This single layer lemon cake with lemon cream cheese frosting is a bite of sunshine: a light and bright lemon cake, infused with lemon syrup and topped with a smooth lemon cream cheese frosting.

Single Layer Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting | katiebirdbakes

If you like lemon desserts, make sure to check out my lemon yogurt loaf cake, lemon meringue pie with graham cracker crust, and lemon ricotta pancakes.

Why you’ll love this recipe

  • SUPER lemony flavor – this cake packs a serious lemon punch!
  • Soft cake texture from buttermilk in the batter
  • Smooth, creamy lemon cream cheese frosting to compliment the soft cake
  • NOT too sweet (like many of my recipes, this one has less sugar than a traditional cake but the texture and flavor is spot on)
  • JUST ONE LAYER – small batch bakers, rejoice!
Single Layer Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting | katiebirdbakes

Recipe background and development

On my birthday this year, my husband Brian and I went to dinner at RPM Italian to celebrate. The best part of the meal, shockingly, was not the amazing pasta or wine, but the small lemon cake they brought out at the end. The cake’s diminutive size belied its intense, unbelievable lemon flavor. I literally gasped when I tasted it. It was like sunshine.

I knew I needed to replicate the super lemony flavor of that little cake immediately! This was a perfect candidate for a new recipe in my single layer cakes series: the best cake recipes sized down to just one (8 or 9 inch) layer. I find this is the perfect size for a small dinner party, or a couple who will eat it over the course of a few days (or…less than that).

I wanted a lemon cake positively bursting with lemon flavor, like the one I had at RPM. A couple experiments with this cake led to flavorless results at first, which no one wants. After some tinkering, I found that using the juice of the lemon as a syrup to pour over the baked cake, rather than including it in the batter, produced the brightest flavor.

And of course, topping the whole thing with a thick layer of smooth lemon cream cheese frosting never hurt anyone. I added a couple tablespoons of store-bought lemon curd to the frosting to really bring out that brightness, but it’s totally optional and will be just fine without it if you don’t have any lying around.

Single Layer Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting | katiebirdbakes


Here are the ingredients you’ll need for this small lemon cake with lemon cream cheese frosting. For the full list of ingredients and measurements, go below to the recipe card.

  • All-purpose flour (you can use a 1:1 gluten-free all purpose flour blend if needed)
  • Baking powder and baking soda
  • Salt
  • Unsalted butter at room temperature. You can leave the butter out for an hour OR do 20 seconds in the microwave on 50% power to get the butter to room temp. This is important so it creams and aerates with the sugar!
  • Granulated and powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • Fresh lemons – we will use the lemon zest in the batter and the lemon juice in the syrup + frosting!
  • Eggs. It’s best if these are room temperature as well, but I’ve gotten away with cold eggs so don’t sweat it too much.
  • Vanilla extract
  • Buttermilk (or lemon juice/vinegar + regular milk, see instructions in the recipe)
  • Cream cheese (full fat for the best silky texture)
  • Lemon curd (optional, for the frosting – really brings out the bright lemon flavor)

Equipment Needed

  • Mixer (stand mixer or hand mixer both work) – many of my recipes don’t require a mixer, but we really do need one here for the best fluffy cake texture.
  • Mixing bowls
  • Rubber spatula
  • Kitchen scale – I highly recommend weighing your ingredients for most accurate results, especially the flour! This is the primary way I bake these days as it is much more precise than using measuring cups (and there are less dishes to clean).
  • Microplane zester (optional but VERY helpful for zesting lemons)
  • Citrus squeezer (this is the one I use but there are less expensive ones too)
  • Round or square cake pan (9 inch)

How to make a single layer lemon cake: step by step

Step 1: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and grease or line your cake pan with parchment paper (makes it easier to get the cake out of the pan!).

Step 2: Whisk together your dry ingredients in a medium bowl (and ideally, just measure them into that bowl using a scale for most accurate results!). This will let them blend better with the wet ingredients later so we don’t have to mix as long and risk over-developing the gluten.

Step 3: Cream together room temperature butter, sugar, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. The mixture will be fragrant! Then beat in eggs, vanilla extract, and buttermilk.

Step 4: Beat in the flour mixture on the lowest possible speed just until the batter comes together. Spread batter into your prepared cake pan with a rubber spatula.

Step 5: BAKE! This will take about 30-35 minutes depending on the size of your pan. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few crumbs attached. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before removing to a plate.

Step 6: While the cake is baking, make the easy homemade lemon syrup. Microwave 1/4 c fresh lemon juice with 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar in 15 second increments, boiling (carefully) until sugar dissolves. Congratulations, you now have homemade lemon syrup!

