Lemon Buttermilk Cake With Homemade Lemon Curd And Zesty Lemon Buttercream
I’ve been perfecting this lemon cake recipe for years until I got it just right. The secret to this velvet texture and the pure lemon flavor is lots of lemon zest, buttermilk and using lemon curd in the filling and in the easy buttercream! This lemon cake recipe is truly a lemon lover’s dream!
I honestly thought I hated lemon cake for the longest time. Every time I had lemon-flavored anything it just did not sit well. Turns out I just hate fake lemon flavoring. It reminds me of cough drops. Not exactly what I’m looking for in a lemon cake.
After learning how to bake from scratch in pastry school, I decided to adapt my vanilla cake into a lemon cake. Omg what a difference! Lemon cake is now officially one of my favorite flavors of cake. If you love lemon as much as I do, check out my lemon raspberry cake and my lemon blueberry cake!
What makes this lemon cake so moist?
- Buttermilk – breaks down the gluten in cake flour and reacts with acidic ingredients to create a very light and fluffy cake that is extremely tender!
- Cake flour – cake flour has less gluten in it than AP flour, resulting in a very tender cake crumb. **note, you can’t do that trick where you replace AP flour with cornstarch or you’ll end up with cornbread.
- Reverse mixing method – The reverse mixing method is the process of coating your dry ingredients with butter before you add the liquids. This butter “shortens” the gluten strands and gives the cake it’s velvet crumb.
- Oil – Very important in butter cakes to keep your cakes from drying out. When a cake is cold, the butter in the cake get’s hard and can make the cake taste dry. Cakes should always be consumed at room temperature for best results.
What’s the best way to incorporate lots of lemon flavor into a lemon cake recipe?
This lemon cake gets it citrus zing from lots of lemon zest, lemon juice and a little extract in the cake batter. You can pump up the zest if you want more lemon flavor or add in 1/4 lemon curd to the cake batter for those ultimate lemon lovers out there (like me). I have even used lemon oil in my buttercream but it’s pretty expensive.
Lemon cake goes so well with so many flavors but especially other fruits! We love lemon curd filling with our strawberry cake recipe or fill the lemon cake recipe with some yummy marion berry buttercream!
What size pans can you use for this lemon cake recipe?
This lemon cake can be used in any size pan. One lemon cake recipe will make three 6″x2″ cake layers or two 8″x2″ layers. I tend to be a chronic cake pan over-filler because I like my cake layers to be a full 2″ tall. Fill your cake pans 3/4 of the way full (or about 1/2″ of space between the top of the cake batter and the top of the pan.
For cake layers 12″ or larger, I use a heating core. A heating core helps the center of the cake bake faster so your edges don’t dry out. You can also use a flower nail if you don’t have a heating core. You can also double and triple this recipe without having to make any adjustments.
Is this lemon cake recipe good for cupcakes?
You can turn most cake recipes into cupcakes but leave out the oil since it makes the cupcakes too greasy. Not all cake translates into cupcakes well. These are the steps I use to test a cake recipe out for cupcakes.
- Preheat your oven to 400ºF.
- Fill your liner 2/3 of the way full (about 3 Tablespoons of cake batter). Over-filling your liners can cause them to overflow and collapse.
- Bake cupcakes for 5 minutes then reduce the temperature to 350ºF. This helps set the dome.
- Continue baking the cupcakes for an additional 12 minutes and check the centers. If they are still soft and not set, continue baking. Most cupcakes are done between 18-25 minutes.
- Once your cupcakes are done baking, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before taking them out of the cupcake pan.
Inspect your results. If the cupcake didn’t rise enough, put more batter in next time. If it over-flowed, put in less. Take note of how long it took for the cupcakes to bake.
Use grease-proof liners to help combat the liners becoming transparent after baking.
Is there a substitute for lemon extract?
If you don’t have any lemon extract, you can’t just replace it with lemon juice. Lemon juice doesn’t have a ton of lemon flavor unless you use a lot. Lemon extract is a high concentration of lemon flavor mixed with alcohol that will evaporate leaving the lemon flavor. If you are looking for a replacement for lemon extract, adding 1 tsp of extra lemon zest would be a better choice.
