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This easy lemon cake is bursting with bright citrus flavor! A quick sheet cake with simple icing and no mixer required, it’s the perfect sweet treat for any occasion.

Easy Lemon Cake recipe on cake server with lemon glaze and lemon slice garnish.
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The days are getting brighter and warmer, and it’s the time that Alex and I start craving the flavors of sunshine. Here’s a cake recipe I created to match that mood: this easy lemon cake! My expertise as a recipe developer is in simple baking, like sheet cakes, easy muffins, and quick breads.

So this new lemon-infused recipe is fast and easy: a moist cake with a luscious tender crumb from buttermilk, drizzled with a zesty 2-ingredient lemon glaze! I gave away pieces from my recipe testing to friends and family, and they all couldn’t stop exclaiming how tasty it was.

Jump to the recipe—now.

Why to make this easy lemon cake

This lemon cake fits my vibe in the kitchen: uncomplicated baking. Layer cakes are lovely, but often I don’t feel like pulling out the mixer or attempting to ice a cake. So when I’m craving citrus, I make this lemon cake! Here are the reasons I like to make it:

  • It’s a sheet cake, made in a square baking dish. No need to stack and layer!
  • There’s no mixer required. All you need are two bowls, a whisk and a spatula.
  • You don’t need to wait for butter to come to room temperature. This one uses melted butter so there’s no need to wait.
  • The 2 ingredient icing is made in 2 minutes. This easy lemon glaze comes together quickly and you can pour it right over the cake.

In creating this recipe, I was inspired by simple snacking cakes like this meyer lemon cake from Sarah Kieffer and this blood orange yogurt cake from How Sweet Eats. If you’re looking for a more involved layer cake, this one from expert baker Sally’s Baking Addiction with cream cheese buttercream looks beautiful.

Pieces of Lemon Cake on cake server with lemon slices.

The 3 key ingredients for this easy lemon cake

This lemon cake is a cousin to this glazed lemon bread recipe I created recently. While they’re not exactly the same, they use some of the same flavor secrets to achieve the best zingy and zesty lemon flavor, along with a light and fluffy texture. Here are the three key ingredients you’ll need to have on hand:

  1. Buttermilk: Buttermilk is the key to baking quick breads, muffins and cakes with a tender crumb. As I mention in this lemon bread recipe, I learned the importance of buttermilk from professional baker and author Sarah Kieffer. After using it in recipes, I’ve seen a big difference in the texture of our baked goods! Don’t be tempted to make a substitution.
  2. Real lemons: Lemon zest adds a zingy flavor to the cake, and lemon juice is used in the icing. Using lemon juice in the cake isn’t necessary, since it can add a sour flavor.
  3. Lemon extract: The final key to lemony baked goods is using lemon extract! Over years of testing, we’ve found a combination of extract and real lemon zest makes the very best lemon flavor. It’s easy to find in the baking aisle at your grocery next to the other extracts.
Lemons on marble surface.

A few quick tips for baking

Here are a three quick tips for baking a lemon cake to understand before you roll up your sleeves and go to the recipe to get the baking! These notes provide a little bit of the “why” behind the instructions:

  1. For the strongest citrus flavor, rub the lemon zest into the sugar. Place the zest in the sugar and use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar. This activates the essential oils in the zest, helping it to taste more lemony.
  2. Use an aluminum baking pan for best results. An aluminum pan bakes more evenly than ceramic or glass, and it’s our go-to for cakes, cookies, bars, breads, and muffins. (See this article from The Kitchn.)
  3. Use parchment paper to easily remove the cake. Cut the paper so it is the width of the loaf pan, then allow it to extend on either side of the pan to make a “sling” for easily removing the cake. This helps it cool faster, which is helpful since the cake must be cooled fully before adding the glaze.

Pro tip: We recommend a 9-inch aluminum square pan. You can use an 8-inch square pan as well to make thicker slices: simply increase the bake time by 5 to 10 minutes (adjust based on your oven and pan).

Lemon Cake recipe with icing and lemon slice garnish.