Step 7: Poke holes in the warm baked cake with a toothpick and slowly, gently pour the lemon syrup over until it soaks in. This is where all the bright lemon flavor will come from!

Step 8: Use a mixer to make your lemon cream cheese frosting and spread over the cooled cake. The lemon curd in the frosting is optional but SO delicious and really adds to the punchy lemon flavor.

Step 9: Optionally, garnish the cake with some lemon slices or lemon zest and ENJOY!

Single Layer Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting | katiebirdbakes

Recipe Tips

  1. Rub the lemon zest and sugar together before creaming with the butter. This releases the oils in the lemon zest and really brings out the lemon flavor.
  2. Use buttermilk for best flavor in the cake, but if you don’t have it I include substitution notes below the recipe. You can use yogurt or sour cream instead.
  3. Make sure you turn the baked cake out onto your serving platter BEFORE you pour the lemon syrup over it. I made the mistake of pouring the syrup over while the warm cake was still in the pan, and when I tried to release it onto a rack it completely fell apart and stuck to everything. No bueno. Turning the cake out onto the serving platter first, then poking holes and pouring the syrup over, ensures we don’t have a sad cake mess on our hands.
  4. Make sure the syrup-soaked cake is completely cooled before you frost. If it’s still warm, the frosting will melt as it’s spread and the syrupy cake will stick to it.
  5. This is a soft, sort of fragile cake, particularly once the syrup is poured over. Make sure to handle with care!
Single Layer Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting | katiebirdbakes


Room temperature: The cake can be stored covered at room temperature for up to 1 day. If you want to keep the frosting as intact as possible or need to transport the cake, I recommend putting a few toothpicks on top so the wrap doesn’t touch the frosting.

Refrigerator: You can refrigerate the cake for up to a week, tightly covered so it doesn’t dry out. Set it out at room temperature for a half hour before serving, or I also like to microwave individual slices of the cake at 50% power for 20 seconds to reheat.

Freezer: Unfrosted cake can be frozen, tightly wrapped, for up to 3 months. Leave on the counter to thaw for at least 2-3 hours, or thaw in the fridge overnight before serving, then frost once it is thawed.

Single Layer Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting | katiebirdbakes

More Single Layer Cake Recipes:

Single Layer Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting | katiebirdbakes
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4.73 from 18 votes

Single Layer Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

This single layer lemon cake with lemon cream cheese frosting is a bite of sunshine: a light and bright lemon cake, infused with lemon syrup and topped with a smooth lemon cream cheese frosting.
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time1 hour
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cake, cream cheese frosting, lemon, summer
Servings: 8 slices (9-inch cake)
Author: Katiebird Bakes


  • 1 Mixer (stand or hand mixer)
  • 1 9-inch cake pan (round or square)
  • 1 citrus squeezer (optional but helpful)
  • 1 microplane zester (optional but helpful)
  • 2 mixing bowls


For the Lemon Cake

  • 1 and ½ cups all-purpose flour (187g; measured via spoon and level method)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar (149g)
  • 1 and ½ Tablespoons lemon zest (from about 1 large lemon)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (113g)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup buttermilk (113g)*

For the Lemon Syrup:

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (56g; from about 2 lemons)
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

For the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter (56g; 1/2 stick), softened to room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese (113g), cold
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (113g)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice (to taste)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1-2 Tablespoons lemon curd (optional; for brightest lemon flavor)
  • Lemon zest and lemon slices, for garnish (optional)


For the Lemon Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan. Trace the bottom of the cake pan on a piece of parchment paper and cut it to match. Line bottom of cake pan with the parchment.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or a large bowl if using a hand mixer, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until fragrant. Cream together the butter and lemon sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium speed until fully incorporated after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat briefly to combine.
  • Add a third of the flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined, then add half the buttermilk and beat on low speed again. Repeat with remaining third of flour mixture, the rest of the buttermilk, and end with the last third of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until the batter is smooth, but do not overmix.
  • Scrape batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out with a spatula. Bake for 30-32 minutes, until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake cool in pan on a rack for 10-15 minutes, then invert the pan onto the rack to release the cake, remove the parchment from the bottom, and flip back right side up onto a cake plate. Let cake cool while you prepare the frosting.

For the Lemon Syrup:

  • In a small microwave-safe bowl, microwave the lemon juice and sugar on high until bubbling and sugar has melted, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Whisk together and set aside.
  • Once the cake is on the cake plate, poke holes all over the top with a toothpick. Slowly pour the lemon syrup over the cake, letting it soak in fully. Let cake cool completely before frosting.

