March 28, 2024

Everyday Lemon Cake

Simple butter cake made with lots of lemon. This easy recipe will be made in one bowl without any special tools and yields a moist, tender cake with wonderful lemon flavor.

5 from 11 votes
Yield: 1 9 inch square cake
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The lemon version of my ‘everyday butter cake’ =D I had a few options for ‘lemoning’ the beloved EBC: I could just add zest and some lemon extract and call it a day (super simple, would’ve required no adjustments to the ingredient list and quantity), I could do the zest then treat it a la my lemon olive oil cake and give it a ‘soak’ (which is still an option, details below) but this would ruin one of my favorite things about this cake: that sugar topping! Last option: I could reinvent it just enough to accommodate some fresh lemon juice. 

You know by now I can’t half-ass a lemon bake, so I went with option #3. You’ll notice most things are the same but we’ve made room for lemon juice by adjusting the leavening and wet ingredients. The result is a cake with a texture that’s more moist than the original EBC and isn’t overly lemony but is enough so that you know exactly what flavor of EBC you’re having today. 


Recipe Ingredients 

Sugar: granulated sugar. We’ll use some in the cake and then some to sprinkle on top before the batter goes into the oven. I usually use fine sugar for the cake and organic sugar for the topping because organic has bigger granules. 


Lemons: wash and rub the skin to remove any wax. 


Salt: fine sea salt; it dissolves quickly and has great flavor. If using table salt, halve the amount. 


Butter: unsalted butter, any butterfat percentage will do. 


Vanilla: pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste. 


Eggs: whole large eggs, brought to room temperature. This is important for the emulsion to happen when we make the batter. 


Cake flour: finely milled from a softer wheat with cornstarch added to it will yield a cake that’s very fluffy and tender. If you must substitute, use all purpose but swap two tablespoons of it for cornstarch. 


Baking powder: check that it’s fresh! 


Sour cream: full fat sour cream. Can be subbed with labneh or skyr. 


How to make Everyday Lemon Cake 

Start by prepping the pan & warming the eggs by placing them in a bowl of warm hot water. Zest the lemons and rub into the sugar. 

In a large bowl add the melted butter and the flavorings: 

Then whisk in the lemon sugar.

Whisk in eggs, one by one, the mixture will thicken and become shiny: 

Sift in the dry ingredients add the sour cream and lemon juice, then stir until smooth: 

Pour into the pan and top with sugar: 

Bake until a cake tester comes out clean.


How to make this cake even more ‘lemony’ 

Ideally we have the most lemony of lemon cakes all the time but truthfully, doing this would require adding so much lemon juice that it will overly moisten the cake and we throw off the ph. So while this cake gives you good lemon cake flavor, if you want to take it further you can by adding the juice after baking and making a ‘lemon soak’. 

While the cake is baking combine ¼ cup each freshly squeezed lemon juice and granulated sugar in a pot. Set over medium heat and cook for a few minutes, until the sugar has dissolved. 

When the cake is just out of the oven, poke holes into it with a thin skewer or a cake tester. Then, spoon the soak all over the cake. Let the cake ‘rest’ for a bit so it can absorb the soak. 


Topping & Serving Suggestions for Everyday Lemon Cake 

I wrote that headline and realized it might sound like I’m telling you how much of it to eat? 


But I often hear from readers what they’ve served my everyday butter cake with and I thought for the lemon, some suggestions might be appreciated:

Whipped cream & berries: a la a strawberry shortcake: Make my ‘food processor whipped cream’ by processing 1 cup whipping cream, 2 tablespoons sugar and a dash of vanilla until thickened. If you like, you can macerate the berries for an hour before serving: simply toss sliced berries with a small splash of lemon juice and some granulated sugar. 

Lemon Curd: serving the cake with this would really amp up that lemon flavor! I have a meyer lemon curd, my best lemon curd recipe, and a microwave lemon curd. You could also serve it with a blueberry, blackberry or a raspberry curd

Berry & rhubarb jam: This blueberry rhubarb bar recipe has a built in homemade blueberry rhubarb jam (the recipe actually makes more than you need for the bars). Make that jam and serve with the cake! 

Ice cream: vanilla or a berry flavored ice cream would be great here. I’m also partial to a lemon & chocolate situation but that might just be me ;p 

Storage Notes 

This cake is best the day of baking and will still be moist the next day but after that it will dry out (the curse of a delicious butter cake!). It’s best kept in an airtight container at room temperature.


Everyday Lemon Cake Recipe

Everyday Lemon Cake

Simple butter cake made with lots of lemon. This easy recipe is made in one bowl without any special tools and yields a moist, tender cake with lovely lemon flavor.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yields: 1 9 inch square cake
5 from 11 votes


  • 250g or 1 ¼ cups fine granulated sugar
  • Zest of 4 lemons avoid the white pith when you zest
  • 226g or 1 cup unsalted butter cold is fine
  • ¾ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 260g or 2 cups cake flour if measuring by cup, shake the flour over the cup then level it (never scoop or pack it in)
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 120g or ½ cup sour cream full fat
  • 60g or ¼ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • granulated sugar to top 2-4 tablespoons


  • Butter and flour a 9 inch square pan. Preheat the oven to 350 F. If your eggs aren’t at room temperature, set them in a bowl of warm water.
  • Set the sugar in a large bowl and zest the lemons over it. Rub the sugar and zest together using your fingers, until it resembles wet sand (this releases the flavorful oils from the zest).
  • Separately, melt the butter then add it to the sugar along with the salt and vanilla. Whisk this mixture well, for at least a minute.
  • Add the eggs, one by one, whisking between each addition. Once all the eggs are in, whisk vigorously for a minute - you should have a thick, shiny emulsified batter.
  • Sift the cake flour into the bowl and add the baking powder, sour cream and lemon juice. Whisk until there are no flour streaks. The batter will be smooth and creamy.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth it into an even layer. Sprinkle the sugar in an even layer on top to coat.
  • Bake the cake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan. Cake is best eaten the day of. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container.

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Recipe Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    I wanted to make something simple but special for coworkers and this was so perfect. Fresh out of the oven, it was heavenly and delicate and even on day 2 now, I’m enjoying the last bites for breakfast. My husband said I’m a great baker, I told him it’s just a great recipe!

  2. 5 stars
    This is such a perfectly yummy and lemony cake! It’s delicious as is or paired with Sam’s lemon cream cheese whipped cream from her icebox cake recipe. So good!

  3. 5 stars
    I’ve only made a few of your recipes before Sam, and this one is no different in that it’s an absolute winner. Understated elegance! I love the crispy crust that the sugar provides.

  4. 5 stars
    I made this today and everyone LOVED it! Admittedly I didn’t try it (I know this is scandalous to post on Sam’s site but I actually don’t like lemon sweets), but the reception it got from everyone who did was that it was pretty much perfect, and I bake for them at least once a week. It comes together so easily, it’s got a great texture & moisture and that crisp top. It makes me wish I liked lemony treats! By the way, I made it in a 9×13 pan by multiplying everything by 1.5 except using 4 lemons for zest and 4 eggs. It took 37 mins for that size pan. Thank you for this gorgeous recipe!

    • That’s so sweet that you made it for others to enjoy (can’t believe you didn’t try it, but you know me and lemon). I need to make you some more chocolate recipes, soon! ;p