Easy Lemon Cake
A soft and tender lemon sheet cake in an 8×8″ “snacking” size. This quick and simple homemade cake is flavored with bright lemon extract and lots of fresh lemon zest. Add cream cheese to the buttercream frosting for even more delicious tang!
Easy Lemon Cake
When I set out to create an easy lemon cake recipe, I knew I wanted this recipe to be as fuss-free as possible. This is a small “snacking” cake baked in a square sheet cake pan for ease of baking and decorating. You won’t need to worry about baking multiple cake layers or frosting and decorating a layer cake. This cake is simple – even for a baker making their first homemade cake!
The bulk of this cake’s flavor comes from freshly grated lemon zest (and lots of it!). I love the way the fresh zest brightens up the cake. I also like to add lemon extract to this cake for extra lemon flavor – I found that making this cake with extract (instead of juice) was the easiest way to impart maximum lemon flavor. This cake is based off my Lemon Ginger Cupcakes – another homemade cake that I highly recommend if you love ginger.
Why You’ll Love This Easy Lemon Cake
- Sheet cake shape is easier to frost and decorate
- Tons of natural lemon flavor
- Soft and tender crumb
- Smaller size means less leftover cake
What You’ll Need
- Plant-based butter adds a buttery flavor to this cake (both cake and frosting). You’ll beat it with the sugar to create a fluffy cake batter with lots of lift. If you aren’t dairy-free, you can use regular butter instead. I use the Country Crock Plant Butter Sticks.
- White granulated sugar is used to sweeten this cake. Feel free to use raw cane sugar instead but note that the darker granules in raw sugar will affect the color of the cake (and the gram measurement will vary).
- Eggs bind the ingredients and also create lift in this cake. I haven’t tested this cake with any egg alternatives.
- Lemon extract imparts lemon flavor to both the cake and frosting.
- Lemon zest adds fresh lemon flavor and bright yellow specks to the cake and frosting – a visually appealing addition.
- Plant-based milk adds moisture to both the cake and frosting. You can use your favorite plant-based milk or regular milk.
- All-purpose flour makes up the bulk of the cake batter. I like to use an unbleached variety but bleached AP flour will work just fine.
- Baking powder and baking soda leaven the cake.
- Salt enhances flavor and cuts sweetness.
- Powdered sugar makes up the frosting. There are no alternatives to powdered cane sugar.
- Cream cheese is an optional addition to the buttercream frosting. You’ll find notes in the recipe for both cream cheese frosting and American buttercream frosting.
Can I make this cake vegan? Unfortunately, I haven’t tested this recipe with any egg alternatives.
Do I have to use lemon extract? If you don’t have lemon extract on hand, you can replace the extract with more lemon zest. The general rule is that 1 tsp of fresh zest = 1/2 tsp of lemon extract.
Can I replace the lemon zest with extract? Technically, yes (1 tsp of fresh zest = 1/2 tsp of lemon extract). Though I prefer fresh zest as it adds a brightness and color you won’t get from extract alone.
Will regular dairy products work in this recipe (butter, milk, cream cheese)? Yes, you can replace the plant-based butter, milk, and cream cheese with regular dairy products. Just note that regular cream cheese will need to be softened before making the frosting (vegan cream cheese needs to stay cold).
- 1 3/4 cups (228g) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup (113g) plant-based butter (or regular butter), softened
- 2/3 cup (140g) white granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon zest (~2 extra large lemons/4 regular lemons)
- 2 tsp lemon extract
- 1 cup (220g) plant-based milk (or regular milk), room temperature
Frosting (cream cheese option in notes below)
- 1/2 cup (113g) plant based (or regular butter), softened
- Zest from 1 large lemon (or two small lemons)
- 1/2 tsp lemon extract
- 3 cups (360g) powdered sugar
- 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice (or plant-based milk)
Bake the Cake
- Preheat your oven to 350°F and prepare an 8x8" square cake pan with non-stick spray and parchment paper. For this cake, I like to make sure the bottom + all four sides of the pan are covered in parchment.
- Bring your eggs to room temperature by placing them in a glass of warm water for around 10 minutes. You can also bring your milk to room temperature by microwaving it for 15-30 seconds.
- Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together until well combined; set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter and sugar until fluffy, about 30 seconds on medium speed. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the lemon zest and lemon extract.
- Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the sugar/butter mixture and beat until combined. Add 1/2 of the room temperature milk and beat. Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients and beat. Add the remaining milk and beat. Finally, add the rest of the dry ingredients and beat until combined.
- Add the batter to your prepared cake pan. Tap the pan on your countertop a few times to release air bubbles. Bake the cake at 350°F for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with a couple of crumbs.
- Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife between the cake and pan at the corners (or wherever there isn't parchment paper). Carefully invert the cake onto a cooling rack and allow the cake to cool completely.
Frost the Cake
- Once the cake is completely cool to the touch, you can make the frosting. In a large bowl, add the softened butter, lemon zest, and lemon extract. Beat the ingredients together.
- Add the powdered sugar and slowly beat. Begin adding lemon juice (or milk) 1 tsp at a time until the frosting comes together. You want the consistency to be smooth and spreadable but firm enough to hold its shape.
- Scoop the frosting onto the top of the cake and use an icing spatula to gently push and swirl the frosting to the edges of the cake. Immediately top with fresh lemon zest, sprinkles, or other decoration.
- Store leftover cake in an airtight container at room temperature.
Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/4 cup (58g) plant-based (or regular butter), softened
4oz plant-based cream cheese, cold*
Zest from 1 large lemon
1/2 tsp lemon extract
3 cups (360g) powdered sugar
Lemon juice to thin (you may not need any)
*if using regular, dairy cream cheese, it needs to be softened to room temperature prior to beating
In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter and cream cheese. Beat in the lemon zest and lemon extract. Add the powdered sugar and beat slowly until a frosting forms. If needed, add lemon juice or milk of choice 1 tsp at a time until desired consistency is reached (cream cheese frosting needs less liquid than American buttercream).