My Layered Lemon Cake with Lemony White Chocolate Frosting is proof that good things come in small packages. This 6-inch 2-layer cake has all the flavor and whimsy of a larger dessert but in a miniature format designed for smaller gatherings.
With a tender crumbed lemon sponge, a drizzle of homemade thyme simple syrup, an icing reminiscent of lemon white chocolate truffles, and a smattering of fresh fruit as filling and decoration, this elegant lemon layer cake recipe is perfect for any springtime celebration!
⭐ Why You’ll Love This Recipe
I learned early on that when life gives you lemons, you should absolutely make a luscious lemon cake. When the world at large seems overwhelming, there’s nothing quite like the sweet solace of a baking project. Tender, tart, and terrifically zingy, this pared-down mini layer cake is just what the doctor ordered!
When I think of layered cakes, I think of celebrations — Easter, Mother’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations. But, if you ask me, we could all benefit from celebrating the little wins more often. As the inimitable Oprah Winfrey sagely noted,
“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”
This 2-layer 6-inch lemon cake is the ideal size for commemorating the small things — a personal day of self-care, a long-anticipated release of a new season of your favorite show, or a good grade on a school assignment. Heck, you can even celebrate the fact that you made it to Wednesday or that you made your bed this morning!
Despite looking like a culinary masterpiece, my layered lemon cake is actually quite simple to make. You only need 10 ingredients to make the lemon sponge, and just 3 more to make the sinfully rich lemony white chocolate ganache frosting. Aside from fresh fruit, I’d bet you already have most of the ingredients in your larder.
This adorable white chocolate lemon cake can also be made in stages, meaning you can draw out the anticipation of finally getting to sink your teeth into it. Make the cake layers and freeze them up to a month in advance, and whip up the lemony truffle icing up to a week before. When you’re ready for a certified party in your mouth, all you have to do is assemble it!
This layered lemon cake with zesty white chocolate frosting doesn’t take many ingredients to make. Here’s some of the important ingredients that you’ll need:
- Unsalted Butter - Butter makes everything better, especially if you start off with better butter. For the best flavor and texture, I recommend reaching for organic, grass-fed, and/or cultured butter. Feel free to swap in your favorite non-dairy substitute if you prefer.
- Sugar - While brown and white sugar are often interchangeable, I recommend sticking to plain white sugar for this recipe.
- Eggs - Let eggs come to room temperature before adding them to your cake batter; they’ll mix in much more easily, preventing you from overmixing and ending up with a tough cake.
- Lemon Extract - I’m a big fan of the puckery perfection of lemon flavors, so I like to double down here. Feel free to swap in a few drops of food-grade lemon essential oil, or simply reach for vanilla extract instead.
- Fresh Lemons - Bottled lemon juice simply can’t hold a candle to fresh citrus. Not only does the juice taste better, but you also get the added flavor of the zest!
- Kefir - Essentially a drinkable yogurt, you can easily swap in regular plain whole-fat yogurt (not Greek). Mexican crema or creme fraiche can also be used. If you are dairy-free, find a suitable unsweetened yogurt alternative.
- Powdered Sugar - Made with just regular granulated sugar and cornstarch, this is a simple thing to make at home if you’ve run out.
- White Chocolate - Make sure to grab high-quality white chocolate that lists cocoa butter as the primary ingredient.
- Vanilla Bean Paste - I love the look of vanilla bean flecks throughout this creamy lemon cake frosting, but you can easily swap in vanilla powder or vanilla extract instead.
- Fresh Fruit - I love an array of colors against the silky white backdrop of this lemon white chocolate cake, so I went all out. Feel free to pick the fresh fruit of your choosing. I suggest berries, citrus slices, and stone fruits.
Making this mini layered lemon cake might look intimidating, but I promise it’s quite easy if you have the right equipment. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Stand Mixer - While you technically CAN make white chocolate buttercream and your lemon cake layers without one, a hand or stand mixer will make your life so much easier.
- 1x6-inch Round Cake Pans - I love this mini 2-layer 6-inch layer cake look, but you can easily adjust the recipe to fit whatever size pan you have on hand by doing a touch of math.
- Parchment Paper - The easiest way to ensure your cakes come out flawlessly from the pan is to grease and line your pans with parchment. Just trust me on this one!
- Cooling Rack - Using a cooling rack will help cool the lemon cake layers more quickly, which is of the essence if you want to get down to decorating! If you don’t have one on hand, try using the metal rack insert from your toaster oven.
- Offset Spatula - This is an optional piece of equipment, but it’ll really help in the frosting department. In a pinch, you can just use a bench scraper and a spoon.
