spatula or icing smoother, wipe away the excess frosting, leaving you just enough to coat the outside of the cake. Do not mix your crumb coating frosting back into your icing if it has cake debris in it.
  4. Separate out 1 ¼ cups of frosting to decorate with. Use the remaining frosting to decorate the sides. Fill a large piping bag, cut off the edge of the bag and pipe around the outside edge of the cake, working from the bottom up. Gently smooth with an offset spatula. Decorate and garnish with fresh berries.
Nutrition Information:
1 Slice
761
54.1 g
318.1 mg
46.2 g
80.7 g
0.9 g
10.1 g
153.4 mg
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: lemon cake, lemon desserts, easy layer cakes

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Recipe rating

4 Responses
  1. Linda

    Hi Julianne,
    Your lemon cake looks amazing and I want to make it. Can I use a sheet pan instead and would it still be moist.
    Greetings from New Zealand

  2. Patricia

    Hi Julianne lemon layer cake looks lovely could I use two 8 inch pans I don’t have 3 times look forward making it
    Greetings from dublin ireland 🇮🇪

    1. Julianne - Beyond Frosting
      Beyond Frosting

      Hi Patricia, yes you can! For two 8-inch pans: divide the batter evenly, about 2 1/2 cups per pan. Bake for 28-32 minutes.

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