This Lemon Cake is tender, moist and packs a huge punch of lemon flavor. It taste like the bright beautiful sun. I like this it in this mini sheet cake size. It makes it easy to throw together and easy to decorate. Mini lemons are optional.
Why Lemon Cake
If you’re like me, you maybe grew up with a mom who wasn’t really a baker. Too many technicalities and measurements for her. Instead she leaned hard on box mixes from the grocery store. I wasn’t mad because I loved them all. Lemon cake was maybe my favorite.
I loved that it felt bright and sweet but buttery and rich. This cake is similar. It is a full-butter cake (not usually my go-to, I’m usually an oil cake kinda girl) because I think it really complements the tart lemon zest and juice. I thought of going just a normal buttercream but I think the cream cheese vanilla frosting makes it even better.
How to Make this Lemon Cake
- Grease and using parchment, line your 8×8-inch cake pan. I like to grease AND line it because I would cry if anything stuck. You could also use a 9×9-inch cake pan but it will be a lot thinner of a cake – which I’m sure is fine! (Bake it for 5 minutes less and then check on it).
- Whisk together the dry ingredients together: all-purpose flour, baking powder, kosher salt. And set it aside.
- In a bowl of a stand mixer (you could also do this in a large bowl with an electric hand mixer), add the sugar and lemon zest. And beat the two together.
- This will aggravate the oils and fragrance in the lemon zest and release it. Add the butter and vanilla; beat it until creamy and smooth, about 1 minute.
- If you’re using food coloring gel so the cake looks yellow, this is the time to add it. Mix together the egg whites into the milk. And then add in the lemon juice and mix it.
- Rotating between the liquid and dry ingredients, add them in two batches to the butter mixture.
- This will help hydrate the batter evenly. Beat it for an additional 30 seconds until everything seems cohesive. If it looks like it broke or curdled, don’t worry, it’ll come together in the oven. It’s all good!
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake pan and bake it for 25 to 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Allow it to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes and then carefully transfer it to a cooling rack to cool before frosting it. About 1 hour.
How to Make the Cream Cheese Frosting
- Beat the cream cheese by itself until smooth, about 30 seconds. I like to do this to avoid any little pesky lumps. Then add the butter to the cream cheese and beat again.
- Add the vanilla bean/paste or vanilla extract. Pour in the pinch of salt, powdered sugar and heavy cream. Beat for a full 2 minutes. This will result in a super creamy frosting.
- If you’re doing the decoration of lemons, you’re going to take out some of the frosting (1/4 cup into two bowls). And add food coloring. Yellow to one bowl and green to the other.
- Smother the remaining frosting to the top of the cooled cake. And smooth it out. I like to clean up the edges with an offset spatula.
- Decorate how you like to! I like to do little dots of yellow and then tap it down with a damped finger. This helps smooth out the frosting. If you want to create a “stem” for the lemons, add a small “V” to the tops. Repeat until it looks cute. Vibe with it.
Tips and Tricks
- Food Coloring Gel: The cake you see pictured used about 5-6 drops of food coloring gel. Gel is thicker with a stronger pigment. If you’re using food coloring, I would say to use about 3-4 drops. It won’t be as yellow but this way it won’t mess with the consistency at all. I also tested with using about 3-4 drops and it had a hint of yellow so feel free to use less if you like.
- To Make it Ahead: Make the cake the day before, let it cool completely and then wrap it in plastic wrap. The next day you can decorate it how you like.
If you make this Lemon Cake, let me know on Instagram.
Looking for more recipes? Here are a few favorites:
- Mini Strawberry Sheet Cake
- Birria Tacos
- Mini Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 1/4 plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (165g)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar (250g)
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature (113g)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 4-5 drops of yellow food coloring gel (optional)
- 1/3 cup milk
- 3 large egg whites
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (from about 3 lemons), strained to remove pulp and seeds
Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature (86g)
- 6 ounces cream cheese at room temperature (168g)
- Pinch kosher salt
- 1 vanilla bean scraped OR 2 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (plus more for the decoration)
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons powdered sugar (this will help thicken the frosting)
- Yellow food coloring gel
- Green food coloring gel
To Make the Mini Sheet Cake:
- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and line a 8×8-inch baking pan. (See below in “NOTES” section for other baking pan alternatives).
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand-up mixer with the paddle attachment (alternatively you can do this in a large bowl with an electric mixer), add the sugar and lemon zest. Beat the two together. This will release all of the fragrant oils in the lemon zest and infuse them in the sugar. We want this, we need this.
- Add the butter and vanilla extract; beat until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. If you want the cake to be yellow in color, add 2-3 drops of food coloring gel. This is of course optional.
- In a measuring cup, pour in the milk, egg whites, and add the strained lemon juice.
- Turn the mixer to low speed and, alternating between the dry ingredients and the liquid ingredients, add them to the butter/sugar mixture, until the batter is relatively smooth.
- Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth it out until it reaches the sides. Transfer to the oven to bake for 25 to 32 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes and then invert onto a cooling rack and cool to room temperature. It’ll probably take a good hour.
To Make the Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:
- In the bowl of a stand-up mixer with the paddle attachment (or a medium bowl using an electric hand mixer), add the cream cheese and beat it until smooth. I like to do this or else the cream cheese frosting will have little clumps of cream cheese. Next, add the butter and beat it until smooth, about 15 seconds.
- Add the powdered sugar, salt, vanilla and heavy cream. Beat for a full 2 minutes to ensure fluffy, delicious frosting.
To Make the Lemons for Decoration:
- To two small bowls, add about 1/4 cup of frosting to each. You can eyeball this. One will be our lemons (yellow) and another will be our stems (green). Add a drop or two of yellow food coloring to one frosting bowl. And add a drop or two of green food coloring gel to the second frosting bowl. Mix until smooth. Transfer the yellow frosting to a piping bag fitted with a #3 round piping tip.
- Transfer the yellow frosting to a piping bag fitted with a #1 round piping tip.
To Decorate the Cake:
- Add the remaining frosting to the top of the cake and smooth it out into an even layer. Make it cute with some swoops. I like to clean the up the edges by using an offset spatula.
- If you didn’t do the lemons above, no biggie. Top it with some sprinkles OR leave it as is. It’s cute.
- To add the lemons, pipe on rounds of frosting; they’ll end up looking like lemons once we add the tops. Add as many as you like. Make them any size you like, too. Dip your finger in a bit of water and tap the tops of the lemons to make them appear smoother.
- Pipe on a small “V” shape at the top of each of the lemons. This will make it appear like they have a stem.
To Store Cake:
- I keep this cake at room temperature on my counter. I don’t own a glass cake cover so I use a colander. This cake is delicious for about 2 to 3 days. If my way leaves you unsettled, you can always place the cake back into the 8×8-inch baking dish and cover it with plastic wrap. You can also place them in containers with lids and just store them at room temp.
- The cake you see pictured used about 5-6 drops of food coloring gel. Gel is thicker with a stronger pigment. If you’re using food coloring, I would say to use about 3-4 drops. It won’t be as yellow but this way it won’t mess with the consistency at all.
- I also tested with using about 3-4 drops and it had a hint of yellow so feel free to use less if you like.
- Make the cake the day before, let it cool completely and then wrap it in plastic wrap. The next day you can decorate it how you like.