Vanilla Lemon Cake

Over the weekend I turned the big 3-0. A big milestone, sure, but not as big of a deal as I thought it was going to be. I guess by the time you actually reach 30, it no longer seems so old and scary. I had a lovely birthday, filled with pampering and love from friends and family. And of course, there was cake.

Baking my own birthday cake definitely doesn’t bother me at all, and I actually rather enjoy it. I get to pick out exactly what I want (and I spend weeks making that decision, you only get one birthday cake a year!) and I have a lot of fun putting it all together. I decided this year that I wanted a vanilla cake with a burst of something fun in the middle.

Vanilla Lemon Cake

I try to take advantage of any opportunity to make lemon curd as it is one of my most favorite things, and I knew it would be perfect as a filling alongside a vanilla cake. To ice the cake I used my go-to fancy icing, vanilla Italian meringue buttercream, and its lightness contrasted nicely with the bold flavor of the lemon curd.

(Incidentally, I have photo tutorials on how to make lemon curd and  how to make Italian meringue buttercream, if you are interested. Both are a lot easier than they seem and more than worth the effort.)

Vanilla Lemon Cake

I tried a new recipe for the cake itself, a white cake flavored with vanilla bean. It’s light and tender, and incredibly fragrant. You’ll know exactly when it’s done because all of the sudden the house fills with the incredible aroma of warm vanilla.

All three of these components come together to make a lovely layer cake, one perfect for this birthday girl. One thing I love about this cake is that the lemon curd requires a lot of egg yolks, while the cake and icing call for almost as many egg whites. It’s perfect, like they were made to go together. Another thing I love about this cake? Well, it’s  just delicious.

Vanilla Lemon Cake

I’m in a bit of a sugar coma from my celebrations over the weekend and I’m still making my way through this cake. I’ve gotten a little help eating it, but I admit I’m not eager to get rid of the leftovers. Even a few days later it’s still moist, and a large slice after dinner makes me happy. You only turn 30 once , right?

Vanilla Lemon Cake

Vanilla Lemon Layer Cake
A light vanilla and lemon scented layer cake filled with lemon curd and iced with vanilla italian meringue buttercream.
Yield: One 3-layer 8-inch cake
  • 3 cups (325 grams) cake flour
  • 2 cups (400 grams) sugar
  • 4½ teaspoons (12 grams) baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon (2 grams) salt
  • One vanilla bean
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons (254 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1⅓ cup (11 fluid ounces) whole milk
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour three 8-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a fitted attachment combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix for 30 seconds. Use a paring knife to cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds from the pod. Add the vanilla seeds, butter, and 1 cup of the milk to the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed for 1 minute until combined, then increase the speed to high and beat until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes, scraping the bowl down as needed.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ⅓ cup milk, egg whites and vanilla extract. Add to the mixture in the stand mixer in 3 additions, mixing after each addition until smooth.
  4. Divide the batter between the 3 prepared pans and bake until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let sit in the pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Can be baked in advance. Store tightly wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge for up to 5 days, or in the freezer (double wrapped) for a few months.
  6. Place one cake layer on a cake stand or display plate. Fill a pastry bag with a small round tip with 1 cup of the buttercream. Pipe a wall of icing around the edge of the cake layer. Spoon approximately 1 cup of the lemon curd into the center and spread evenly. Repeat with the next cake layer. Place the third cake layer on top and ice the entire cake with the remaining buttercream.
  7. Store the cake in the fridge for up to 4 days. Let come to room temperature before serving for best results.
Adapted from Sky High Cakes.
Lemon Curd
Yield: 3 cups
  • 1 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup (230 grams) sugar
  • 1 cup (8 fluid ounces) freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 3-4 lemons)
  • Zest of 3 lemons
  • 10 large egg yolks
  1. In a large saucepan combine ½ cup of the butter butter, ½ cup of the sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining ½ cup sugar. Slowly add the heated lemon juice mixture into the egg yolk mixture, whisking continuously. When fully combined, return the mixture to the saucepan and continue to cook until thickened, about 4-5 minutes. Whisk in the remaining ½ cup butter until melted and smooth.
  3. Remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a shallow dish. Place plastic wrap directly on top of the curd to prevent a skin from forming and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Can be made in advance. Store in the fridge for up to one week.
Recipe adapted from Cake Art.

Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream
  • 1 cup (230 grams) sugar
  • ¼ cup (2 fluid ounces) water
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 2 cups (1 pound, 452 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  1. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once it boils, stop stirring and insert a candy thermometer.
  2. Meanwhile, whip the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixture to soft peaks. When the sugar is at 238 degrees, add it to the egg whites in a slow steady stream with the mixer on medium speed.
  3. Increase the speed to high and beat until cooled to room temperature.
  4. Add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, while continuing to mix on medium high speed. Add the vanilla. Increase the speed to high and beat until smooth.
Recipe adapted from Cake Art.

