If you love a classic lemon bar, you will love this lemon bar cake! This lemon cake is baked with a shortbread crust on the bottom, filled with tart lemon curd, and a lush cream cheese frosting. It’s basically a lemon bar in cake form!

lemon bar cake with lemon curd and fresh lemon slices on top.

As a former pastry chef, I love recreating classic desserts in new ways! This cake was inspired by lemon bars (like my lemon bar cookies) and is a perfect citrus cake for spring or summer.

This recipe uses fresh lemons, nothing artificial, so you know it has the best lemon flavor. It’s tart and sweet with buttery shortbread in every bite. It’s a bit more work than my lemon poppy cake, but so worth it!

Lemon: I recommend using fresh lemons and not the juice that comes in a container. This will give the cake a beautiful bright yellow color and fresh flavor, just like my lemon poppy cupcakes and lemon raspberry cupcakes.

Sour cream: This ingredient provides moisture and richness to the cake. Full-fat plain Greek yogurt is another great option!

Cake flour: This ingredient can not be substituted, or the texture of the cake will not turn out. I also don’t recommend making homemade cake flour with cornstarch, as it is not the same as store-bought cake flour.

Milk: Whole milk is the best choice for this recipe, as it will provide the most moisture and structure. If you substitute it, your cake layers may turn out dry.

Find the full ingredient measurements and instructions in the recipe card below!

Recipe Instructions

fresh lemon curd in a white bowl.

Step 1: Make the lemon curd. Cook the fresh lemon juice, zest, sugar, and egg yolks, stirring constantly until thickened.

Strain the curd into a bowl and stir in the butter and vanilla. Cover the top with plastic wrap and chill until ready to use.

shortbread crumbs in a white bowl.

Step 2: Make the shortbread crust. Combine the all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, butter, vanilla extract, and salt on low speed until crumbly.

a hand pressing shortbread crust into a cake pan.

Step 3: Bake the crust. Firmly press the shortbread crumbs into the prepared baking pans.

Bake for 8 minutes, then set aside to cool while you make the cake batter.

dry ingredients and butter mixed together in a mixing bowl.

Step 4: Mix the butter and dry ingredients. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a stand mixing bowl, then mix in the room-temperature butter.

lemon cake batter in a mixing bowl.

Step 5: Mix in the wet ingredients. Add the sour cream and oil to the mixing bowl. Mix on low speed for exactly one minute, then scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

lemon cake batter in a mixing bowl.

Step 6: Stream the rest of the wet ingredients. With the mixer running at low speed, slowly stream the whisked egg, milk, juice, and vanilla extract into the stream. Mix until just combined.

a toothpick swirling lemon curd into the cake batter.

Step 7: Bake! Pour the batter on top of the shortbread crust. Dollop the lemon curd on top of each pan and use a toothpick to swirl it into the batter. Then bake!

lemon cream cheese frosting in a white bowl.

Step 8: Make the lemon cream cheese buttercream. Cream the cream cheese and butter until smooth, then mix in the powdered sugar.

Once light and fluffy, mix in the lemon zest, vanilla extract, and heavy cream and mix until just combined.

a hand spooning lemon curd on top of the cake layer.

Step 9: Assemble! Alternate assembling the layers on a serving platter or cake round.

First a cake layer, then a thin layer of buttercream with a border around the edge. Fill the center with curd, then place the next layer on top.

the decorated lemon bar cake on a white marble slab.

Step 10: Decorate! Frost the sides and top with the rest of the frosting. Spoon more curd on top and garnish with fresh lemon slices and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Enjoy!

Top Baking Tips

Use a kitchen scale. Baking with a scale is my #1 baking tip! Using too much flour can result in a dry and crumbly cake.

Use room temperature ingredients: Using room temperature ingredients creates a smooth, fully blended cake batter that will result in a uniform texture and even baking.

Watch the bake time. All ovens are different, and your cake layers may bake quicker or take longer than the indicated baking time. I recommend always checking on it occasionally and testing for doneness!

Storage and Freezing

Storage: Loosely cover the cake or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Let it come to room temperature before serving!

Freezer: Chill the lemon bar cake in the freezer, then cut it into slices. Wrap each in plastic wrap and store for up to one month.

FAQs

Does the cake need to be refrigerated?

I recommend keeping it in the fridge when you are not serving it.

Can I make it ahead of time?

Definitely! You can make the curd, bake the cake layers, and make the frosting ahead of time. Keep them in the fridge until you are ready to assemble them.

Can I make this into an 8-inch cake instead?

I have not tested this recipe as an 8-inch cake, but I would love to hear how it turns out if you do! I recommend doubling the recipe; otherwise, there won’t be enough batter to fill the pans.

Do you have any tips for making lemon curd?

If it’s your first time, I have a whole post on how to make lemon curd with all of my best tips and tricks for success!

a slice of lemon bar cake on a white plate with fresh lemon slices.

If you tried this or any other recipe on my website, please let me know how it went in the comments below. I love hearing from you! Also, please leave a star rating while you’re there! You can also tag me on Instagram or Facebook so I can check it out!

lemon bar cake with lemon curd and fresh lemon slices.

Lemon Bar Cake

5 from 7 votes
– by Cambrea Gordon

If you love a classic lemon bar you will love this lemon bar cake! This fresh lemon cake is baked with a shortbread crust on the bottom, filled with tart lemon curd, and a lush cream cheese frosting. It's basically a lemon bar in cake form!
Print Recipe Save Recipe Pin Recipe
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 35 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8 servings

Equipment

Need Metric Measurements?Use the button options below to toggle between US cups and Metric grams!

