Easy Lemon Cake

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April 1, 2024

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.


Easy Lemon Cake Recipe

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.
Servings 16 Yield: 1x
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour


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


  • 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.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and kosher salt.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until top is light golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes.
  • 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 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).
Author: Kit Food
Course: Baked Goods, Dessert Recipes, Recipes

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