lemon layer cake

Although they can be a little time consuming to make, the end result of a 3-layer cake is always worth it.  While cupcakes are fantastic in their own right, there’s something special, more impressive, about a 3 layer cake.  This one is easily one of my favorites.  The addition of some lemon zest and lemon extract to my favorite vanilla cake recipe lends it a nice lemony flavor, while the use of mascarpone in the lemon filling makes it light and creamy.  The vanilla bean frosting keeps it from being TOO lemony (not that I’m sure there is such a thing), plus the little flecks of vanilla bean in the frosting is just so pretty!

I frosted this cake in an ombre rose pattern, to practice for the cake I’m making for my friends’ daughter’s first communion.  If you’re interested in how to pipe roses, check out Jen’s video tutorials over at Beantown Baker!  It was actually even easier than I thought it would be – the cake was frosted in no time.  I think a slightly taller cake would have made it just a bit easier, and next time I would pipe in some extra icing to cover up some of the bare spots.  Of course, you can frost the cake any way you like!


For the cake:

  • 3 cups (12 oz.) cake flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 16 tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Zest of ½ a lemon
  • 2 cups (14 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp. lemon extract
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 4 oz. mascarpone or cream cheese, cold
  • 2½ tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups (5 oz.) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp. lemon extract
  • Zest of ½ a lemon
  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled

For the frosting:

  • 3 sticks plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups (12 oz.) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream


To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350° F.  Grease and flour the bottom and sides of 3 8-inch round cake pans and shake out the excess.  Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the butter and lemon zest to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy in color.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for one more minute.

Add the sugar to the butter mixture, ¼ cup at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition.  Ad in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed.  In a liquid measuring cup, stir together the buttermilk and the lemon and vanilla extracts.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

Divide the batter between the prepared baking pans.  Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.  Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

To make the filling, combine the mascarpone and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until smooth and well combined.  Mix in the confectioners’ sugar and beat on low speed until incorporated.  Add in the lemon extract and lemon zest.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and set aside.  Wipe out the mixer bowl (no need to wash thoroughly) and switch to the whisk attachment.  Add the heavy cream to the bowl and whip on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form (be careful not to overbeat).  Stir about a third of the whipped cream into the lemon-mascarpone mixture to lighten.  Gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until no streaks remain and the mixture is evenly blended.

To make the frosting, place the butter in the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Cream on medium-high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Add in the confectioner’s sugar and beat on low until combined.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod and add them in along with the salt, heavy cream and vanilla extract.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

To assemble the cake, level the cake layers as needed to create flat tops.  Place one of the layers on a cake board or serving platter.  Top with half of the lemon-mascarpone mixture and smooth in an even layer, stopping just short of the edges.  Place a second cake layer on top of the filling and top with the remaining lemon-mascarpone mixture.  Place the final cake layer on top.

To create a smoother and cleaner final product, spread a thin layer of frosting over the cake to create a crumb coat.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, then continue to frost the cake as desired.

Source: Annie’s Eats, originally adapted from Sweetapolita and Confections of a Foodie Bride

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