For the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • In a large bowl using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or a hand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter at high speed until pale and very fluffy – this should take 2-3 minutes. You want to incorporate as much air as possible into the mixture to make it light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, lemon juice, lemon curd (if using), and salt, and beat at medium to high speed until fully combined and light.
  • Spread cooled cake with cream cheese frosting. It should make a thick layer, and can be swirled in patterns if desired.
  • Decorate the outer edges of cake with additional lemon zest and lemon slices if desired. Serve!


*if you don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute an equal amount of sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt, or use 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice mixed with 1/2 cup of milk and leave to curdle for 5 minutes before using.
Cake will keep, well-wrapped in the fridge, for up to 4 days.  I like to microwave leftover pieces of cake on 50% power for 20 seconds to reheat.

Like this recipe?  Please RATE it and LEAVE A COMMENT below. Your feedback is so appreciated and helps other bakers! Also, tag me on Instagram @katiebirdbakes, and sign up for my email list to receive my recipes straight to your inbox every time I post!

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  1. 5 stars
    This cake is absolutely divine! I used Bob’s Red Mill GF Flour (spoon the flour into the measuring cup), followed the recipe just as it is though I did not use the lemon curd, it’s so light, “fluffy” and delicious. That frosting! I can’t wait to try your other single layer cake recipes. King Arthur GF flour may field the same results. Sometimes, Cup4Cup which is great, can be starchy and more expensive these days. Thank you so much for the lemon fans out there!

  2. 5 stars
    The best lemon cake ever! The zest in the cake, the lemon syrup and the lemon curd in the frosting all combine to create fresh lemony layers in each bite. I love the single layer cakes Katie offers. They’re great for intimate gatherings. I’m gluten free and substitute 1-1 gf flour, works perfectly every time. Thanks, Katie!

  3. 3 stars
    I made this today using two 6 inch cake pans. I baked it for 24 minutes. It’s very dry! Maybe I baked it too long. I checked it for doneness every two minutes from 18 minutes on. I followed the recipe exactly. Nice flavor and the frosting is good but I was hoping for a texture closer to your carrot cake. I’ve used your carrot cake recipe to make a 6 inch layer cake and it was excellent. I wish the lemon cake was moist.

    1. Hi Mary – sorry, I haven’t tested this as a 6 inch cake but I think you’d have to significantly reduce the bake time. This cake is definitely not dry at its full size!

  4. 5 stars
    My husband recently picked ALL the lemons from our tree so I tried my first ever attempt at a lemon cake. This one! It was absolutely delicious and the cream cheese frosting topped it off nicely. I wish I didn’t have to store it in the fridge as I am worried it won’t be as soft and fluffy but I’m sure it will still be nice 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing this yummy recipe!

  5. Hi, would this cake be ok for stacking in 2 layers for a 9×13 cake? Or do you think it might crumble, as lemon cakes are usually very soft! Thanks!!

    1. Hi Smriti – I think you could double the recipe and bake in a 9×13 pan as a sheet cake, but you’d have to adjust the bake time. I recommend around 32-35 minutes but start checking doneness at 28 minutes. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. I don’t think this would work well as a layer cake since it is quite delicate!

  6. 5 stars
    Very lemony fresh tasting cake! I made it today in London UK for Fathers day and the boys and dad enjoyed it very much! I usually do a single layer round lemon cake without the frosting but it’s fabulous with your cream cheese frosting recipe. I didn’t change much at all just taste tested the frosting as I went along and it was great with a extra squeeze of fresh organic unwaxed lemons.

  7. 5 stars
    I’ve now made this three different times. Each time I get better at making it. Today I added lemon extract to the batter. Syrup. And frosting just to add a smidgen more lemon. I also add 4oz extra of cream cheese. I do a double layer of my 4in pans just because. Maybe next time I’ll do single layer. I wish I could add a photo. Everyone I’ve made this for has loved it! Thank you!!

  8. At 64 my first ever attempt to bake a Cake! The base looks fine, I don’t have a whisk so had to use a fork for the frosting… Looked good when the Cream Cheese and butter were mixed (though a little reduced) together but once I added the Powdered Sugar and Lemon Juice it became all runny and off yellow : (
    I’ll need to buy myself a whisk and practice some basic baking skills, this baking is harder than it looks..But thank you for sharing your recipes

  9. 3 stars
    I was very hopeful for this recipe..the frosting was delicious but sadly the cake was dry and I cannot figure
    Out why? Did not overbake and added the lemon syrup…it should been super moist.

