Citrus season is exactly the brightness we need during the last stretch of winter. For February’s recipe, I highlighted my favorite citrus, Meyer lemons, in a delicious layered cake! Lemon cake recipes are aplenty, but what sets this one apart is the use of the bright, floral Meyer lemons and layers of delicious lemon curd. I also included my best tips and tricks for achieving the lightest and fluffiest buttercream as part of this Meyer lemon recipe — it’s so good and will make you forget store-bought frosting for good! And lastly, this delicious dessert is topped with candied lemons, an easy and beautiful way to decorate a cake. If you haven’t tried them before, you’ll be pleased with how easy they are to make!
The Ultimate Meyer Lemon Cake Recipe + Buttercream Frosting & Candied Lemons
Before we dig into the details of the full Meyer lemon cake and the best homemade buttercream frosting recipe, let’s clear up a few question you may have!
What is different about Meyer lemons?
The two main lemons found year-round are the Lisbon and Eureka varieties. Both are perfectly okay commodity lemons. Meyer lemons, however, are uniquely different and so special. Known for their thin skin with less pith (the bitter white part between the fruit and the peel), their bright mild lemon flavor, and floral notes, these lemons are the star of citrus season. The zest almost melts away into recipes, making Meyer lemons are great for baking and cooking.
What are Meyer lemons best used for?
Meyer Lemons are incredibly versatile. Some of my favorite recipes use Meyer lemons in salad dressings, roasted with chicken, lemonade, zested in baking, and any fish dish. The zest is more flavorful and blends well with a range of other flavors.
Another great way to make the most of the short season is by making preserved lemons! I have a great post for them here. It’s the easiest way to lock in the season and get a year of use out of the lemons.
Can I substitute a Meyer lemon for a regular lemon?
This cake recipe is best made with Meyer lemons. Can you use a standard lemon? Sure. Is it going to make this recipe stand out? No. As far as substituting a Meyer lemon for other lemons, yes. You can swap the lemons out and your recipe just might be better because of it!
How to make buttercream frosting from scratch:
The trick to any buttercream is texture. For years I struggled to get a smooth, whipped buttercream. In fact, it wasn’t until culinary school that I learned how to nail it every time!
Pro tip: Start with butter that is a slightly warmer than room temperature, then whip it into a nice and light consistency. Then, add sifted powdered sugar a little at a time.
If your frosting separates (and it will happen), don’t let it scare you. It’s easy to look at the curdled mess and question how it could ever become usable. These two methods produce the same results, but rely on different kitchen tools.
When you notice your ingredients aren’t emulsifying together, the first trick is to use a kitchen blow torch and a heat-proof bowl on your stand mixer. With the mixer on medium-high speed, run your kitchen torch over the outside of the heat-proof bowl (metal is best here).
Make sure only to do this until your frosting is just coming together. And do not let the flame linger or you’ll caramelize your sugar and that can’t be undone. Touch the bowl around the sides occasionally to make sure it’s staying warm, not hot, just warm. Once the ingredients are cohesive, whip up until the bowl cools. Use immediately.
The second method uses a double boiler (a small amount of water in a pot with a heat-proof bowl fitted over the top, making sure the water isn’t touching the bowl). This trick is also great for bringing frosting back up to room temperature after sitting in the fridge. Take a portion of the frosting, about a 1/3 of the total amount, and heat it over a double boiler. Once warm, pour into the remaining frosting and whip on high speed until everything comes together. If it all breaks and acts up, pop it into the freezer for 15-20 minutes and try again. It will work. I promise!
How to make candied lemons (and other citrus):
Candied lemons are one of the tastiest and easiest treats to make during citrus season. You will need equal parts water and sugar and thinly sliced lemons. I recommend straining the cooked lemons entirely, then store them covered with sugar until you need them. There’s more detail in the recipe below.
And lastly, I shared two options for making this cake. Depending on how confident of a baker you are, I wanted to share a few options that both achieve delicious results. One method requires the use of cake rings to make a towering layered cake. The other uses two standard cake pans and is equally delicious, with less work (and drama). Use what you have; both variations are sure to please!
