Tart, sweet, and tangy. This easy gluten-free lemon cake is all of that and so much more. Two tender layers of lemon cake bursting with sweet summer citrus flavor. Filled with the most bright and zesty vegan lemon curd and then covered in a fluffy whipped cream cheese frosting. Lemon cake perfection!
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The Best Gluten-Free Lemon Cake
Made from scratch, moist, and 100% gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and vegan. A lemon layer cake recipe that will meet the dietary and/or lifestyle needs of everyone. Perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, you are going to fall in love with every lemon bite.
What Makes Up A Vegan Lemon Cake
Lemon Cake Layers – A moist tender crumb, there are two sweet layers of lemon cake.
Lemon Curd Filling – Silky smooth lemon curd filling full of sharp zesty lemony notes.
Cream Cheese Frosting – Light and tangy, this cream cheese frosting has a hint of lemon zest.
Lemon Cake Ingredients & Substitutions
As always this recipe is gluten-free and vegan. That said, I do test each recipe with “regular” ingredients and make notes of alternatives or swaps so that everyone can enjoy it.
Here are a few key ingredients for this cake but make sure you scroll all the way to the bottom recipe card for the complete ingredient list.
Gluten-Free Flour: I made this cake with Kinnikinnick all-purpose baking mix. If you are not gluten-free, swap the flour with regular cake flour. Note that gluten-free flour blends can vary in weight so I recommend measuring by the cup. If you’re gluten-free baking blend does not contain xanthan gum you will need to add ¾ teaspoon to the dry ingredients.
Vegan Milk: I love to bake with unsweetened almond milk but this recipe will work with any type of non-dairy, lactose-free, vegan, or regular dairy milk.
Oil: Use canola or vegetable oil for best results but any neutral-tasting oil will work.
Applesauce: I prefer to bake with unsweetened applesauce but the sweetened version will totally work. You could also use vegan sour cream or yogurt instead. If you are not vegan or egg-free, swap the applesauce for 2 large eggs.
Vegan Butter: Becel plant-based bricks are my personal favorite for baking but any brick-style dairy-free butter substitute will work. You can also use regular butter if you are not dairy-free.
Cream Cheese: Again, as this is written vegan, I used plant-based Violife cream cheese. Feel free to swap in lactose-free or regular full-fat cream cheese.
Lemon: Freshly squeezed lemon juice and zest is best. You could use bottled lemon juice if need be but I do not recommend dried lemon zest. It’s far too bitter.
Yellow Food Color: This is completely optional and only if you want a bright yellow lemon curd. I adore using ChefMaster gel colors as they are very concentrated and you only need a tiny drop. You could also use natural plant-based colors or even a bit of turmeric powder.
Easy Step-By-Step Instructions
Here’s how to make this simple egg-free and celiac-friendly lemon cake recipe. You’ll need a large mixing bowl, a stand mixer or handheld electric one, two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans, and a spatula.
Step 1: Combine the granulated sugar and lemon zest.
Step 2: Add in the lemon juice, applesauce, milk, oil, and vanilla extract and mix.
Step 3: Measure in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix until combined.
Step 4: Add in all the dry ingredients and mix on low until just incorporated.
Step 5: Divide the cake batter into two 8-inch cake pans and bake for approximately 22-27 minutes. Cool cakes on a cooling rack.
Step 6: Combine the lemon juice, milk, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a pot and cook over medium-high until thick.
Step 7: Remove from the heat and add in the butter and food coloring (if using) and mix until melted and combine.
Step 8: Pour into a shallow container, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to cool fully.
Step 9: With the paddle attachment cream the butter, cream cheese, and lemon zest until smooth and fluffy.
Step 10: Add in the icing sugar and salt and mix until combined. Turn up to high and allow to cream until fluffy and smooth.
Step 11: Stack, fill, and frost the cake. Enjoy!
Lemon Layer Cake Assembly Success Tips
Stacking a layer cake can feel a bit scary. But, as they say, slow and steady wins the race. Let’s set you up for lovely lemon layer cake success with a few tips and tricks.
Fully Cooled Cake Layers: Even if a tiny bit warm, layers will slip when warm. Ensure that each cake layer is fully cooled if not even a bit chilled. I will even work with semi-frozen cake layers if I had to bake them a few days before stacking.
