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 6 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!

Get my free cake decorating guide
Everything you need to know about decorating a cake like a pro!

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Comments

  1. Hi! So excited to try this cake! Can you make the cake/shortbread layers and wrap and freeze them like you other cakes until ready to assemble?

  2. Hi! I was wondering if you can freeze the cake and shortbread combo for the lemon bar cake after it is baked. Do you think the shortbread would be ok after it is thawed? I am trying to make as much as I can ahead of time. Thanks for your help!
    Leah

  3. I plan to make this cake for my friends birthday, but I only have lemon juice not lemon extract. Will that work the same? Is there a way I can make lemon juice work?

    1. You can leave it on the counter for a day or two. After that I recommend individual slices that are wrapped in saran and frozen to keep them fresh.

  4. 5 stars
    We had a bumper crop of lemons in the yard so a little music and lots of baking. This is a fun cake to make, everything comes together pretty quickly. So yummy – huge success with everyone. The lemon curd is particularly amazing.
    (With family corn and wheat allergies I used gluten free Bobs Red Mill 1 to 1, sifted and weighed)

  5. 5 stars
    This was one of the best cakes I’ve ever tasted! At first I worried that it wouldn’t actually be any better than lemon bars and worth all the extra steps… But then I tried it and it’s seriously amazing. It’s like a lemon bar but way better, plus festive and fancy. Everyone I served it to raved about it!

  6. 5 stars
    Wow. Made this for my boyfriend’s birthday, as lemon bars are his favorite dessert, and I have now set the bar too high for myself. I must note that I used vanilla pudding instead of lemon and omitted the lemon extract, as I find them a tad too artificial (I added about 2 tablespoons of zest in the cake and 2 teaspoons in the frosting to compensate and found them perfectly lemony). It seemed daunting at first, but the execution was far less stressful than I expected. It is truly a showstopper of a cake. This is the first Cake By Courtney I’ve made but it is absolutely not my last.

  7. 5 stars
    This was incredible! I was pretty frustrated with my decorating (it just wasn’t coming together today), but when I had a bite of the end result… oh my! That shortbread crust DEF balances out the sweet and tartness of the rest of the cake. And that CURD!(!) I was unusually proud of myself for making that successfully. I’d definitely make this again!

  8. I made this cake for a baby blessing and the entire family raved about it. One person said this this cake was an “experience” which is the best compliment you can have! I don’t particularly love lemon but I did like this cake. I was worried the shortbread crust would stick, but the cakes came out clean.

  9. hi ,
    I’m in UK
    if I can’t get lemon instant cake mix is it OK to leave out or wld you substitute with something else.
    cake flour is that plain or self raising ?
    many thanks

  10. I’m looking for a lemon cake for a three tier wedding cake. Would you recommend this to be layered and stacked? It looks scrumptious for a tasty wedding cake but I need it to be sturdy enough to stack.

  11. 5 stars
    Hi. How do you decorate this cake?The outside is smooth and yellow and I can’t tell what you did on top. Would be very helpful if you could share how you did this. Thank you.

  12. 5 stars
    Questions: I know to use 8” pans, but how many inches high should the cake pans be?

    How many does this cake serve? (I have to serve 20 people)

    How did you get the top of the cake so flat?

    What did you sprinkle on top?

    Thanks

    1. I use 8×2 inch pans. The cake should serve 18-20. I use my cake leveler if any of my cake is domed. There is powdered sugar on top.

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