The Ultimate Meyer Lemon Cake Recipe with Buttercream Frosting & Candied Citrus
- 2 2/3 sized sheet pans or 9' cake pans
- heat-proof bowls
- Stand Mixer
- Large measuring cup
- glass jar
- pastry bush (if using lemon simple syrup)
- 6" Cake ring
- Offset spatula
- cake turntable (optional)
- Cooking thermometer
- Pipping bag
- Cake round
- 4 eggs
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
Meyer Lemon Cake
- 1 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp lemon zest
- 4 eggs room temperature
- 1.5 cups butter softened
- 4 cups powdered sugar sifted
- 2 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp vanilla
Candied Lemons/ Lemon simple syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 Meyer lemon thinly sliced, seeds removed
- In a medium pot, fill about halfway with water and bring to a simmer.
- In a heatproof bowl that can rest over the pot without touching the water, whisk together eggs, sugar, zest, and lemon juice.
- Place the bowl onto the pot and stir constantly with a heat-proof spatula, making sure to not let any of the curd cook onto the bottom of the bowl. Continue until the curd is thick and coats the back of the spatula. If using a kitchen thermometer, this will be at 160 degrees.
- If you don't care for zest, you can run the curd through a strainer. Transfer to a container and cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the top to avoid a skin from forming. Allow to cool in the refrigerator for 30 minutes minimum. The curd will thicken as it cools.
Meyer Lemon Cake
- Prepare baking sheets or cake pans by lining with parchment paper and greasing with cooking spray or butter. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Add vanilla and lemon zest.
- In a large measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk and eggs.
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a third bowl.
- In three batches and at a low speed, alternate adding ingredients to the mixer bowl: flour mixture, then buttermilk mixture, then flour mixture again. After all of the flour mixture is added, finish mixing by folding the batter, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl. Don't over mix.
- Immediately pour batter into the pans of choice. If you're using baking sheets, use an offset spatula to smooth out and make as even of a layer as possible. Watch the cake closely after about 10 minutes. The thin layers are done when you can gently push down on the top and it springs back. This shouldn't take more than about 15 minutes. The cake will be very lightly browned and should just start pulling from the sides. Allow to cool completely before frosting.If you're using standard cake pans, bake for 25-30 minutes. The cakes are done when an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
- If the cake is in cake pans, run a small offset or paring knife around the corners and turn the cake out. Using a serrated knife, trim the top of the cake if a hump formed during baking. If using baking sheets, take the 6" cake ring and cut out 8-10 round cake pieces. Try to cut the cake pieces as close together as possible to avoid waste. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap until use.
Lemon Buttercream Frosting
- In the bowl of a mixer, whisk together the butter and powdered sugar. Make sure to add the powdered sugar one cup at a time or it will make a big mess. Once the sugar and butter are combined, add vanilla and lemon zest.
- In a medium-sized pot, combine the sugar and water. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.
- Once the sugar is dissolved, add lemon slices and cook until translucent, about 15 minutes.
- Remove lemon pieces allowing them to drain completely and place in a bowl and cover with sugar.
- Allow the remaining syrup to cool and pour into a jar. You will be using this to moisten your cake layers if you used the sheet pan method for your cake baking.
Cake Construction: Cake Rings Method
- On a cake round, place your first layer of cake. Brush with lemon simple syrup and pipe buttercream around the edge making about a 1 1/2" ring of frosting. Fill the center with a thin layer of lemon curd and repeat. Place the cake in the freezer and allow it to chill for about 20 minutes. Frost a crumb coat (a thin layer of frosting) and allow to chill for another 10 minutes. Frost the cake with the remaining buttercream and decorate with candied lemons that have been removed from sugar and section in half or however you prefer to style them. The cake is best served slightly chilled. Use a serrated knife when cutting to preserve the integrity of the layers.
Cake Construction: Standard Cake Pan Method
- Place the first cake piece on a cake round or flat plate. Pipe a 2" ring of frosting and fill the center with lemon curd. Frost the outside of the cake and decorate using remaining buttercream and candied lemon pieces, styling as desired. The cake should be served chilled.
- This cake will last about 3 days. Keep refrigerated.
So what do you think of my ultimate lemon cake recipe?? I love the way the buttercream frosting adds a bit of creaminess, while the candied lemons add brightness.