Lemon Bar Cake

Lemon Bar Cake – lemon cake layers baked on a shortbread crust, filled with lemon curd and topped with a lemon buttercream.

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Is it Springtime Yet?

This winter is proving to be a long one and even though spring is supposed to officially start in just a couple weeks, I’m doubtful it will really come. We’ve had so much snow and so many freezing cold days this winter. And just when you think it’s over with the arrival of blue skies and 55 degree weather, winter comes back with a vengeance. It hit hard again last week for a couple days and I couldn’t help but dream of springtime… and spring baking. Flavor combinations started flooding my head and the one that seemed most appropriate was a cake inspired by lemon bars.

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Lemon Bars

Why lemon bars, you ask? Well, this past weekend was my mom’s 60th birthday and she’s a huge fan of lemon bars. She actually makes the most delicious lemon bars and I’ve been eager to get another lemon cake recipe on the blog for a while. It seemed like the perfect inspiration for a new cake.

Plus, a few months ago, my brothers, sister and I decided to surprise my mom with US for her birthday! Yup, the four of us together would be our big gift to her. But I didn’t want to show up empty handed, and we all know that every birthday needs a cake… so, it was the perfect time to try out this new recipe.

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Lemon Bar Cake

This cake has all the makings of a lemon bar, but in cake form, of course. I started with a shortbread crust that you’ll bake on it’s own for about 8 minutes. I then added a lemon cake on top of the crust. This lemon cake is so divine and would be equally delicious without the crust if you wanted to just have a basic lemon cake.

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I’ve filled the inside with a lemon curd and lemon buttercream.

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I realize that sounds like a lot of lemon, but trust me, it all blends so beautifully that it doesn’t feel over powdering. Plus, the savory shortbread crust is the perfect contrast to the tartness and sweetness of the rest of the cake.

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I was able to share this cake with friends and family and it’s been a hit all around!

Tips:

  • Make the lemon curd a few days in advance.
  • Make sure not to put too much curd in between the layers so it doesn’t lose stability. Instead, use only about ¼ to ⅓ cup curd in the cake and serve extra on the side of each slice.
  • Make sure to use a sharp knife to cut the cake.

Enjoy!

 

Lemon Bar Cake

5 from 21 votes
Lemon cake layers baked on a shortbread crust, with lemon curd filling and lemon buttercream.
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr 30 mins

Ingredients
 

FOR THE SHORTBREAD CRUST

  • 1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (169.5 g) unsalted butter room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups (300 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.8 g) Kosher salt

FOR THE CAKE

  • 3 cups (345 g) cake flour
  • 1 3/4 cup (350 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz.) instant lemon pudding mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.8 g) salt
  • 2 teaspoons (8 g) baking powder
  • 12 tablespoons (169.5 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup (300 g) buttermilk at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon (4.2 g) lemon extract
  • 6 large egg whites at room temperature
  • Yellow food coloring optional

FOR THE LEMON CURD

  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (9 g) grated lemon zest one large lemon
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons (56.5 g) cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces

FOR THE LEMON FROSTING

  • 2 1/4 cups (508.5 g) unsalted butter slightly cold
  • 8 cups (1,000 g) powdered sugar measured and then sifted
  • 2 teaspoons (8.4 g) lemon extract
  • 4 tablespoons (57.75 g) heavy whipping cream
  • Pinch of salt
  • Yellow food coloring optional
  • *This buttercream recipe makes enough to fill and cover your cake. If you want to add additional piping, you’ll want to make an extra 1/2 batch.

Instructions
 

FOR THE SHORTBREAD CRUST

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray three 8-inch or four 6-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray, line each pan with parchment and spray again. Set aside.
  • Combine the sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat for 1 to 2 minutes until creamy. Stir in the salt and flour. If the mixture is too crumbly, you can add another tablespoon of butter.
  • Evenly divide the shortbread cookie crumbs into each cake pan (about 8 ounces in the 8-inch pans or 6 ounces in the 6-inch pans). Using the back of a spoon, press the shortbread cookie crumbs into an even layer on the bottom of the pan.
    Bake for about 6 minutes. Will be light in color. Let cool while you make the cake batter.

