I originally put this Vanilla and Lemon Layer Cake together for a friend who loves lemon. It wasn’t a stretch for me since I love to put lemons into baked goods when I have a bunch of them in my kitchen. The cake is made up of three rounds of vanilla cake that are layered together with homemade lemon curd and a lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting. There isn’t quite as much lemon as you would expect to find in a lemon cake (since the cake base is vanilla, after all), but the lemon flavor pops beautifully here and will win over anyone who is a citrus fan.
The cake layers are easy to make and come together quickly. It is easiest to bake them in three 9-inch round cake pans, although if you want to stretch this cake to four layers, you could bake the cakes in two 9-inch pans and split the cakes in half to get that extra layer. The cake is moist, has a soft, tight crumb and a very nice vanilla flavor. It would actually go very well with just about any frosting, if you want to use it as a base for other cake recipes in the future.
While I waited for the cakes to cool, I made a batch of my favorite homemade lemon curd. You could easily use storebought lemon curd in this recipe, but since you’ll want some fresh lemon zest to boost the lemon flavor in the frosting, you’ll probably have some whole lemons on hand for juicing anyway. My lemon curd recipe makes a little bit more than you’ll need to put the cake together. You could cut it in half, although it is easy to find ways to use up a little extra lemon curd.
The lemon curd is spread between the cake layers, and it is also used to flavor some of the Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting that is used as the filling for the cake. The frosting has just enough cream cheese in it to give it that distinctive cream cheese tanginess that goes extremely well with the lemon zest in the frosting. It is a little stiffer than most cream cheese frostings, however, since it uses a lot more butter. This makes it a lot easier to work with when it comes to frosting the finished cake.
The finished cake is beautiful to look at – and even more beautiful when it is sliced into. You get lemon, vanilla and cream cheese in every bite. It’s a great balance of flavors and the overall feeling of the cake is that it is light and almost refreshing to eat. I kept my decorations simple and just added some white chocolate flowers along the sides of the cake to give it a springtime feel. If you don’t want to add too many decorations, just serve yours as-is and it will be a hit as soon as you cut that first slice.
Vanilla and Lemon Layer Cake
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease three 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, adding them one at a time, followed by vegetable oil, vanilla extract and almond extract.
Beat in one third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the milk. Beat in another third of the flour mixture, followed by the remaining milk. Stir in the last of the flour mixture, stirring just until no streaks of dry ingredients remain and cake batter is uniform.
Divide evenly into prepared pans.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until cakes spring back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean.
Allow cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks and remove parchment paper to cool completely.
Cakes can be used when they are completely cool, or they can be individually wrapped with plastic wrap and used the next day.
Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream
1 cup butter, room temperature
8-oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 tbsp milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tbsp lemon zest
approx 4-5 cups confectioners’ sugar
In a large bowl, beat together butter, cream cheese, milk, vanilla and lemon zest until very smooth. Gradually blend in the confectioners’ sugar until the frosting is very thick. Mixture should be fairly stiff, so you might want to add a touch more confectioners’ sugar than you would in some other cream cheese frosting recipes.
Lemon Curd Filling
3/4 cup lemon curd, divided
1 cup Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting (above)
2 tsp lemon zest
Combine 1/2 cup lemon curd with 1 cup lemon cream cheese buttercream and lemon zest in a small bowl and mix until well combined. Reserve remaining 1/4 cup of lemon curd for assembling the cake.
Place one round of cake on a serving platter or cake stand.
Top with 2 tbsp of lemon curd and spread that into a very thin layer. Top with half of the Lemon Curd Filling, spreading it almost all the way to the edge of the cake.
Place second round of cake on top of filling. Top with 2 tbsp of lemon curd and spread that into a very thin layer. Top with the remaining Lemon Curd Filling, spreading it almost all the way to the edge of the cake.
Place third round of cake on top of this filling layer. Spread the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of the Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream to create a crumb coat. Refrigerate cake for 15-20 minutes.
Frost top and sides of cake with all of the remaining frosting.
Lower Fat Lemon Curd
2/3 cup strained, fresh Meyer lemon juice
10 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
4 tbsp butter, cold and cut into 4 pieces
In a small sauce pan, over medium heat, dissolve the sugar the Meyer lemon juice. Bring to a simmer.
Lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl. Whisking constantly, stream the lemon syrup very slowly into the the eggs until all of the syrup has been added.
Return mixture to pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until curd just starts to bubble at the edges. Remove from heat and stir in the butter 1 tbsp at a time until all the butter has been incorporated and melted into the curd.
Transfer curd to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it down onto the surface of the curd.
Refrigerate until ready to use. Makes approx 1 1/3 cups.