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42 Responses to Vanilla Lemon Layer Cake

  1. Happy 30th! It’s a milestone, a great milestone, and I hope your weekend was filled with great food, lots of cake, and great company.

    I totally agree with baking your own cake for your birthday. I wanted to do the same for my birthday last week, but I was out of time visiting the boyfriend. Maybe I’ll bake a small little cake when I get back. I’ve been eying RecipeGirl’s Red Velvet Cheesecake Cake. Or maybe I’ll just make this gorgeous Vanilla Lemon Cake! 🙂

  2. Happy Birthday! What a fabulous cake!

  3. Happy birthday!!!! That cake looks so splendid! My birthday is into weeks and I can’t wait to test this baby out!

  4. Deborah says:

    I hope you had a great birthday – and your cake is gorgeous!!

  5. Cindy says:

    I love vanilla, I love lemon curd, so I’m sure I’ll love this cake!
    Happy belated birthday! Hope you had a great weekend.

    PS : I turned 28 on sunday : I organized an afternoon tea with some friends at home : scones, victoria sponge, dark chocolate & orange ganache gâteau and some cookies involved!

  6. Flavia says:

    What a gorgeous cake, Annalise! You did such a beautiful job with the icing–it’s perfect. I’m so glad you had a lovely birthday.

  7. I usually bake my own cake too! Your’s looks fabulous!! Happy birthday to you sweet friend!

  8. Riley says:

    Wow! This looks so yummy and pretty! Lovely pictures : )

  9. Annalise, the cake looks amazing! I’m glad you had a nice birthday and how I wish I’d gotten to share the cake with you! 🙂

  10. Daily Deal says:

    Every time there is a birthday in our office, I make the cake. This lemon cake is by far the most requested cake. I make it in two layers. Everything about this cake was amazing!

  11. Maria says:

    Yay for 30:) Such a gorgeous cake!

  12. YUM!!! Looks divine! And happy 30th to you!!!

  13. Simply Tia says:

    Happy Belated Birthday!!!! I hope all your dreams and wishes come true.

    That cake looks fantastic!!!!

  14. Wow, what a way to celebrate! This cake is so lovely, Annalise. Great job on it, and happy (belated) birthday!

  15. Binitha says:

    wow…that’s a beautiful have a lovely blog. Glad to follow you…Do visit my space too.

  16. Annie says:

    I am so happy to read of other people who like to make their own birthday cakes!! I am the same way… I love the process of baking and making cakes, and any excuse to make a cake is a good one for me!! And, to be honest, I am often disappointed with other people’s cakes… A birthday cake has GOT to have many layers and lots of icing… Other people seem to be happy with a cupcake with a bit of icing slapped on, or a simple slab cake made with “healthy” ingredients… Sigh. That doesn’t scream PARTY to me!!
    I am looking forward to trying this one… My own cake this past birthday (#35!!) was a wee bit of a let down because people felt I shouldn’t make my own cake… Oh well – the love that was baked in made it DELICIOUS!! 🙂 Maybe I should make this one for me!!
    Thanks for the wonderful recipes!

  17. Amy says:

    Happy (Belated) Birthday! Just stumbled across your blog searching for cake recipes with meyer lemon curd. I think I’m going to try to make this cake this weekend for my mother in law’s birthday. One question, if you see this in time: I don’t have a candy thermometer and don’t have a Kitchen Aid mixer. Is the frosting doable without those items? If not, do you recommend a simpler frosting? Thanks!

  18. Happy Belated Birthday, Annalise! Your cake is perfection. Vanilla and lemon are among my favourite flavours of all time, and lemon curd is my major weakness! Gorgeous, as always. xo

  19. Claire Viney says:

    Hi Annalise, your cake looks amazing. I made it today, but used lemon buttercream frosting, instead of meringue as I don’t have a candy thermometer, have one on order now. I’m aiming to make my wedding cake and thought this could be one layer. Mine doesn’t look as tidy as yours, but soooo tasty! Thanks for this recipe, Claire x

  20. Fab says:

    Amazing cake!
    totally making it for my mums birthday on sat 🙂

  21. Happybaker says:

    The cake looks gorgeous! Just today I made lemon curd. Thinking of making the cake n frosting ur way tomorrow.Just a query.. I don’t have a candy thermometer so how do I know wen to add the liquid to the egg whites?
    Belayed bday wishes!

