July 11, 2019

Lemon Orange Cake aka Sunshine Cake

A cake after a citrus lover's heart: tastes like a tart Orange Julius shake, is covered in a double vanilla buttercream. This lemon orange cake can be made as a layer cake or in a sheet pan and becomes the perfect canvas for creative freedom. 

lemon orange layer cake


Lemon Orange Cake

This cake is mostly about the orange – lots of zest and juice bump up the flavor, and the vanilla really accentuates. I use two types of vanilla, because I find that the combination with orange results in a sweet yet complex taste. I added some lemon zest to round out all the sweetness. For the topping, you can do just vanilla buttercream and some beautiful swirls or you can mix up some colors and pipe something that speaks to your own inner child.

How to make Lemon Orange Cake

To make the cake I use a reverse creaming method: the flour is coated in butter and sugar before the eggs go in. This leads to a very tight, tender crumb which works perfectly here. Be sure to scrape down the bowl a lot, with the reverse cream method it’s easy to get bits of unmixed batter.

Sheet Pan Sunshine Cake

I can see this being the kind of cake you prep up to the point of the white background, and then handover to your little ones to have fun with and draw their own creative scene. When she’s old enough to handle a piping bag without squirting it backwards, I’m going to make her loads of sunshine cakes for her to decorate. And until her artistic abilities become more sophisticated, we know every cake will at least taste amazing =)

But also, you can make this Lemon Orange Cake as a layer cake!

Two eight inch cake pans (3″ tall) or three 6″ cake pans will work. Bake them at 325 F so they don’t dome too much and if they do, just use a bread knife to slice off the ‘hat’.

The perfect Vanilla Buttercream

I use two types of vanilla in this cake and buttercream because there is something wonderful about the combination – you get the intensity of pure and the sweetness of imitation. If you only have one, double it.

To decorate as shown, once cake is cool, make buttercream. Have six bowls ready, in three of them place 2 tablespoons buttercream, in the other three bowls place 4 tablespoons in each of buttercream. For the pink, blue and purple you’ll only need 2 tablespoons buttercream so color them in the corresponding bowls. You’ll want more for the orange, yellow and green because you’ll use them on the sun and grass. Place all the colors in piping bags. For the rainbow, I piped each color in an arc shape and then once the rainbow is done I smoothed it over with a small offset spatula. The flowers are edible chamomiles.


lemon orange cake

Recipe for Lemon Orange Cake

Lemon Orange Cake

Tender vanilla cake bursting with citrus flavor from lemon and orange zest and fresh orange juice.
lemon orange cake
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yields: 12


Lemon Orange Cake

  • 1 2/3 cup granulated sugar 333g
  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter 170g
  • Zest of one orange
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon imitation vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 3/4 cup 320g cake flour
  • ¾ cup kefir or buttermilk 165g
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice 122g

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter softened
  • 3 ½ cups organic powdered sugar sifted
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon imitation vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 teaspoon
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk


To make the cake:

  • Preheat oven to 325. Butter and flour a 9×13” sheet pan.
  • In the bowl of your stand-mixer, beat together the sugar, butter, and flour until the mixture is sandy.
  • Add baking powder, soda, salt, zests and vanillas and beat to combine.
  • Add eggs, one at a time. Beating for at least 30 seconds between each add.
  • Add the buttermilk and orange juice and mix to just combine.
  • Spread into prepared sheet pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes. If using cake pans, check at 30 minutes.

For the buttercream:

  • Beat butter until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add salt and vanillas, beat to combine.
  • Add powdered sugar and beat to combine.
  • 1Add milk, beat to combine.

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Recipe Reviews

  1. This looks delicious! I am wondering, if I am using this vanilla buttercream frosting for your lemon sugar cookies like on your instagram posting last week, does anything need to be altered to set on cookies? Or it will work as is?

  2. Hi is any video of this cake? I would like to know how to use the coloured food, I bought some colours but I don’t really know how to do it, do I mix the colours with the buttercream??hank you

  3. This looks lovely and I’m thinking about making it for a birthday. A couple of questions on the recipe – there’s no coconut oil under the ingredient list but it says to add it in the cake directions, does there need to be coconut oil? Is egg whites required or is the whole egg ok? I wasn’t sure since it lists eggs under ingredients rather than whites. Finally, would it be ok to sub buttermilk for yogurt (what I already have on hand)? Thanks so much!

    • JJ, thanks so much for your comment! You inspired me to try it this morning with buttermilk and it worked like a charm. I had an older version of the recipe that used egg whites/coconut oil which is why some of that was in the instructions but I’ve updated all of it to reflect the recipe I currently use (and love!). It’s now more straightforward and ingredients are simpler. Hope you love it!

      • Thank you so much for replying! I’m making this tomorrow. I love your recipes (made the 1 yolk cookies, 1 white cookies, pistachio cheesecake, & cherry blossom cakes so far.. Thanks again!