Leveled Cake Layers: Flat and level cake layers will sit far easier than crooked ones. I use this super easy cake tool to ensure each cake layer is perfectly level.
Create a Frosting Border: Pipe a frosting border between the cake layers. It acts as a dam to keep that delicious lemon curd filling in.
Keep the Cake Chilled: If at any point you begin to feel the cake slip or the frosting is too soft to work with, pop the cake and the frosting back into the fridge to chill. Remember, don’t rush it. Take your time.
How To Decorate A Dairy-Free Lemon Cake
“As you desire” is often how I refer to cake decoration. It’s not that I don’t want you to make the exact same cake as I did, it’s simply that I don’t want you to feel like you *have* to make the exact same cake.
We all have an inner cake artist and I always want to encourage you to let it shine. That said, I quickly break down this gluten-free and lactose-free lemon cake decor for you.
Step 1: Crumb-coat the cake and allow it to chill for 20 minutes. See the above section for stacking tips and tricks.
Step 2: Put a final “beauty” coat of frosting on the cake and very roughly smooth the sides of the cake smoother or offset spatula. Leave the top edge of the cake rough.
Step 3: Top with flowers and fresh lemon slices.
Step 4: Chill the cake until ready to serve. *Allow the cake to come to room temperature for 20-30 minutes before slicing.
Storing and Freezing Instructions
This cake can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days. It can also be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Bakers Tip: If you want to bake the cake layers a few days in advance, you most certainly can. Allow the layers to cool, cover them tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze until you a ready to stack and decorate the cake.
Remove the cake layers from the freezer approximately 1 hour before you plan to stack and decorate and allow them to thaw slightly at room temperature.
Better yet, this cake can be frozen fully made, and decorated. However, I do recommend placing the flowers and lemon on top on the day of serving.
Bakers Tip: Special occasions are often busy and I will sometimes freeze an entire finished cake a few days in advance to save time and stress.
The night before you plan to serve the cake, remove it from the freezer and place it in the fridge to slowly thaw overnight. Do not take it straight from the freezer to room temperature. Doing so will cause condensation and you will risk the cake toppling.
Can this be made into cupcakes?
Yes, it absolutely can. The full recipe will make approximately 24 cupcakes or you could half it for 12 cupcakes.
What other pans can I use?
This can be baked in a 9×13 cake pan (it won’t need as much frosting though), three 6-inch rounds, or two 9-inch pans. Note that the baking time will change.
Always look for golden edges that are pulling away from the pan, the top should bounce bake to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.
Can lemon curd be made in advance?
Absolutely. This easy vegan lemon curd is good in the fridge for up to 2 weeks although I highly doubt it will last that long seeing as how scrumptious it is.
What other frosting would work?
If you are not a cream cheese buttercream fan, no worries, I got you covered. Pair this bright allergy-friendly lemon cake with vanilla, white chocolate, strawberry, or raspberry frosting perhaps. And if you’re up for a flavor adventure, I highly recommend chocolate buttercream. It’s a wildly delicious combination.
How do I know when the layers are properly baked?
Look for golden brown edges that have pulled away from the cake pan and a toothpick should come out clean when inserted into the center of the cake.
The Yummiest Gluten-Free Lemon Layer Cake
A slice of summer sunshine, this fresh gluten-free vegan lemon cake is a delicious combo of sweet and tart in every yummy morsel. Soft tender layers of 100% real lemon real cake with lemon curd filling and gorgeous whipped cream cheese frosting. This lovely lemon cake is a delicious delight in every scrumptious bite.
Make sure you tag me on social media @cakedbykatie and leave me a star rating and review below if you make it. Can’t wait to see it!
More Summer Dessert Recipes
Here are a few other fresh summer-inspired sweet treats that I know you’ll enjoy:
- Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes (GF & DF)
- Gluten-Free Chantilly Cake (DF)
- Gluten-Free Blueberry Cake (DF)
- Gluten-Free Lemon Cheesecake (V)
- Gluten-Free Lemon Cupcakes (DF)
- Gluten-Free Blueberry Lemon Cookies (V)
- Gluten-Free Rhubarb Crisp (V)