    1. Hi Barbara – I’m sorry to hear that, I’ve never had an issue with this cake being dry! Is it possible you left out one of the ingredients?

  10. 5 stars
    I made this in the middle of Midwestern winter for a bright, flavorful pick-me-up. The cake was wonderfully moist and easy to make. I love the single layer because it doesn’t yield too much for a small household. My favorite part was the cream cheese icing. Make sure you do whip air into it (as Katie recommends) with either a hand mixer or Kitchen aid…it’s critical for it to be fluffy and light. I admit to cutting corners last spring and using a spoon to mix the carrot cake icing on this blog and it was a little stodgier. User error!

    Great recipe, have made twice and I’m sure that will continue!

  11. 5 stars
    This cake is absolutely fantastic! It took about 37 minutes of baking time. I opted for the full two tablespoons of lemon juice and lemon curd for the frosting. We brought this to a dinner party and it was a huge hit. I’m making it again this weekend for another dinner party! 🙂 Thank you for sharing such a lovely recipe!

  12. 5 stars
    Hello Katie! My husband’s birthday was yesterday and we invited 2 friends over for dinner. For dessert I baked this cake for the first time and it was a hit; the cake finished! My husband actually doesn’t eat cake so his birthday cakes are usually cakes I like (haha!!) but he had two helpings of this cake!! I couldn’t believe it! This recipe was super easy to follow and the cake is delicious! I’ve never had lemon cake before so I wanted to try something new and I really love it! Thank you so much for this recipe and for introducing me to lemon cake. this one is definitely here to stay.

  13. 5 stars
    So glad I found this! I made mini cup cakes for my office mates. Used pastry bag to fill them, baked for ~18 minutes, used your lemon syrup and frosting recipe. so good!!! Garnished with lemon zest. A bit of a messy thing because of the syrup but so so worth it! Lemony deliciousness! I will definitely make it again! Thanks!
    P.S. lemon curd makes a big difference. 🙂

  14. 5 stars
    The cake was delicious. A tiny but dry, maybe because I used Greek yoghurt in lieu of buttermilk? Or perhaps I needed more syrup?
    The frosting was wonderful too. I had just made lemon curd so I sacrificed a tablespoon to add to the frosting.

  15. 5 stars
    This cake recipe is the real lemon deal! I followed recipe exactly & used the suggested sour cream substitute for the buttermilk. The texture, taste & simple beauty of the single layer was just perfection. The cream cheese frosting a perfect compliment to the home made rich flavored cake. No need for the lemon curd if you don’t have in your pantry. I drizzled the lemon syrup over cooling cake & then refrigerated for an hour- then frosted & refrigerated again to set it up perfectly. I brought it to a small family dinner was a highlight! I give this cake BEST cake of summer award! Thank you ❤️

  16. 5 stars
    WOW–light, lemony and luscious! Loved the texture and the crumb of this cake. Would make a wonderful dessert for a dinner party or just a gloomy day. Great addition to your one layer cake collection!

  17. 5 stars
    This recipe is really awesome…i was look for its video on yt but couldnt find should continue your youtube channel..cause this was freakin delicious!

    1. An 8 or 9 inch square pan would work, or you could double the recipe to make in a 9×13 pan. You could also try a single recipe on a 7×11 pan but I think the cake would be really thin. Make sure to adjust the baking time and check frequently for doneness. It’ll bake much more quickly when spread out in a rectangular pan. Good luck!

  18. 5 stars
    Made this today , without the cream cheese frosting . Was so good 🙂
    Thank you so much for the recipe , single layer cakes are so difficult to come by 🙂 looking forward to more such recipes .

  19. 5 stars
    My husband is a lemon freak – so there’s no such thing as too much lemon for him. This hit the mark, esp the frosting! I like how you rub the sugar and zest together, I couldn’t get enough of the smell! A lot of lemons were harmed in making this cake, but totally worth it. I’ll keep this in a rotation for sure. Thanks!

  20. This cake looks totally scrumptious and I’m planning to make this for my good friend’s birthday on Thursday. I wondered if it’s possible to bake this as cupcakes instead. Just to keep it a little more safe and socially distanced among my co-workers. Do you think it would work? If so, how much less time do I need to bake them?

    1. Hi Deborah – great idea! I’d say to bake 18-22 minutes and check with a toothpick inserted in the center for doneness starting at 18. When it comes out clean or just a couple crumbs attached they’re done.