📖 How To Make Chocolate Cake Shots — Step-by-Step Instructions
This mini lemon celebration cake will be ready before you know it! Here’s how it’s done:
Make 1x6” Lemon Cake Layers & Thyme Simple Syrup
Step 1: Make the thyme simple syrup. Heat the water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the thyme sprigs and let it sit on the heat for 30 seconds. Take the pot off the heat and let the syrup infuse until it cools completely. Drain, transfer the syrup to an airtight container, and leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to use.
Step 2: Combine the dry ingredients. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
Step 3: Combine the wet ingredients. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time until the wet ingredients are all mixed together well and add lemon extract and lemon zest.
Step 4: Finish the cake batter. Add half of the dry mixture as well as the lemon juice and kefir to the wet mixture and gently mix. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Step 5: Bake and cool. Pour the batter into prepared cake pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the lemon cake cool completely before you start assembling and decorating. Use a serrated knife to cut the lemon cake in half.
Make Lemony White Chocolate Ganache Frosting
Step 1: Cream butter: In a mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth with the paddle attachment.
Step 2: Add sugar: Add approximately half of the powdered sugar and beat again. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the rest of the powdered sugar. Continue beating for a few minutes, scraping the sides as needed, until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
Step 3: Add white chocolate: Finally, add the melted chocolate, lemon zest, and vanilla - continue beating until the frosting is thick and fluffy.
Assemble & Enjoy
Now that the lemon cake and white chocolate buttercream are ready, it’s time to assemble and decorate!
Step 1: Drizzle the thyme syrup on top. Use a toothpick to poke small holes all over the top of the cake. Drizzle the thyme simple syrup over the top so it soaks right into the cake.
Step 2: Add the icing. Spread the lemony white chocolate buttercream over the top of the first layer of cake using an offset spatula or spoon. Feel free to spread it on the sides as well!
Step 3: Add fruit. Sprinkle a layer of chopped fruit on the first layer of buttercream, keeping about 1” of clearance from the edges of the cake.
Step 4: Repeat. Add the second layer of cake atop the fruit. Add more frosting as needed, using an offset spatula or spoon to coat the rest of the cake. Garnish the cake with fresh fruit and thyme sprigs. Slice it up and dig in!
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tips
My layered lemon cake with lemony white chocolate frosting is actually pretty simple to pull off. That said, I just can’t help but share some of my favorite tips:
- Work in stages. There’s no baking law that says a recipe must be made to completion in one sitting, so give yourself a little grace! Try making the lemon cake layers one day, the white chocolate frosting the next day, and assembling on the third day. Not only will the cake still be delicious, but you’ll also get three solid days with time spent in the kitchen – which is yet another thing to celebrate!
- Use fresh lemon. You’ll need lots of zest here, so grab about ½ dozen lemons. Be sure to only use the bright yellow part of the zest, as the white pith is quite bitter. Lemons that have been zested but not juiced will keep in the fridge for a few days, but will dry out much more quickly than their in-tact counterparts. To get the most juice from your fruits, give them a firm roll on the countertop for 10-15 seconds before cutting.
- Use in-season fruits for your garnish & filling. Lemon plays nicely with just about every fruit that I can think of! While I had lots of fun layering on kiwiberries, lemon wheels, thyme, strawberries, plums, and blueberries (so many dazzling colors!!!), feel free to opt for a less bountiful array. Simply decorating with just one or two types of berries and some fresh thyme will still look stunning. Just be sure to reach for peak season produce to get the best flavors possible for this fresh fruit cake recipe.
- For the best results and a rich flavor profile, consider using cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. Cake flour is finer and yields a lighter, softer sponge cake that pairs perfectly with the lemony white chocolate frosting.
- Presentation is key, especially for special occasions. After frosting, consider garnishing the top layer with thin slices of seasonal fruits or a sprinkle of confectioners' sugar. This brightens up the cake visually and offers an added burst of flavor with each bite.
💭 Recipe FAQs
Absolutely! Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners and fill each to about the ⅔ way mark. You’ll need to keep an eye on the bake time; I’d suggest starting to check around the 18-22 minute mark.
Lemons taste like sunshine, but there’s more than one type of citrus to lean into. Try swapping in Meyer lemons for a less tart cake, or opt for limes to go more tropical on your fresh fruit cake.
If you weren’t able to snag any good looking produce from the store, don’t fret. Try using lemon curd or passionfruit curd as your filling, and turn to edible flowers, fresh herbs, sprinkles, or dried citrus wheels as your garnish.
You can easily whip up the white chocolate buttercream up to a week in advance and keep it in the fridge. It can also be frozen for up to a month.
A great way to ensure a moist cake is by brushing each sponge cake layer with sugar syrup using a pastry brush. This not only keeps the layers moist but also adds a hint of sweetness.
Fresh berries can be a delightful addition, but it's essential to be mindful of moisture. It's recommended to use a thin layer of cream frosting first, then place your fresh fruit filling or berries, ensuring the whole cake retains its structure and the fruits don't make the layers soggy.
