Lemon Bar Cake

Mar 18

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!


  • 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 1/4 to 1/3 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.



Lemon Bar Cake

Lemon cake layers baked on a shortbread crust, with lemon curd filling and lemon buttercream.

Course Dessert
Cuisine Cake
Keyword Lemon Bar Cake, Lemon Bars, Lemon Cake, Lemon curd
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 18
Author cakebycourtney



  • 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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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.



  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.


  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. 

  2. In a medium size bowl, lightly whisk the egg whites and add the lemon extract. Set aside.

  3. In another medium size bowl, combine the dry ingredients except the sugar and pudding mix. Whisk to combine. Set aside.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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. 


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

  2. 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.

  3. Use wooden spoon to beat the frosting by hand for about 2 minutes to push out any air pockets. 


  1. Spread a small dollop of frosting onto a cake board. Place the first cake layer, top side up, on the board.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Finish frosting and decorating the cake with the remaining frosting. Serve a spoonful of the remaining lemon curd with each slice of cake.

  6. 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.

93 thoughts on “Lemon Bar Cake

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  1. Can’t wait to try this! I’m assuming that you pour the batter on top of the previously baked shortbread layer? Not to be dumb but I wasn’t clear on this part.

  2. I can’t wait to try this cake because I love lemon anything! When you cook the shortbread for 8 minutes, do you add the cake batter on top and cook it until the cake is done or do you crumble the shortbread after the thin layer of frosting and adding the curd? Thank you!

  3. This looks delicious! I’m a little confused though as to where you combine the shortbread and the cake layers – do you bake the cake on top of the shortbread after it’s had its initial 8 minute bake or are you stacking both elements (fully baked) as you build your cake?

    1. Make and bake the crust first and leave it in the pan. Put the batter on top of that and bake as usual.

      I’ve not tried this recipe, but a similar one (cookie cake, 5 stars) and OH MY GOSH. The contrast in textures compliment each other perfectly.

  4. Looks good, and I’ll have to try! Any ideas for an egg-free lemon curd? Or a substitute for that? Also, your instructions on assembly don’t include the shortbread crust. Do you put a layer of frosting between the shortbread and the cake layer? Or does it stick on its own? Excited to try!

  5. Looks delicious! How much salt do you put in the lemon curd? I see it in the instructions but not the ingredient list.

  6. When you do step 2 for the cake and you are whisking the egg whites and the lemon zest are you just combining them? Or are you whisking them to form peaks?

  7. Your curd says to whisk in salt but under ingredients it isn’t listed as to how much? Excited to try this recipe and just curious as to the amount. We just did a pinch

  8. I know you are a cake blog…but any way you would post your Moms lemon bar recipe? This cake looks awesome!

  9. I put 2 cups of batter of this recipe in 6 in pans and they didn’t rise that much and didn’t measure up to 2 in. Is there any way to fix the problem?

    1. I put 2 cups of batter of this recipe in 6 in pans and they didn’t rise that much and didn’t measure up to 2 in. Is there any way to fix the problem?

  10. 2 stars
    I was really looking forward to this but the cake itself barely rose at all and the taste is rather bland. I’m sure the lemon gets punched up beautifully with the curd and the frosting but on its own, it’s a little disappointing.

    1. Hi Nell. Sorry to hear you had problems with the cake. It actually should rise nicely. Have you checked your baking powder lately? If that’s old, the cake won’t rise well. Also, if you overmix your batter, the cake won’t rise well either. As for the flavor, since I did pair it with the lemon curd and lemon frosting, I didn’t want the cake to compete or overload you with lemon since the lemon flavor is so strong elsewhere. If you add another teaspoon of lemon extract, it will give you a little more punch.

  11. Hi Courtney,

    I love your recipes! Just wondering if you think this type of cake would be suitable to be covered in fondant icing for a wedding cake? It would be a top tier of three tiers, the other two being chocolate biscuit cake


    Michelle x

  12. 5 stars
    I think this turned out so good. I am a big lemon fan and this really hit the spot. Its good cold or room temp (other than it being hard to cut when cold) The frosting was a little too sweet so I think I’d add less sugar next time? I ended up having to bake the cake layers for like 8 minutes longer than the recipe stated. Maybe I have a crappy oven. But man, that shortbread layer really makes this cake outstanding!