Lemon curd filling
Lemon curd is an excellent way to add a boost of lemon flavor to your lemon cake. Sure you could buy lemon curd but why when making it is so easy and tastes SO MUCH BETTER.
If you’re new to making curd, the process is pretty simple. Basically, you combine a juice (like lemon, orange, lime etc) with sugar and whisk it over a double boiler with egg yolks until it thickens. This is a great way to use up any leftover egg yolks you have laying around if you’ve recently made white cake or meringue.
The trick is to make sure the curd reaches 170ºF so that it’s nice and thick. If you’re having problems getting your curd to be thick enough, combine 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch with 1oz of cold water and whisk until it’s smooth. Add the cornstarch slurry to the curd and continue heating until thickened.
Pour your curd into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap (make sure the plastic wrap is touching the surface of the curd) and let it cool in the fridge overnight before you use it.
How to make easy lemon buttercream
I decided to make a lemon version of my easy buttercream for this lemon cake recipe. A lemon cream cheese frosting would also be absolutely delicious. The secret to making this lemon buttercream is to make sure you use a whisk attachment to start out with. No need to bring ingredients to room temperature. Just combine the pasteurized egg whites and powdered sugar and whip on high for 2-3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add in your softened chunks of butter, salt, and extract.
Increase the speed of your mixer to high and let it whip until it’s super light and creamy. This can take 10-15 minutes depending on your mixer. Give your buttercream a taste, if it tastes too buttery, continue whipping.
Once your buttercream is nice and fluffy you can add in your lemon curd and switch out your whisk for a paddle attachment. Mix on low for another 10 minutes to remove bubbles and make your buttercream nice and smooth.
How to make a lemon layer cake with lemon curd drip
First time making a cake? Watch my how to make your first cake tutorial to learn all about stacking and filling a cake the professional way.
- I like to bake my lemon cake layers the day before I need them to let them rest. Wrap them in plastic wrap and leave them on the countertop overnight but you can also chill them for easier handling.
- I also make my lemon curd the day before I need it to give it time to cool down. Make sure you cover the top of your lemon curd with plastic wrap so it’s touching the surface to prevent a weird skin from forming.
- You can make the buttercream the day before or the day of. I do the day of so that it’s nice and smooth. Add about 1 cup of your lemon curd to your buttercream with 1 tsp of lemon extract and some more lemon zest if desired. Mix until smooth.
- Trim off the brown edges around the tops, bottoms, and sides of the cake for a prettier cake slice. Not necessary but if you’re a perfectionist like me, then you don’t want to miss this step.
- Place your cake on cardboard round and work on a turntable for ease. Create a dam of buttercream around the outside of your first layer of cake. Fill the center with about 1/4″ of lemon curd and smooth out. Repeat with the second layer of cake.
- Crumb coat your cake with a thin layer of buttercream and chill overnight or in the freezer for about 1 hour.
- Finish your cake in a final coat of buttercream and decorate with some more lemon curd for the drip and freshly cut lemons.
Lemon Cake Recipe
- Stand Mixer
Lemon Cake Ingredients
- 13 ounces Cake flour
- 13 ounces granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 8 ounces unsalted butter Softened but not melted
- 10 ounces buttermilk Or regular milk with 1 Tbsp white vinegar added
- 3 ounces vegetable oil Or canola oil
- 3 Large Eggs 1 large egg weighs about 1.67oz
- 1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest About one lemon
- 2 teaspoons Lemon Extract
- 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice Fresh or bottled is ok
- 8 ounces Lemon Juice Fresh or bottled is ok
- 1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest About one lemon
- 6 ounces Granulated Sugar
- 5 Egg Yolks
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 ounces Unsalted Butter
- 8 ounces Pasteurized Egg Whites Can be found in the egg section in a carton, usually on the top shelf
- 32 ounces Unsalted Butter Softened but not melted
- 32 ounces Powdered Sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon extract
- 4 ounces Lemon Curd
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Lemon Cake Instructions
- Important Things To Note Before You Start1. Bring all your ingredients to room temperature or even a little warm (eggs, buttermilk, butter, etc) to ensure your batter does not break or curdle. 2. Use a scale to weigh your ingredients (including liquids) unless otherwise instructed (Tablespoons, teaspoons, pinch etc). Metric measurements are available in the recipe card. Scaled ingredients are much more accurate than using cups and help ensure the success of your recipe. 3. Practice Mise en Place (everything in it's place). Measure out your ingredients ahead of time and have them ready before you start mixing to reduce the chances of accidentally leaving something out.4. Chill your cakes before frosting and filling. You can cover a frosted and chilled cake in fondant if you wish. This cake is also great for stacking. I always keep my cakes chilled in the refrigerator before delivery for easy transporting.
