When I offer people gluten-free lemon cake as an option they don’t always jump on it. But if I give them a sample, that’s a different story. This gluten-free lemon cake is deliciously moist, dairy-free and the recipe makes 2 tall layers for a cake that is perfect for any occasion.
Be sure to check out my full list of gluten-free cake recipes including my gluten-free red velvet cake, dreamy gluten-free coconut cake and my gluten-free lemon drizzle loaf cake with a tart and sweet lemon icing,
If you prefer a store bought blend, I highly recommend King Arthur Gluten-Free Measure for Measure flour (a 1-to-1 gf flour). It works best in this recipe and many of my gluten-free baked goods. It is also the most affordable of the gluten-free flours I’ve tested. Be sure to check out my collection of King Arthur Gluten-Free Flour recipes.
Cup4Cup (contains dairy) and Pamela’s All Purpose Artisan Blend are similar and will work also. All of these flours are certified gluten-free.
Whichever gluten-free flour you use, read the label. If yours contains xanthan gum, guar gum or inulin, there’s no need to add the xanthan gum called for in the recipe.
I prefer to mix up my own gluten-free blend so I can use flours other than rice flour. See the notes in the recipe for a super simple DIY gluten-free flour blend or my blog post on gluten–free flours for baking.
The key to the lemon flavor in this gluten-free cake is lots of lemon zest and lemon extract. I tested the cake recipe with lemon juice and found that I had to add A LOT to get the lemon flavor I wanted. The acid also had a negative affect on the cake.
Lemon zest is the outer layer of the lemon skin and has a strong pop of flavor. Using a microplane is the easiest and best way to zest a lemon. If you haven’t used lemon zest before, here is a quick tutorial on how to zest a lemon.
PRO TIP: I like to add the zest to the milk the night before or the morning before and let it sit in the refrigerator. This allows the lemon zest to really give up its flavor into the cake, You can also warm the milk with the lemon zest for 10-15 seconds in the microwave. This will help flavor the milk and the cake.
You can use a regular lemon extract or a lemon flavor (alcohol-free). My favorite lemon flavor is Simply Organic
How to Tell When the Cake is Done
I find it much easier to tell when a gluten-free cake is ready. When the top of this cake is set, you can be pretty sure it’s done. The surface of the layer will be uniformly set, unlike gluten-filled cakes that can look set but sometimes be under-done on the inside. I feel pretty confident that it’s ready without having to drop in a toothpick.
Very gently tap the center of the cake. If it bounces back, the cake is done. If there is indent, keep baking.
How to Stack a 2-Layer Cake
If you want a bakery style cake with two even, straight layers and a flat, level top, here is how to assemble your cake:
- Use a long blade, serrated knife.
- Hold it parallel to the counter top and shave off the domed part of the cake top. Do this for both layers.
- Place one of the layers on a cake plate or cake board, bottom side down. Then place it on a cake turntable if you have one.
- Coat just the top of this layer with frosting. Press down firmly to get the frosting to adhere and spread in one direction. If you make a back and forth sweeping motion you will peel crumbs off the top of the cake.
- Place the other layer on top of it, bottom side up. This will give you a nice flat, sharp-edged top layer.
- Now frost the outside of the cake.
Lots more details for stacking and frosting a layer cake are included in the recipe card below.
Gluten-Free Lemon Layer Cake
- zest of 2 lemons
- 1 cup dairy-free milk almond, coconut, soy
- 1 c oil – sunflower, avocado, canola or other neutral flavored vegetable
- 2½ c gluten-free flour blend* gluten-free, rice-free flour option
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp xanthan gum omit if your flour blend contains it
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 c sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 Tbsp lemon extract
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- This recipe can easily be mixed by hand with a wire whisk and rubber spatula. Electric and stand mixers can be used too.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and line 2 round 8 or 9 inch cake pans. The parchment paper liner is optional but will make removing the baked cakes much easier.
- Zest the lemons and mix with the oil and milk. I do this right into my 2 cup measuring cup. Set aside. This will allow time for the lemon zest to give up its flavor to the liquid. If I think of it, I do this the night before I make the cake and store in the fridge.