  13. 5 stars
    I made this for Easter, and my family loved this cake!
    My only question in the assembly was the curd layer. The instructions say “Spread half of the curd in the center of the cake” but then the tips say 1/4-1/3 of a cup between layers. I know my batch of curd was quit a bit more than 1/2-2/3 total. Which is correct?

  14. I’m excited to try this for my mom’s birthday. Can I use 9 inch cake pans? If so, How long would I bake it?

  15. I am planning to spend some special time with my mom this weekend baking this cake! I was wondering if the lemon pudding mix should be instant pudding or the kind you have to cook??

  16. So I like lemon but I don’t LOVE straight lemon. I made this cake with other lemon lovers in mind and was amazed by how much I loved it. It definitely had a good lemon flavor, but it was not too much or too overwhelming. The shortbread crust is awesome. We all loved it. Sooo good.

  17. I noticed that in your cake class in your intastories, you used crumbled shortbread cookie instead of a layer baked to the cake. Could I do that as well? And if so, how would I cook the shortbread? Just wondering, because although it tasted amazing, it was really hard to slice with the solid cookie layer.

  18. 5 stars
    Everything is delicious. I never thought something so gourmet would be feasible for me!! One thing: I wish your hint about the curd was in the assembly portion. In fact, we should not call it a hint. It completely determines whether the cake stays together. Assembly says to use half of the curd on each layer (why not just tell us what we’re really supposed to do?). I take things literally even though it seemed like way too much. Half of a third cup is a world different from half the total. The sloppy Hagrid cake I ended up with is delicious but very sad looking.

  19. how do I change the temp and time for 2 – 10 inch cake pans?

    Also, if i want to make a cookie crumble instead of bake it with the cake layers, do I have to change the bake time for the cake?

  20. 1 star
    Recipe wasn’t specific to instant or cook pudding mix. I made the wrong choice and added cook pudding mix. It was horrible.

  21. I plan to make this cake this weekend for my sister, but also want to make cupcakes to deliver to her kids and grands so we can Zoom Mom-Mom’s b’day party. I plan to 1-1/2 the recipe for 4-6’s and the rest cupcakes. Do you think I should bake the shortbread in the cupcake wrappers as well or just bake as a group and put in bottom of each – or skip altogether? Just not sure about baking time on this. Can’t wait to make it- lemon and shortbread are her favorites!!

  22. 4 stars
    Cake is awesome…but the vague “whisk the dry ingredients” and then “cream the butter and sugar” after that needs editing…sugar and pudding are dry ingredients, so we whisked them and then ruined the creaming part because the sugar was in with the flour.

  23. 3 stars
    Some of the instructions are lacking specificity. Should the pan be lined completely with parchment, or just a circle at the bottom?

  24. Hi! I’m making this cake for MY moms 60th Birthday! The directions say store in the freezer for a week. Can it not be stored in the fridge? I want to make it tonight and serve tomorrow night. Thanks!

    1. You can store it in the fridge for one night but after I suggest cutting into individual slices, wrapping in saran and keeping in the freezer. That will keep the pieces from drying out.

  25. What would you suggest to use instead of the lemon extract, and still get the lemon flavor? I am finding that when I add lemon extract, I can taste a artificial flavor, almost chemical flavor. I have tried 2 different brands of lemon extract with the same result. :/

  26. 5 stars
    This cake is delicious, but oh so slippery…wondering if I put it int the freezer for a bit as I build it it would be better. All was good until the weight of the third layer caused some curd leaks around the edges. Any tips for keeping it all together?

  27. If I wanted to bake this into a 4 layer cake (6in pans); how long should I bake the cakes for as well as the crust? Thank you.

      1. 5 stars
        I made this in 4 6″ pans. I had to bake the cakes for 40 minutes. The cakes rose beautifully, and were perfectly cooked. (high elevation baking)

  28. I’ve noticed a few of your recipes that used to have a reverse creaming method changed. Have you tested them with the new method? They turn out quite different, I’m just wondering why you’ve changed them.

  29. 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?

  30. 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!

  31. 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?

  32. 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)

  33. 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!

  34. 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.

  35. 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!