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Lemon Snack Cake
I have been a fan of snack cakes for years, and I'm SO excited to add a lemon version to my collection. This lemon snack cake starts with a lemony vanilla cake base and is topped off with a lemon cream cheese frosting; each bite is pure perfection.
If you're craving a bright and zesty lemon cake and love a good cream cheese frosting, then this cake was made for you. It's a super moist and fluffy cake and it honestly tastes like the iced lemon loaf from Starbucks (which is a guilty pleasure of mine.)
Not only is this lemon snack cake ridiculously delicious, but it's also ridiculously easy to make. It’s one bowl (kinda) so if you can mix and stir and pour, you can make this cake!
Ingredients & Substitutions
This lemon snack cake doesn't require a ton of ingredients; here's what you'll need:
- Butter: You'll want to use unsalted butter here; make sure it's properly softened!
- Lemon zest: You'll need 2 tablespoons of zest for the cake, and ½ tablespoon for the frosting; you'll need about three whole lemons total.
- Granulated sugar: Using all white sugar allows the lemon flavor to be the star of the show.
- Eggs: Only 2 large eggs are needed!
- Buttermilk: Buttermilk brings a pleasant tang to the cake and helps keep the cake tender by inhibiting gluten formation. If you don't have buttermilk on hand, use ⅔ cup (160 grams) of milk with 2 teaspoons of either lemon juice or vinegar!
- Lemon juice: It's a lemon snack cake, after all! Make sure you're using fresh lemon juice; no bottles allowed!
- Vanilla: I use vanilla bean paste for the cake and the frosting, but you can use an equal amount of vanilla extract instead if that's all you have on hand!
- All-purpose flour: I tested this cake with both all-purpose flour and cake flour and found that all-purpose consistently leads to the best results with this recipe.
- Baking powder & baking soda: For a little leavening action.
- Fine sea salt: Desserts without salt can taste a little plain, so don't forget it!
- Cream cheese: For the lemon cream cheese frosting.
- Powdered sugar: Again, for the frosting!
How to Make Lemon Snack Cake
This lemon snack cake couldn't be much easier to make, honestly! There are two main components: the lemon cake and the lemon cream cheese frosting.
1. The Lemon Cake
Honestly, this lemon cake is delicious on its own without the frosting. It's jam-packed with lemon zest and lemon juice. The best part? It's basically a one-bowl recipe and SOOOO simple to make. Like seriously, if you can hold a whisk and spatula, you can make this cake!
To make the cake, you'll start by creaming the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until nice and fluffy. Then you'll add in the eggs one at a time and the vanilla and, again, beat until combined. In a small measuring cup, you'll combine the buttermilk and lemon juice, and then gradually add the dry ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk mixture until everything is incorporated. Then just pour the batter into your prepared baking pan and you're ready to send it off to the oven!
2. The Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
Honestly, this frosting is so good that you'll be eating it by the spoonful. To make, you'll beat together the softened cream cheese, butter, and lemon zest until combined. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla bean paste, and lemon juice and continue beating until smooth and combined. Then, you're ready to spread the frosting on top of your cake once it's fully cooled!
Recipe Troubleshooting & FAQ
LEMON SNACK CAKE: FAQ
Can this recipe be doubled?
Absolutely! You can double this recipe and bake it in a 13×9-inch pan. You can adjust the 'servings' slider from 9 to 18 in the recipe card to get the proper measurements. Just keep in mind that your sheet cake might take a few minutes longer to bake overall.
Can I use bottled lemon juice?
No no no no! Bottled lemon juice is okay to use when it's just a splash used as a flavor enhancer, but you don't want to use it when the lemon flavor is the star of the show (aka things like lemon bars or this cake).
For starters, fresh lemon juice has less time to oxidize and no funny preservatives, which means its flavor is brighter and more pronounced compared to the bitter or muted bottled versions. Also, this recipe requires a decent amount of lemon zest, so you should have fresh lemon juice on hand!
How do I store this lemon snack cake?
This lemon snack cake can be placed in an airtight container and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days!
Why is this recipe in grams?
I post my recipes in grams as it's the most accurate way to bake and it's how I develop them; cups are not only inaccurate but they vary in volume worldwide! However, if you look at the recipe card underneath the ingredients list, you can click "US Customary" and it'll convert to volume measures.
LEMON SNACK CAKE: TROUBLESHOOTING
Help! My cake is dry! What did I do wrong?
This cake is anything but dry! If yours turns out as such, you likely either added too much flour or overbaked it! It could also be a combination of the two! For the best results, use a scale to make this recipe and keep a close eye on it in the oven!
Help! My cake sunk in the middle! What did I do wrong?
A little bit of sinking when cooling is natural, but if the cake completely sinks to the point where the edges of the cake are higher than the middle, then something went wrong! It's possible that you underbaked the cake and removed it from the oven before the middle got a chance to finish baking. Adding too much leavener could also cause the cake to rapidly rise while baking and then collapse while cooling.
I like to use the toothpick test when testing if the cake is done. Insert the toothpick into the center of the cake; if the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. If there's still batter on it, the cake will need a few minutes longer.
Watch How to Make this Lemon Snack Cake:
Lemon Snack Cake
For the Lemon Cake:
- 196 g all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 150 g unsalted butter softened
- 200 g granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoon lemon zest
- 2 large eggs (100 g)
- 2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 160 g buttermilk room temperature
- 45 g lemon juice
For the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 113 g cream cheese softened
- 57 g unsalted butter softened
- ½ tablespoon lemon zest
- 300 g powdered sugar
- 15 g lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
To Make the Lemon Cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) grease an 8×8-inch baking pan or line with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a handheld mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition. Add the vanilla and beat until well combined. Don't worry if the mixture looks slightly curdled at this stage!
- In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and lemon juice until combined. With the mixer running on low, gradually add the dry ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk mixture. Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth it out evenly with a spatula. Bake the cake for 28-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and relatively crumb-free. Remove cake from oven and let cool completely to room temperature.
To Make the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting:
- In a large bowl, beat the softened cream cheese, butter, and lemon zest together until smooth and combined.
- Add the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla bean paste. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then switch to high speed and beat for 2 minutes.
- Frost cooled cake however you’d like; I used an offset spatula.
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So delicious! Tender, great icing!