- In a large mixing bowl mix the flour, baking powder, salt and xanthan gum, if using.
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, beat the sugar with the oil/milk/zest, eggs, lemon extract and vanilla extract. Beat until the mixture is creamy.
- Create a well in the middle of the flour mixture.
- Add the liquid ingredients.
- Start with a rubber spatula if mixing by hand or on low for electric mixers.
- Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl using a silicone or rubber spatula.
- Mix for another 15 seconds on high or with a whisk until the batter is mostly smooth.
- Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans. Use a measuring cup if you want super even layers – about 2½ cups per pan.
- Bake 40-45 minutes for 8" layers and 30-35 minutes for 9" layers or until the top is set and bounces back from a very gentle tap.
- Cool the cakes in the pan for 5-10 minutes.
- Run a knife or small offset spatula around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake.
- To remove them from the pan, place a wire rack upside down on top of the pan.
- Flip the pan and rack over together. Carefully remove the pan and parchment, if it is stuck. Let cool at least 2 hours before frosting.
- I recommend coating this cake with my vanilla buttercream frosting.
How to Stack and Frost a Layer Cake
- These tools are super helpful for the process:Cake turntable, a 9-10 inch offset spatula, a serrated knife with a long blade, an 8 or 9 inch cake board or cake plate, a piping bag or gallon sized ziptop bag and a 9 inch cake scraper
- Place a dollop of frosting on the cake board or a cake plate. Place one of the layers on it, top side up. The frosting will keep the cake in place.
- Hold the long serrated knife parallel to the cake keeping it as level as you can.
- Gently saw back and forth to remove the dome from the layer. This will create a flat surface so that your cake layers stack more level.
- Gently brush off any loose crumbs.
- Flip the other layer over onto a plate or another rack and remove the dome.
- Place about 3/4 cup of frosting on top of the cake layer that's on the cake board.
- Use the offset spatula to evenly spread the frosting over the top (do not worry about the sides of the cake yet). As frosting accumulates on the spatula, scrape it off into a bowl.IMPORTANT: Press firmly and make long strokes starting from the middle and sweeping to the outside. Do not use a back and forth motion as this will peel off crumbs from the cake.
- Once you have the frosting covering the top, hold one edge of the spatula with one edge touching the frosting and the other edge angled up slightly and spin the turntable to level out the frosting.
- Take the other layer and place it bottom side up on top of the frosted layer. Try your best to align it evenly – adjusting it once it's on can be tricky.
- Now you'll put a "crumb coat" on the outside of the cake. This is a thin layer of frosting that will seal in the crumbs and make it easier to have a cleanly frosted cake.
- Place 1/2 cup of frosting on the top layer.
- Spread it using the same technique as you did for the bottom layer but this will be a much thinner layer of frosting.
- Place 1½ cups frosting ino the piping or zip top bag. Push all the frosting to the bottom (1 of the bottom corners of a zip top) and twist the bag tightly. Cut ½ inch off the tip.
- Pipe a line of frosting onto the side of each layer.
- Use the cake scraper to spread it in a thin layer by holding the scraper at an angle to the cake and spinning the turntable. Press firmly with the scraper.After you make a couple of rotations, scrape the excess frosting off of the scraper into a bowl. Then continue until you have a relatively smooth, even, thin layer of frosting.
- Smooth the top edge using the offset spatula.
- Place the cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. This will firm the crumb coat and create a stable, smooth surface for applying the final coat of frosting.
- Place the remainder of the frosting into the piping bag and cut a larger opening. Pipe about 1/2 cup of frosting on top.
- Spread the frosting in an even layer – continue to spread in one direction and spin the turntable to help even it out.
- The cake scraper is a great tool for smoothing it out.
- The trend in cakes has been to keep the sides of the cake very lightly frosted. If the crumb coat is enough for you, stop here. Otherwise . . .
- Pipe a line of frosting all the way around each layer and use the cake scraper to spread it evenly.
- Finally use the offset spatula to clean up the outside edge.