Ingredients 
 

Lemon Curd

  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp lemon zest
  • Pinch fine sea salt
  • 5 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Shortbread Layer

  • 1 cup + 2 tsp all-purpose flour, *see notes for measuring*
  • 9 tbsp unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

Cake

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon zest
  • 1 1/4 cups cake flour, *see notes for measuring*
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup sour cream, room temperature
  • 2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • ½ cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Buttercream

  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 oz cold cream cheese
  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream

Instructions

For the Curd

  • In a small pot, combine the lemon juice, sugar, lemon zest, yolks, and salt.
    ½ cup (100 g) lemon juice, ⅓ cup (67 g) granulated sugar, 1 tbsp + 1 tsp lemon zest, Pinch fine sea salt, 4 large (62 g) egg yolks
  • Cook over medium-low heat for 12 minutes, stirring constantly until the curd looks vibrant yellow and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  • Pour the curd through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Then stir in the butter and vanilla extract. Cover the top with plastic wrap (so that it touches the curd) and set it in an ice bath to cool.
    5 1/2 tbsp (77 g) unsalted butter, 3/4 tsp vanilla extract

For the Shortbread

  • Mix the shortbread ingredients in a stand mixing bowl on low speed until crumbly. Press into the prepared 6-inch cake pans. (about 105 g in each one). Bake at 350 for 8 minutes. Set aside to cool while you make the cake batter.
    1 cup + 2 tsp (135 g) all-purpose flour, 9 tbsp (126 g) unsalted butter, 1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar, 3/4 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

For the Cake

  • In a stand mixing bowl, rub together the sugar and lemon zest. Then add the cake flour, baking powder, and salt and mix to combine.
    1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar, 1 tbsp fresh lemon zest, 1 1/4 cups (150 g) cake flour, 2 tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • Mix in the cubed butter until it resembles coarse sand.
    3 tbsp (45 g) unsalted butter
  • Add the sour cream and oil and mix on low speed for exactly 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl.
    ½ cup (113 g) sour cream, 2 tbsp (25 g) canola or vegetable oil
  • In a bowl with a spout, whisk together the egg, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla. Slowly stream the liquid into the bowl with the mixer running on low until just combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure everything is well combined.
    1 (50 g) large egg, ½ cup (100 g) whole milk, 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pour the batter into all three cake pans on top of the shortbread crust, about 225 g in each.
  • Dollop 1 ½ tbsp of the lemon curd on top of the batter, use a toothpick to swirl it well into the batter.
  • Then bake the cake layers for 23-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out covered in a few moist crumbs.
  • Lem them cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then flip them out of the pans. Allow them to cool completely before assembling.

Assembly

  • In a stand mixing bowl, mix the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth, then add the butter and mix to combine.
    1 ½ cups (282 g) unsalted butter, 2 oz cold cream cheese
  • Mix in the powdered sugar on low until combined.
    1 ½ cups (190 g) powdered sugar
  • Add the heavy cream, vanilla extract, and lemon zest. Increase the speed to medium for 30 seconds until it looks fluffy, but is still thick. Cover and keep the bowl in the fridge until ready to use. If the buttercream looks curdled, it’s likely overmixed. Chill it in the fridge for 30-60 minutes and then mix again and it should come back together.
    ½ tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 tbsp heavy cream
  • Use a serrated knife to cut a very thin layer off the top of the layers to expose the crumb. Spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top, then pipe a border around the edges (this will keep the curd from oozing out of the sides.)
    Spoon 2-3 tbsp of the curd in the center, then place the next layer on top. Place the last layer upside down so that the top is completely flat.
  • Use the rest of the buttercream to frost the sides and top.
  • Spoon more lemon curd on the top, garnish with fresh lemon slices or powdered sugar, and enjoy!

Notes

Step-by-step process photos are provided above, in the body of this post.
*Measure your flour properly. This is my #1 baking tip! Do not ever scoop a measuring cup into your flour as this always leads to using too much flour. Instead, use the spoon-level method. This means fluffing the flour first, then spooning it into your measuring cup/spoon. For the BEST results, use a kitchen scale!*
Serving: 1slice | Calories: 981kcal | Carbohydrates: 81g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 73g | Saturated Fat: 42g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 20g | Trans Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 289mg | Sodium: 379mg | Potassium: 132mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 64g | Vitamin A: 2221IU | Vitamin C: 10mg | Calcium: 140mg | Iron: 1mg

The calorie information provided for the recipe is an estimate. The accuracy of the calories listed is not guaranteed.

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Recipe Rating




4 Comments

  1. This cake is an absolute show stopper! Taste just like a lemon bar. I feel like this will be a cake that will carry down into my future family 🙂5 stars

    1. That is amazing to hear Jenna!! Thank you so much for coming back to leave a review 🙂

  2. It came out absolutely stunning! We love it! i added some whole blackberries throughout the cake batter, a few on top of the curd in each layer, and a blackberry honey jam swirled with the frosting. The shortbread crust adds so much to it! Thanks so much for a stunning recipe!5 stars

  3. This cake was sooo yummy! Perfect balance of sweet and tart, and tons of lemon flavor. I’m going to make it again for mother’s day, my mom loves lemon!5 stars