FOR THE CAKE

  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. 
  • In a medium size bowl, lightly whisk the egg whites and add the lemon extract. Set aside.
  • In another medium size bowl, combine the dry ingredients except the sugar and pudding mix. Whisk to combine. Set aside.
  • In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar and pudding mix together on medium speed, until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Scrape down the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches, mixing until well combined, about two minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all the batter has been incorporated.
  • With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Mix until combined. Fold in food coloring, if using.
  • Divide batter evenly among your pans, right on top of the shortbread crust, about 16 oz of batter in each 8-inch pan or 12 oz in each 6-inch pan.
  • Bake the cakes (on the shortbread crust) until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs inserted into the center, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool on wire racks for 10 minutes before inverting them onto cooling racks to cool completely. The cake will stick to the shortbread crust and flip out of the pan together.

FOR THE LEMON CURD

  • Whisk the sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the whole eggs and yolks in a small bowl and then whisk them into the lemon mixture.
  • Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until it's thick like pudding, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, a few pieces at a time until incorporated.
  • Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl, pushing it through with a rubber spatula. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until completely set, at least 4 hours and up to 5 days. 

FOR THE FROSTING

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  • Turn the mixer to low and gradually add the powdered sugar, followed by the cream, salt and lemon extract. Mix until combined. Add yellow food coloring, if using. Mix until incorporated completely. Turn the mixer to medium-high and beat the frosting for about 5 minutes.
  • Use wooden spoon to beat the frosting by hand for about 2 minutes to push out any air pockets. 

ASSEMBLY

  • Spread a small dollop of frosting onto a cake board. Place the first cake layer, top side up, on the board.
  • Spread a thin layer of frosting over the cake layer and pipe a rim of frosting around the edge of the cake to create a barrier to the filling. Spread about 1/4 cup of the curd in the center of the cake, carefully spreading it to the edge of the piping.
  • Place a second cake layer on top of the piped frosting and filling and repeat step 2. Place the final cake layer, top side up, on the second layer of filling.
  • Lightly coat the cake with a thin layer of frosting to lock in the crumbs. Freeze the cake for about 10 to 15 minutes to set the frosting.
  • Finish frosting and decorating the cake with the remaining frosting. Serve a spoonful of the remaining lemon curd with each slice of cake.
  • The cake can be stored in the freezer for about a week, in an airtight container. Give the cake about 8 hours to return to room temperature before serving.
Cuisine Cake
Course Dessert
Keyword Lemon Bar Cake, Lemon Bars, Lemon Cake, Lemon curd

Courtney Rich

I’m a self-taught baker, obsessed with cake.

I long ago ditched box mixes in pursuit of melt-in-your-mouth, to-die-for flavor combinations, fillings and textures. I believe cake must be decadent, life-changing and worthy of celebration! And I believe anyone should be able to bake that kind of cake – and I’m here to teach you just that!

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Everything you need to know about decorating a cake like a pro!

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I made this cake for Easter. I decided to decorate with pastel colored macrons filled with the left over lemon buttercream and curd. The cake was a showstopper and absolutely delicious. Thanks for this recipe! Will definitely make again.

    1. I suggest cutting the cake into individual slices and wrapping in saran and keeping in the freezer!

  2. The cake turned out beautifully. However, I did not like the extract. It tasted like fake lemon flavor. It could have been the store brand I used. What is your recommended brand of extract? Could you do this cake and frosting with just real lemon to flavor? The curd (no extract) was divine! And the shortbread crust element was so tasty!

  3. 5 stars
    So good! Was a huge hit at Easter. You really did make it taste like a lemon bar, one of my favorite desserts! The instructions were spot on.

  4. I’ve made this cake several times. It is absolutely the best lemon cake I’ve ever had. I love the texture and taste of the cake and the subtle lemon flavor in the frosting. Sometimes I use store bought curd, but the entire recipe is awesome. I haven’t been disappointed with any of Courtney’s cake recipes.

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