    • Annalise says:

      The easiest way is definitely with a candy thermometer, but you don’t need one. When you bring your sugar to a boil, have a bowl of cold water and a metal (everyday) spoon handy. After a few minutes, test the sugar by spooning a small amount into the cold water. Plunge your hands into the water and grab the cooling sugar with your fingers. What you’re feeling for is that the sugar is able to stick together into a ball but is still squishy. This is known as “soft ball stage”. Once you’ve reached it, take it off the heat and proceed with the recipe. Good luck!

  22. Colette says:

    Can you please confirm quantity of butter?

    The cake calls for
    1 cup + 2 tablespoons (254 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

    but then the lemon curd calls for

    1 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into cubes

    – which doesn’t make sense?

    Anyhow, I made the cake last night but used a different recipe for the curd; will make the Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream tonight and assemble the cake tonight for tomorrow’s birthday celebration (my Mom will be 86!) – I hope it tastes as good as I anticipate! Cheers.

    • Annalise says:

      Both of those butter quantities are correct! I’ve since changed my lemon curd recipe to have half the butter (1/2 cup) without it affecting the overall taste and texture. Feel free to give that recipe a try sometime.

      Sounds like you’re on your way to a fabulous birthday cake for your mom. Enjoy! 🙂

  23. Simone Ilgmann says:

    Hi Annalise, made that cake today for my birthday. Everybody loved it! I especially love that lemon curd and could eat it every other day… lets not talk about calories on such a lovely day like today :).
    Love your blog.
    Greetings from Germany,

  24. Kate says:

    Hej Annalise, I love your blog. Spent the last few days reading all of your recipes…I have a question: I’d like to make the cake or some version of it for a friend of mine. To make it a bit less sophisticated I thought about colouring the layers with different shades of one colour and maybe do a simple creamcheese frosting (also coloured) Do you think the crum will hold up or do I have to adjust anything if I want to do that?
    Thanks for your lovely work

  25. jordan says:

    hey annalise,
    i made this cake yesterday, and it was absolutely gorgeous! only thing for me is that personally i didnt think the buttercream needed quite that much butter, as it makes it incredibly rich. but everyone seemed to enjoy it very much, so maybe thats just my taste, my mother-in-law even ate a quarter of it to herself!! thanks so much for this, jordan 🙂

  26. Sadie says:

    This cake looks amazing, I am making it for Easter! I read through the comments to see if you had already answered this question, but I’m wondering how many people this cake should serve if I make a three-layered 8-inch cake?

  27. Joanne says:

    Hello, I am making this cake tomorrow…I already have the lemon curd made! Everything I have made from your website has been delicious. I have had rave reviews from all of my friends and family. Would you be able to confirm what you decorated the top of the lemon cake with? Is it zest of lemon and icing sugar? I love the simple look of the cake and would like to do my best to replicate. Thanks.

  28. Caroline says:

    Hi Annalise
    made the chocolate layer cake and this vanilla one today. Chocolate
    one turned out great but vanilla one seemed to curdle when I added egg whites & milk. I followed everything to the letter even using grams not cups to make sure exact measurements.
    Noticed though that 3 cups cake flour you have 325g in this recipe and 360g in the other vanilla sponge. Could you verify how many grams are in 3 cups cake flour please and I will try again. Thank you.

  29. Kaye Loffler says:

    I will be making an engagement cake for October. Your cake sounds amazing. I’d love to try it, but for a little larger one , so can you work out the ingredients and cooking time for say a 10 inch cake. How long before the celebration did you make your cake. Hope you can help me.
    Maybe I should make 2 @ 8 inch ones . It will be a large open house party. What do you think.

    • Annalise says:

      Adjusting a recipe to fit a larger cake pan can be tricky. What I usually do is find the total volume of an 8-inch pan and a 10-inch pan, calculate the difference and then apply that to the recipe. It requires some math but is possible to figure out. Good luck!

  30. Martin says:

    Thank you for the recipe, Annalise! But I am a bit confused. I had just filled my cake pans, when I remembered that the recipe called for vanilla extract, besides just the vanilla bean. But nowhere in the recipe do I see the addition of the extract. It’s too late now, the cakes are in the oven, and I’m sure they will turn out amazing. I’m just curious when I should have added the vanilla extract. Thanks!

    • Annalise says:

      So sorry for the omission! I’ve changed the wording of the recipe, to add the vanilla with the egg whites and milk. Hope the cake still turned out great!

  31. Olivia says:

    I made this cake last week as a tester and my roommate almost ate the entire thing by herself! The first one I made I used my usual frosting recipe for decorating, but I was wondering if your buttercream would be stiff enough to hold up? The final version I’ll be making is for a friend’s baby shower so it’ll have lots of flowers and little details.

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