How to Make the Perfect Lemon Buttermilk Cake

Making the perfect lemon cake is an art, not a science. And that’s what makes it so tricky! It’s easy to mess up this classic American dessert. A dry, dense, or soggy lemon cake can happen whenever you are most in need of a sweet treat. Lemon cakes are perfect for spring because they’re light and refreshing. They bring just the right balance to rich desserts and heavier meals during the colder months. They also go great with any meal or as a dessert on their own. That said, if you want to make the best lemon cake ever, keep reading!

What makes a perfect lemon cake?

A lemon cake is basically a sponge cake with lemon flavor. There is no standard recipe and variations abound. However, there are a few things that all lemon cakes have in common. First, they are light and airy. Lemon cakes are made with a leavened batter (not a quick bread like a scone). This means that the batter contains an ingredient called baking soda that creates lots of air bubbles which make the end result light, fluffy, and tender. Lemon cakes should never be dense, heavy, or gummy.

Second, they are moist, preferably with a light and fresh lemon flavor. Lemon naturally makes things taste and smell fresh, so lemon cakes should have a subtle, natural lemon flavor. Lemon cakes should never be dry or taste too strongly of baking soda.

The ingredients you’ll need

Many lemon cakes call for a lot of lemon juice. While this gives the cake a strong lemon flavor, it also makes the cake very moist. As a result, the cake can sometimes taste a bit too lemony and have a gummy texture. To avoid this, use less lemon juice and add more lemon zest (the yellow part of the lemon peel that has lots of flavor but is not bitter).

Flour – Lemon cakes are often made with a high-ratio cake flour. Cake flour is lower in protein than all-purpose flour, and this makes the cake more tender and delicate. Because lemon cakes also contain baking soda, they need the extra tenderness that cake flour brings to the table.

Butter – Most lemon cakes call for unsalted butter. The most important thing to look for is grass-fed organic butter. Butter is naturally high in fat, so a little goes a long way. Butter gives lemon cakes a rich, buttery flavor and tender crumb (the inside of the cake). It also helps to keep the cake moist and makes it easier to slice.

Eggs – The eggs you buy for your lemon cake are essential. You want large, organic eggs from pasture-raised chickens. The yolk of the egg contains fat, protein, and lecithin that help the cake to rise and stay moist. The white of the egg contains protein that helps to make the cake sturdy.

Milk – Choose fresh milk (not low-fat). Fresh milk has more fat than low-fat milk and contains more milk solids. These milk solids help to make the cake tender.

Sugar – Lemon cakes are often made with granulated sugar that you mix with lemon juice to make a lemon syrup. If you do this, look for organic cane sugar. You can also use brown sugar for a deeper, more caramel-like flavor.

Lemon zest – Lemon zest is the yellow part of the lemon peel. It contains lots of flavor but is not bitter. You can grate it with a zester or finely chop it with a knife. You can also use the grater blade on a food processor.

Flavorings – Lemon cakes often contain a little vanilla extract for flavor, baking powder for leavening, and salt to bring out the flavor of the other ingredients.

How to make the batter

For best results, follow these tips:

  • Use room-temperature ingredients.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  • Grease and line the cake pan with parchment paper.
  • Beat the butter, sugar, and eggs until light and fluffy using an electric mixer.
  • Fold in the lemon zest and mix briefly.
  • Slowly add the flour and milk and mix until well combined but do not over-mix.
  • Transfer the batter to the cake pan.
  • Bake the cake for 22-25 minutes. These tips will help you make the perfect lemon cake:
  • Make sure that all the ingredients are at room temperature before you start. This will ensure that the batter is smooth and easy to mix.
  • Use a large bowl for the batter so that you can fold it in with a spatula and scrape the sides with the spatula for an even mix.
  • If you have time, refrigerate the batter for 30 minutes before baking. This will make the cake even more tender.
  • If you are using a different pan than the one listed above, adjust the baking time accordingly.

The secret to a fluffy lemony interior

As we’ve seen above, making a moist lemon cake is all about making sure all the ingredients are at the right temperature. If they are too cold, the batter will be lumpy and the leavening agents won’t be activated. If they are too warm, the batter will be too runny and the cake will be dense and soggy. Follow these tips to make sure your batter is at the right temperature:

– Place the butter and eggs (but not the sugar) in a bowl of hot water for 5-10 minutes.

– Meanwhile, sift the flour and add the baking powder, salt, and any flavorings.

– When the butter and eggs are warm to the touch, add the sugar and whisk everything together.

– Add the flour mixture, milk, and any lemon juice and mix well.

– Let the batter sit for a few minutes so that the baking powder can release carbon dioxide and make the batter fluffy.

Tips to make your cake even better

– Use large eggs instead of extra large eggs. Using extra large eggs will make the cake denser. Large eggs are the perfect size.

– Make sure that the butter is fresh and unsalted.

– Use fresh lemon juice.

– Use baking powder that has not expired.

– Sift the flour. This will make the cake extra tender and help to keep it fluffy.

– Add flavorings like vanilla extract.

– Let the batter sit for a few minutes before baking it.

– Place the cake in the fridge after it has cooled down.


Making the perfect lemon cake is an art form. Luckily, the lemon cake recipe below is a great place to start. It calls for lots of fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, and butter for a moist, rich, and sweet cake that is perfect for a spring or summer dessert. When made correctly, this lemon cake has a light, fluffy texture and a bright, lemony flavor. It’s sure to impress your friends and family at any occasion!

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