Lemon Cake


There's citrus flavor in every element of this rich layer cake.

Prep Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
45 mins

Martha loves lemons, and her all-time favorite way to use them is in desserts—like this moist lemon cake recipe that features the citrus in every element. (The recipe is a variation on our basic vanilla cake.) The rich yellow layer cake batter is made with whole eggs, egg yolks, and buttermilk; and flavored with lemon zest and juice. After the cakes are baked, they’re brushed with a lemon simple syrup, and sandwiched together with either whipped frosting or lemon curd. 

Frost the cake with our voluminous Whipped Frosting—made with a little lemon juice. (The frosting is similar to a 7-minute frosting but lighter.) Then decorate it with the candied lemon slices. This fragrant cake slices beautifully and makes a celebratory dessert any time of the year.

lemon cake slice on plate with rest of cake on another plate

Julia Hartbeck


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans

  • ½ teaspoon baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 2 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks

  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk

  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced and seeded

  • Whipped Frosting


lemon cake ingredients

Julia Hartbeck

  1. Preheat oven, prepare cake pans, and combine dry ingredients:

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8-by-2-inch cake pans, tapping out excess flour. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest.

    whisking flour in bowl

    Julia Hartbeck

  2. Cream butter and sugar:

    In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy.

    creaming butter and sugar with mixer

    Julia Hartbeck

  3. Add eggs, then dry ingredients and buttermilk:

    With mixer on low, beat in eggs and yolks, one at a time. Beat in 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined.

    eggs added and mixed in with butter and sugar

    Julia Hartbeck

  4. Divide batter between cake pans and bake:

    Divide batter between cake pans; smooth tops. Bake until cakes pull away from sides of pans, 32 to 35 minutes.

    cake batter in two round cake pans

    Julia Hartbeck

  5. Let cakes cool and remove from pans:

    Let cool in pans 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges of pans and invert cakes onto a wire rack.

    baked cakes cooling on rack

    Julia Hartbeck

  6. Make simple syrup:

    While cakes are baking, bring remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a saucepan.

    making sugar syrup in small pan over heat

    Julia Hartbeck

  7. Add lemon slices to the syrup:

    Add the lemon slices and simmer for 25 minutes.

    lemon slices in pan of sugar syrup

    Julia Hartbeck

  8. Remove lemon slices from syrup:

    Using a slotted spoon, transfer lemon slices to a waxed-paper-lined plate.

    candied lemon slices on parchment paper on plate

    Julia Hartbeck

  9. Add lemon juice to syrup:

    Stir remaining 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice into syrup.

    mixing lemon juice into sugar syrup

    Julia Hartbeck

  10. Brush cakes with lemon syrup:

    Using a toothpick, poke holes in warm cakes on rack. Brush with lemon syrup. Let cool completely.

    brushing cakes with lemon syrup

    Julia Hartbeck

  11. Make frosting, assemble cake, and frost:

    Prepare Whipped Frosting, substituting 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice for vanilla extract. Frost cooled cakes and top with the candied lemon slices.

    frosted lemon cake decorated with candied lemon slices

    Julia Hartbeck


Reserve the egg whites left over from the cake for the Whipped Frosting. And when making the frosting, substitute 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice for the vanilla extract called for in the recipe.

lemon cake slice on plate with rest of cake on another plate

Julia Hartbeck

Variation With Lemon Curd Filling

To make the Lemon Cake as Martha prepared it with John Barricelli on The Martha Stewart Show, where the cake is filled with lemon curd, follow these instructions:

  1. Immediately before frosting the cake: Place one cake, bottom side up, on a cake stand. Tuck strips of parchment paper underneath.
  2. Using an offset-spatula or table knife, spread top with lemon curd.
  3. Top with remaining cake; continue frosting top and sides as directed.
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