A light and fluffy lemon buttermilk cake with your favourite summer berry compote for summer time. Decorated with pretty cream cheese buttercream flowers, it’s the perfect summer cake.
This post was originally shared in July 2018. It has been updated with improvements to the text and recipe clarity as of June 2020.
Lemon Buttermilk Cake
This is a quintessentially summer cake – a sweet and slightly tart cake, with both lemon and buttermilk coming through, filled with a homemade raspberry compote. Frosted with a classic cream cheese icing, it’s very worthy of any summer celebration.
The cake base is fluffy and light but sturdy enough to be layered. It’s really not a massive cake – the three layers are baked in 15cm (6-inch) tins so it’s narrow and tall rather than simply large. If you don’t have such small tins, you can do two 20cm (8-inch) cakes instead.
Though it’s not necessary to decorate with roses or other flowers, it’s too pretty not to! We have a couple posts on this; how to make buttercream roses, and how to use piping tips to elevate your cakes. You’re using a cream cheese icing rather than buttercream here, but the method is the same.
This is a long post but it’s mostly to describe the method and reasoning behind it – if you’re a seasoned layer cake baker, you won’t need this, but it provides more insight into the recipe.
For the Cake:
- Unsalted butter
- Granulated sugar
- Two lemons (zest and juice)
- All-purpose white flour
- Baking powder, baking soda, and salt
For the Compote:
- Fresh or frozen raspberries
- Cornstarch or arrowroot powder
- Granulated sugar
You can use pre-made raspberry jam instead if you prefer, or another berry here – see substitutions below for full notes on this.
For the Icing:
- Softened cream cheese
- Unsalted butter
- Confectioners (powder) sugar
- Whole milk
- Vanilla extract
Making the Cake
To make the cake, you might want to make buttermilk beforehand – you can buy it pre-made, but can easily make it at home by adding a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to ⅔ cup of whole milk and letting it sit for 10-15 minutes before using.
The oven is preheated beforehand, and cake tins are greased with butter (not lined) and set aside. The dry ingredients are whisked together in a large bowl – this means you don’t have to sift, because whisking will remove any lumps.
In another bowl (you might want to do this bit in your standing mixer bowl) rub the lemon zest into the sugar. It should smell amazing. Then, beat the butter into the sugar until lightened in colour and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each in to fully combine. You do this to prevent curdling and for a nice cohesive, well mixed batter.
Mix the lemon juice into the buttermilk, then add half the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk mixture into the large mixing bowl with the sugar/butter/eggs. Beat on low speed until it’s just mixed, then add the remaining ingredients and mix again until just combined. Batter, done. Divide it equally amongst the prepared tins, bake, and cool.
Filling, Icing, and Assembly
For the raspberry compote, everything is cooked together in a small saucepan at a low boil until the raspberries break down (about ten minutes), then simmered on low heat until thickened. You can push it through a sieve to remove the seeds, but it’s personal preference.
For the cream cheese buttercream, the butter and cream cheese are beaten until uniform. The sugar, milk, and vanilla are then added and mixed until very smooth and fluffy. Like the cake batter, this ensures a nice smooth icing without lumps.
To assemble the cake, you do a thick border of frosting around the edge of each layer to create a dam; this prevents any of the raspberry compote from leaking out the sides of the cake. The middle is filled with compote, another cake layer goes on, repeat, and then the final layer. Ice the outside with more cream cheese frosting, and then you have the option to pipe flowers or other shapes onto the top and sides. If you want to do flowers, you should double the frosting recipe.
Why Use Buttermilk
Buttermilk has two uses in this cake. First, it adds a nice tangy flavour and pairs well with the tart lemon and raspberries. That’s often why it’s used in baking, but also why you’ll find buttermilk in savoury recipes. We use it in buttermilk biscuits, but also raspberry buttermilk muffins (see again paired with raspberries), and the classic buttermilk waffles. It’s often used in buttermilk fried chicken, for example, too.
The second big thing is that buttermilk contains extra lactic acid, and it breaks down the gluten in the flour. This results in a softer crumb, adds to a greater rise in the cake, and makes it more tender. All around good.
If you don’t have AP flour, you can use pastry flour for this cake. You might be able to get away with whole wheat pastry flour, but we haven’t tried it. Any icing recipe you like can be used in place of the cream cheese icing – though we don’t recommend straying from this – and you can certainly use regular buttercream for the decorations if you prefer.
If you don’t have raspberries, you can either use raspberry jam or jelly for the filling of the cake (though it might be a bit sweet), or use another berry instead. Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries would all be delicious. If you want to go a different route, apricot or another stone fruit would be great too.
Salted butter is okay to use if you don’t have unsalted, but it’ll change the flavour of the cake slightly. Arrowroot or tapioca starch can be used instead of cornstarch for the compote.
More Layer Cakes
If you make this lemon cake, let us know by tagging @baked_theblog + #bakedtheblog on Instagram! We love to feel like we’re in the kitchen with you.
Lemon Buttermilk Cake
- ½ cup plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Zest of two lemons
- 2 large eggs
- 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- ⅔ cup buttermilk
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
- 1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp water
Cream Cheese Frosting
- ½ cup cream cheese, softened
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 2-3 cups confectioners sugar
- 2-4 tbsp whole milk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
FOR THE LEMON Buttermilk CAKE
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease three 6-inch cake pans. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to combine. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, use your fingers to rub together the lemon zest with the sugar, until sugar is fragrant. Add the butter and beat with the lemon-sugar on high speed until pale yellow and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating between each to incorporate fully.
- In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk and lemon juice.
Add half of the buttermilk mixture and half of the flour mixture to the large mixing bowl, and beat on low speed until just combined. Add the remaining halves and beat again until just mixed and no streaks of flour are visible.
- Divide the mixture evenly among the three prepared cake tin and bake for 26-28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean.
- Cool the cakes in the tins for 10-15 minutes before removing. Let the cake layers cool completely on a cooling rack before assembling.
FOR RASPBERRY COMPOTE
- Cook the raspberries, cornstarch, sugar and water in a small saucepan, covered, over medium heat until the berries start to break down, about 10 minutes.
- Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the compote is thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely.
- Optionally, push the compote through a fine sieve to remove the seeded pulp.
For the cream cheese frosting
- Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth.
- With the mixer on low, mix in the sugar, milk, and vanilla until smooth. Sugar is to taste and the milk should be added with 2 tbsp to start, and adding another tbsp or two if the icing is too thick.
- Once incorporated, turn up the mixer to medium-high and beat until fluffy.
- Place the first cake layer down on your cake stand or plate.
- Fill a pastry bag with a third of the cream cheese frosting. Pipe a thick border of frosting around the the perimeter of the cake layer.
- Fill the centre with raspberry compote.
- Place next cake layer on top and repeat, adding the icing followed by the compote.
- Place the final layer onto the cake, then add icing to the top and sides, using an offset spatula to smooth. Ice with buttercream roses or other decorations and serve. Leftovers are best kept refrigerated due to the cream cheese frosting.
*If you are going to do buttercream flowers/extra piping work, double the icing recipe.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 521Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 63mgSodium: 217mgCarbohydrates: 100gFiber: 2gSugar: 82gProtein: 5g
This is an approximation of the nutrition offered in this recipe, and is created using a nutrition calculator.