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!
After my lemon bar cookies went viral, I knew this lemon bar cake needed to be developed next!
Imagine the best lemon bar flavor and texture but in cake form, that's what this cake tastes like.
It's a perfect citrus easy summer cake recipe and uses fresh lemons, nothing artificial, so you know it has the BEST flavor, just like my lemon cookies!
why you'll love this lemon bar cake
- Tart and sweet: This cake has both tart and sweet flavors.
- Buttery shortbread crust: Each layer has a quick shortbread crust on the bottom, just like a traditional lemon bar. It's the same shortbread I use in my caramel pecan bars!
- Perfect for lemon lovers: If you love lemon desserts, you will love this recipe!
- Great for any occasion: This is one of my favorite desserts to bring to birthday parties, Mother's Day brunch, or even Easter! It's truly a delicious cake for any occasion.
ingredient notes & substitutions
Lemon: I recommend using fresh ones and not the juice that comes in a container. This will give the cake a beautiful bright yellow color and fresh flavor (similar to my lemon poppy 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!
Before you start, lightly butter the sides and line three 6-inch round cake pans with parchment paper on the bottom.
Step 1: Make the lemon curd. Cook the fresh lemon juice, zest, sugar, and egg yolks over medium-low heat 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 in an ice bath until ready to use.
Step 2: Make the shortbread crust. In a stand mixing bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, cubed butter, vanilla extract, and salt on low speed until crumbly.
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.
Step 4: Mix the butter and dry ingredients. In a stand mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, then add the cubed room-temperature butter.
Mix on low speed for 3 minutes until it resembles coarse sand.
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.
Step 6: Stream the rest of the wet ingredients. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly stream in the whisked egg, milk, juice, and vanilla extract. Mix until just combined.
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.
Bake in the preheated oven for 23-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out covered in a few moist crumbs.
Step 8: Make the lemon cream cheese buttercream. In a stand mixing bowl, cream the cream cheese and butter together 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.
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.
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!
expert baking tips
- Use a kitchen scale. Baking with a scale is much more accurate than cup measurements. To convert this recipe, click the "metric" button next to the ingredients title on the recipe card. If you do not have a scale, use a spoon to fluff the flour first, then spoon it into your measuring cup.
- Use room temperature ingredients: Using room temperature ingredients creates a smooth, fully blended batter that will result in a uniform texture and even baking.
- Baking times may vary: All ovens are different, and it may bake quicker or take longer than the indicated baking time. I recommend always checking on it occasionally and testing for doneness!
- Cover the curd with plastic wrap. This will keep the curd from developing a dry film on top while it cools.
storage & freezing
Loosely cover the cake or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. You can also freeze it for up to one month!
For leftovers, chill the cake in the freezer, then cut it into slices. Wrap each one in plastic wrap and store them in the fridge or freezer.
Yes, I recommend keeping it in the fridge when you are not serving it.
Definitely! You can make the curd, bake the cake layers, and make the frosting ahead of time and keep them in the fridge until you are ready to assemble it.
I have not tested this recipe as an 8-inch cake, but 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.
The egg white is what holds all of the "eggy" flavor, make sure you are separating the eggs completely and not letting any white into the curd!
Lemon Bar Cake
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 4 large egg yolks
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon + 1 tsp lemon zest
- Pinch fine sea salt
- 5 ½ tablespoon unsalted butter softened
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup + 2 tsp all-purpose flour *see notes for measuring*
- 9 tablespoon unsalted butter cold and cubed
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
- 1 ¼ cups cake flour *see notes for measuring*
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 tablespoon unsalted butter room temperature
- ½ cup sour cream room temperature
- 2 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
- 1 large egg room temperature
- ½ cup whole milk room temperature
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream Cheese Buttercream
- 1 ½ cups unsalted butter room temperature
- 2 oz cold cream cheese
- 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
For the Curd
- In a small pot, combine the lemon juice, sugar, lemon zest, yolks, and salt.½ cup lemon juice, ⅓ cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon lemon zest, Pinch fine sea salt, 4 large 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 ½ tablespoon unsalted butter, ¾ teaspoon 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 teaspoon all-purpose flour, 9 tablespoon unsalted butter, ¼ cup granulated sugar, ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon 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 granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest, 1 ¼ cups cake flour, 2 teaspoon baking powder, ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Mix in the cubed butter until it resembles coarse sand.3 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Add the sour cream and oil and mix on low speed for exactly 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl.½ cup sour cream, 2 tablespoon 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 large egg, ½ cup whole milk, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pour the batter into all three cake pans on top of the shortbread crust, about 225 g in each.
- Dollop 1 ½ tablespoon 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.
- 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 unsalted butter, 2 oz cold cream cheese
- Mix in the powdered sugar on low until combined.1 ½ cups 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 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon 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 tablespoon 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!
The calorie information provided for the recipe is an estimate. The accuracy of the calories listed is not guaranteed.