- Preheat your oven to 335º F/168º C Prepare your cake pans with cake goop or another pan release. For square pans or cakes over 12", I also use parchment paper.
- Combine the 4oz of buttermilk with the oil and set aside.
- To the remaining 6oz of buttermilk, add your eggs, lemon zest, lemon extract, and lemon juice. Whisk lightly to break up the eggs and set aside.
- Place cake flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda into the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment attached.
- Turn the mixer onto the lowest speed. Add in your softened butter in small chunks mix until the flour mixture resembles coarse sand.
- Add your oil/milk mixture all at once to the dry ingredients and mix on medium (speed 4 on KitchenAid) for 2 full minutes to develop the cake's structure.
- Scrape the bowl. This is an important step. If you skip it, you will have hard lumps of flour and unmixed ingredients in your batter. If you do it later, they will not mix in fully.
- Slowly add in the milk/egg mixture in 3 parts, letting the batter mix for 10 seconds between additions. Stop to scrape the bowl once more halfway through. Your batter should be thick and not separated. If it is separated, some of your ingredients could have been too cold or you added your liquids too quickly.
- Fill your cake pans 3/4 full with cake batter. Give the pan a little tap on each side to level out the batter and get rid of any air bubbles. You can also weigh your cake pans to ensure that each pan has the same amount of cake batter.
- Smaller cakes will bake faster than larger cakes. Start with 30 minutes for 6" or 8" cakes and add time as needed. Each oven is different so adjust your baking time as needed. Cakes are baked when a toothpick comes out cleanly from the center. Remove cakes from the oven and give them a tap on the countertop to release air and prevent too much shrinking.
- After cakes have cooled for 10 minutes or the pans are cool enough to touch, flip the cakes over onto a cooling rack and let cool until barely warm. Wrap your cakes in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator before frosting so they are easier to handle. You can also put them in the freezer if you are in a hurry for them to cool down.
- Once the cakes are chilled you can now trim, fill and decorate your cake as you wish.
Lemon Curd Instructions
- Bring about a ½” to 1” of water to a boil in a large saucepan
- In a large glass bowl or non-reactive metal bowl whisk together the egg yolks, lemon juice, zest, sugar, and salt. Place the bowl over the saucepan.
- Continuously whisk the mixture until the temperature reaches 170ºF-180ºF Removing the curd at 170º will yield a thinner consistency while removing at 180º will be thicker. Remove the bowl from the heat.
- Immediately add your butter in small pieces to the curd. Whisk until smooth. Strain the mixture to remove any large pieces of zest or seeds.
- Cover the curd with plastic wrap so that it is touching the surface of the curd without any air bubbles in between, this will prevent a skin from forming on the top of the curd. Refrigerate until cool before using.
Lemon Buttercream Instructions
- Place egg whites and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high 2-3 minutes to combine.
- Add in butter in small chunks then lemon extract and salt. Whip on high until light and fluffy and white. Add in your lemon curd and mix to combine.Optional: switch to the paddle attachment and mix on low for 15-20 minutes until all air bubbles are gone.
- Bring all your ingredients to room temperature or even a little warm (eggs, buttermilk, butter, etc) to ensure your batter does not break or curdle.
- Use a scale to weigh your ingredients (including liquids) unless otherwise instructed (Tablespoons, teaspoons, pinch etc). Metric measurements are available in the recipe card. Scaled ingredients are much more accurate than using cups and help ensure the success of your recipe.
- Practice Mise en Place (everything in it's place). Measure out your ingredients ahead of time and have them ready before you start mixing to reduce the chances of accidentally leaving something out.
- Chill your cakes before frosting and filling. You can cover a frosted and chilled cake in fondant if you wish. This cake is also great for stacking. I always keep my cakes chilled in the refrigerator before delivery for easy transporting.