This post may upset some purists, and I'm ok with that because I love this cake just the way it is. Why would a recipe be upsetting, you ask?
The lemon cake recipe I'm about to share contains no actual lemons. That means no zest, juice, oil, or even extract.
The lemon cake recipe I use, know, and love gets its delicious lemon flavor from none other than Lemon Bakery Emulsion. And so many people that I've shared it with agree.
It has been my experience that it is extremely hard to get a strong lemon flavor from simply using lemon zest, and adding lemon juice to a recipe can throw off the chemistry since the juice is so acidic. Lemon extract's flavor can bake out or start to taste artificial if you add too much, so let me introduce you to my secret lemon weapon: Lemon Emulsion.
By starting with my favorite vanilla recipe and adding Lemon Bakery Emulsion, you end up with a wonderfully lemon flavored cake. Lemon flavor that doesn't bake out of the batter, and doesn't taste artificial.
With my case for Lemon Emulsion made, let's dig in to the recipe. First, this recipe is based off of my favorite vanilla cake recipe from Kara's Couture Cakes blog. I've used it for years for my customers. (Hint: when you find a recipe that you love everything about, it's a great starting point when developing a new recipe.) Here are just a few of the things I love about the original recipe: it uses the reverse creaming method for consistent results, it uses regular pantry ingredients, and it holds the weight of tiers and fondant and decorations beautifully (not all scratch cakes do.)
First we start by cutting the butter into pats. I usually do this at the very beginning, and by the time everything else is measured they're at the perfect room temperature.
Then I move on to measuring out the wet ingredients and the dry ingredients (this is where the reverse creaming method differs if you've never used it before.) The dry ingredients go into the bowl of the mixer, and the wet ingredients go in a separate bowl. The secret to this recipe, and all my favorites actually, is a small amount of oil that is added to the recipe. The combination of butter and a little oil is what keeps this cake moist but sturdy. To give this cake the lemon flavor it deserves, I start with the vanilla extract the recipe calls for, and add the same amount of lemon emulsion. Yes, it's a bit more liquid than the recipe calls for. No, it's not enough to throw everything off. The combination of lemon and vanilla rounds out the flavor perfectly.
Everything's measured, now what? Mix your dry ingredients on low speed for about 30 seconds with the paddle attachment. With the mixer still on low, begin adding the butter pats. I add 2-3 at a time and mix until they're not giant clumps. Once all the butter has been added, it should resemble something like sand. By adding the butter like this, it coats the flour and acts as a barrier. When we add the wet ingredients and mix in the next steps, the gluten doesn't activate and result in an overmixed batter.
Then we begin to add the wet ingredients. This is where the technique of reverse creaming becomes very important. Start with about 1/3 of the wet ingredients and mix until it forms a paste.
Scrape the sides of the mixer bowl, then add about 1/2 of the remaining wet mixture. Mix on low until it begins to incorporate, you don't want to slosh wet ingredients all over. Kick that mixer up to medium-high speed and set your timer for 3 minutes (4 minutes if you're doubling the recipe.) Once it's done mixing, scrape the mixer bowl. It will look beautifully creamed and fluffy at this point. Add the rest if the wet ingredients. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and set your timer for 4 minutes (5 minutes if you're doubling the recipe.) When it's done, the batter may look broken, but I promise this is normal.
For this size of recipe, I used three 6" pans that were prepped with goop, and divided the batter equally between them. The best way to make sure you have the same amount in each pan is to weigh them with your kitchen scales that are likely still out from measuring all your dry ingredients. (I linked to the one I use in this post) Bake in a 350 degree oven. I start checking them at 30 minutes. When a toothpick comes out clean, and the tops of the cake start pulling away from the edges of the pan, they're done!
Let them cool for about 10-15 minutes inside the pans on a wire rack. Carefully flip them out onto a parchment lined wire rack to let cool completely. Once the cakes are cool, I wrap them in plastic wrap and store in the freezer until I'm ready to decorate!
Now, my favorite way to top a lemon cake is ALWAYS with lemon cream cheese frosting. Yep, let's just double down on that lemon flavor. And my lemon cream cheese frosting stars none other than...Lemon Emulsion! Are you sensing a theme here? I could sing the praises of lemon emulsion all day long if you'll let me. But I won't. I'll stop with the cake and frosting for now.
I won't go into a ton of detail on the cream cheese frosting here, but I will tell you that it still crusts like my buttercream does, it's pipeable, and it's sturdy. And deliciously tangy like a good cream cheese frosting should be.
I finished the cake off with some smoothed frosting and some hand painted lemons (tutorial on that coming.) I also have a whole step by step video tutorial available where I share my method for super sharp, smooth buttercream cakes here.
I loved using my favorite Mosser Glass cake plate and vintage Fiestaware dish for these photos. It just makes me want to sip on a big glass of iced tea and enjoy a slice of cake on a sunny spring day. Yep. Officially drooling now. And ready for spring.
Keep scrolling for the recipe, and I made this cute little image to save to Pinterest if you're so inclined.
(Adapted from the Perfect Vanilla Cake by Kara Andretta)
228 G All Purpose Flour
1.25 TSP Baking Powder
312 G Sugar
1/4 TSP Salt
1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter
3/4 TBSP Vanilla Extract
3/4 TBSP Lemon Emulsion
1/2 Cup Egg Whites (from about 3-4 eggs)
3/4 Cup Milk
1 TBSP Vegetable Oil
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Goop sides and bottom of 3 6" pans.
2. Cut butter into small pats and set side. Add all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt) to a stand mixer bowl and mix with a paddle to combine well. This replaces sifting.
3. In a separate bowl, combine all wet ingredients (vanilla extract, lemon emulsion, egg whites, milk, and vegetable oil) and whisk to combine. Set aside.
4. Turn mixer to low and add chunks of butter slowly to the dry mix. Continue to beat on low until there are no chunks of butter remaining and the mixture becomes crumbly.
5. On low speed, add 1/3 of the liquid ingredients to the dry/butter ingredients and then turn to medium. Mix until a light paste forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
6. Add half of the remaining wet ingredients and beat on medium high speed for 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
7. Add the remaining wet ingredients and beat on medium speed for 4 minutes.
8. Divide evenly between the three prepared cake pans. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean and sides have begun to pull away from the side of the pan. (This will depend on the size of your pan, how full you make it, and on proper oven temp.) Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before removing from pan. Place on a rack to finish cooling.
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz of Cream Cheese (room temp)
8 oz of Unsalted Butter (room temp)
1 1/2 TSP Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 TSP Lemon Emulsion
912 G Powdered Sugar
1. Cream butter and cream cheese together in bowl of stand mixer until creamy.
2. Add powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until it's all added.
3. Scrape bottom and sides of the mixer bowl.
4. Add extract and emulsion and continue to mix until they are incorporated.