Make ahead and storage info

This lemon cake stays incredibly moist during storage, and in fact it becomes even moister over time. Here are a few notes on making it ahead and storing it:

  • Make ahead: You can make lemon cake in advance and store refrigerated or at room temperature, covered in aluminum foil. Ice the cake right before serving.
  • Storage: The cake lasts at least 5 days at room temperature wrapped in aluminum foil or refrigerated for 10 or more days wrapped in foil. For best results, bring it to room temperature before enjoying. You can also freeze un-iced bread for up to 3 months. We suggest slicing it into pieces and wrapping it in plastic wrap then a freezer-safe bag or container before freezing.

More of our favorite lemony baked goods

We absolutely love baking up lemony treats in spring and summer! Here are a few more baked lemon recipes to try:

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Lemon Cake

Easy Lemon Cake


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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 16 1x

Description

This easy lemon cake is bursting with bright citrus flavor! A quick sheet cake with simple icing and no mixer required, it’s the perfect sweet treat for any occasion.


Ingredients

Scale

For the lemon cake

  • 1 ½ cups (210 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ tablespoons lemon zest (2 medium lemons)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk

For the icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 9-inch baking dish. Line the pan with a piece of parchment paper, cut so that it extends on two sides to easily remove it from the pan. Grease the exposed parts of the pan with butter or oil to prevent sticking.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and kosher salt.
  3. Place the lemon zest in a large bowl with the sugar. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until it is fragrant (this activates the flavor of the zest).
  4. Whisk in the melted butter until smooth. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, then the lemon extract. Switch to a spatula. Add the dry ingredients and buttermilk and gently stir until smooth. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
  5. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until top is light golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes in the pan. Use the parchment paper to remove the cake from the pan and allow to cool to room temperature. 
  6. Meanwhile, mix together the powdered sugar with the lemon juice, adding slightly more if necessary to get to a thick but pourable consistency. Pour the glaze over the cake and smooth with a spatula. Cut into pieces with a serrated knife within the first few minutes, before the glaze dries. If desired, top with more lemon zest or lemon slices.  Store in a sealed container at room temperature for up to 3 days or refrigerated for 1 week (bring to room temperature before serving).
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: Dessert
  • Diet: Vegetarian

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes for memorable kitchen moments! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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11 Comments

  1. Indrani says:

    Delicious your lemon cake…i make it…thank you so much

  2. Caroline says:

    Can I use Gluten Free Flour ? instead of regular flour

    1. Alex Overhiser says:

      I think it would work for this cake, but we haven’t tested it.

  3. Ross Chernack says:

    I just read Pat Dickson’s query as to where to find full fat buttermilk. I too would like to know the names of some of our local markets that carry it. (the Los Angeles area). I come across many recipes calling for the full fat. Also there used to be large curd cottage cheese. That also disappeared many years ago. Both Knudson’s products.

  4. Pat Dickson says:

    Hello! Would love to make this cake. Also….I love your recipes! My question about this recipe is the buttermilk. I can NEVER find full fat buttermilk at any store here in San Francisco…even the small organic stores. Usually it is 2.5% fat. How can I make this cake then?

    1. Niecy says:

      The 2.5% will be fine. You’re using the buttermilk for the acidity content. The no substitute is probably referring to the homemade version adding vinegar to whole milk.

      From a buttermilk fat content search:
      Buttermilk has a fat content of 0.5%–2.5%, which economically justifies separation to recover fat.

    2. Alex Overhiser says:

      Hi! You can substitute standard buttermilk.

  5. diane says:

    It is AMAZINGLY Delicious!! I couldn’t wait for it to cool all the way to have a bite! The buttermilk makes it taste homemade with love.

    1. Carolyn says:

      When does the cake get removed from pan? After the 20 minutes? Is it glazed in the baking dish?
      I needed about 4 T lemon juice for glaze.
      I suggest a serrated knife for slicing.

      1. Sonja Overhiser says:

        Thanks for these notes! We have added a note about removing the cake from the pan after the initial cooling using the parchment paper, and waiting for it to come to room temperature. Thanks for the note about the lemon juice — usually it takes us 2 tablespoons but you can definitely add more lemon juice (there can be some variation in the way people measure powdered sugar!). We added a note about the serrated knife too. Thank you!