More Springtime Desserts
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Layered Lemon Cake With Lemony White Chocolate Frosting
Thyme Simple Syrup
- ½ Cup (125 g) Water
- ½ Cup (100 g) Granulated Sugar
- 4 sprigs Thyme, sliced into thin circles
- 1 ¼ cups (155 g) All-Purpose Flour
- 1 teaspoon Baking Powder
- ⅛ teaspoon Baking Soda
- ¼ teaspoon Salt
- ½ cup (114 g) Unsalted Butter, room temperature
- ¾ Cup (150 g) Sugar
- 2 Eggs, large
- ¼ teaspoon Lemon Extract, or vanilla extract
- 4 Lemons, zested
- ⅓ cup + 1 Tbsp (100 g) Kefir
- ¼ cup (61 g) Lemon Juice
White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
- ¾ Cup (170 g) Unsalted Butter, Room Temperature
- 1 ½ Cups (180 g) Powdered Sugar, sifted
- ¾ Cup (130 g) White Chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
- 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Bean Paste, or vanilla extract
- 1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
- Fresh Fruit
- Sprigs of thyme or edible flowers
Thyme Simple Syrup
- Pour your measured water and sugar into a saucepan and heat on medium½ Cup Water, ½ Cup Granulated Sugar
- Cook, stirring the mixture, until your sugar has completely dissolved.
- Add thyme sprigs and continue heating for 30 seconds before removing from heat4 sprigs Thyme
- Allow syrup to infuse for half and hour as the simple syrup cools completely
- Strain syrup into airtight container and store in the fridge or until you're ready to use.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Sift all your dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium-sized bowl, give it a whisk and set aside.1 ¼ cups All-Purpose Flour, 1 teaspoon Baking Powder, ⅛ teaspoon Baking Soda, ¼ teaspoon Salt
- Add the butter and sugar into a large bowl and beat together until light in color and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.½ cup Unsalted Butter
- Add the eggs one at a time, then scrape the bowl making sure ingredients are mixed well before adding extract and lemon zest.2 Eggs, ¼ teaspoon Lemon Extract, 4 Lemons, ¾ Cup Sugar
- Add ½ the dry ingredients, then add the combined lemon juice and kefir to the batter. Finally add the last half of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon Kefir, ¼ cup Lemon Juice
- Pour batter into a greased 6-inch cake pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. Make sure to check that the cake is fully baked with a toothpick before removing from the oven and allow to cool completely before assembling.
White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
- In a mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth with the paddle attachment.¾ Cup Unsalted Butter
- Add approximately half of the powdered sugar and beat again. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the rest of the powdered sugar. Continue beating for a few minutes, scraping the sides as needed, until the mixture is smooth and creamy.1 ½ Cups Powdered Sugar
- Finally, add the melted chocolate, vanilla, and lemon zest - continuing to beat until the frosting is thick and fluffy.¾ Cup White Chocolate, 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Bean Paste, 1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
- Once you've prepared all the cake components - it's time to assemble your cake! First off, slice the baked lemon cake in two equal layers using a serrated knife. Then, poke many small holes into your lemon cake with a toothpick before drizzling some of your thyme simple syrup over the top of each cake layer. This ensures that it is incredibly moist and bursting with lemon and thyme flavor!
- Add half of your white chocolate buttercream on top of the first cake layer and spread evenly. Add some fresh fruit on top before placing the second cake layer. and covering with remaining frosting. Utilizing a spoon or an offset spatula, create swirls and swoops to your liking into the buttercream! I used a small offset spatula to create the swirls you see below.
- Add the decoration of your liking on top! I added a couple of different layers of fruits, then a few sprigs of thyme for a pleasing aesthetic.Fresh Fruit, Sprigs of thyme or edible flowers
- Can I turn this recipe into lemon cupcakes instead of a layer cake? Absolutely! Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners and fill each to about the ⅔ way mark. You’ll need to keep an eye on the bake time; I’d suggest starting to check around the 18-22 minute mark.
- Can I substitute a different kind of citrus for the lemons? Lemons taste like sunshine, but there’s more than one type of citrus to lean into. Try swapping in Meyer lemons for a less tart cake, or opt for limes to go more tropical.
- Can I add food coloring to the lemon white chocolate truffle icing? Sure thing! I’d recommend using gel food coloring for the best, most vibrant colors.
- What can I use in place of fresh fruit for my garnish and filling? If you weren’t able to snag any good looking produce from the store, don’t fret. Try using lemon curd or passionfruit curd as your filling, and turn to edible flowers, fresh herbs, sprinkles, or dried citrus wheels as your garnish.
- How long does homemade frosting last? You can easily whip up the white chocolate buttercream up to a week in advance and keep it in the fridge. It can also be frozen for up to a month.