This lemon butter cake has a buttery lemon crust with a gooey filling packed with tart lemon flavour. It’s like a cross between a lemon bar and cheesecake. The filling sinks down into the crust when baking, creating an irresistible, gooey center. The cake is easy to make and is quite possibly one of my favourite lemon desserts.
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Why you will LOVE this recipe:
- Gooey: It has a gooey, creamy filling that’s tart and packed with lemon flavour.
- Buttery: The crust is buttery and zesty.
- Easy: The cake comes together easily without an electric mixer. The crust and filling couldn’t be easier to make and more impressive.
- Lemon: It’s packed with tart lemon flavour. No need for any lemon extracts.
Loads of lemon flavour without extract
I don't like the flavour of lemon extract so I've discovered an alternate way to get loads of lemon flavour naturally.
I like to rub together sugar and lemon zest with my fingers before adding everything else. The sugar helps to release all of that lemon oil in the zest. It'll start becoming pale yellow and maybe a touch clumpy.
It's actually a really satisfying sensory experience too!
How to get that gooey filling
The cake batter is topped with a cream cheese custard filling. As it bakes, the custard sinks into the middle of the cake, creating a gooey filling.
The lemon butter cake filling uses egg yolks to help thicken, which also helps make the middle a lemon yellow colour without using yellow food colouring. It makes it extra rich.
Just a few simple ingredients (plus lemon juice and zest) create a gooey filling that tastes like a cross between lemon bars and cheesecake.
Buttery lemon cake batter
The cake batter is packed with butter and lemon. It's tart, sweet, and slightly chewy from the butter. It puffs up in the oven then settles into a dense, moist cake with chewy edges. Almost like a lemon bar but much softer and cake-like.
Since it has lots of butter in it I recommend using a good quality real butter. Cultured butter will give the cake an even more complex flavour.
If you're using a springform baking pan, I recommend placing it on top of a cookie sheet to catch any butter that may drip out the bottom when baking. I forgot to and a few drops of butter dripped onto the bottom of my oven, setting off my smoke alarm.
You can make this into all different flavours! Check out this lime gooey butter cake. Just swap the lemon juice and zest with your citrus of choice:
- grapefruit gooey butter cake
- orange (or even blood orange) gooey butter cake
Make ahead & storage
For the best gooey texture, I recommend serving the cake warm out of the oven.
For a firmer texture, chill the cake for a few hours or overnight (like you would a cheesecake). Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.
This lemon butter cake will keep well in the fridge (store in an airtight container or cake carrier) for up to 3 days. You can freeze slices in an airtight container for up to 2 months. Wrap them in parchment paper to prevent them from sticking in the freezer.
Full steps and ingredients in recipe card below. But read through these for all the tips you will need for success!
Lemons: Fresh lemons give the cake all the lemon flavour.
Cream cheese: Use full fat brick style cream cheese.
Powdered sugar: Don't replace this with granulated sugar or the filling will be gritty.
Egg yolks: This gives the filling a yellow colour and thickens the filling
Butter: The cake batter has lots of butter so use a good quality real butter for best flavour and results
All purpose flour: Weigh the flour to get the most accurate results. If you don’t have a scale, measure properly by stirring the bag and spooning gently into a measuring cup. Scrape the excess off the top with the flat edge off a knife without packing it into the cup.
Step by step: cake batter
Step 1 - Preheat oven to 340°F (170°C). Grease a 9” round springform pan with a small piece of butter. If using a regular round pan, make sure to line the bottom and sides with parchment paper to be able to lift it out easily.
Step 2 - Combine grated lemon zest, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Using your fingers, rub the mixture until the sugar becomes fragrant and pale yellow.
Step 3 - Add the melted cooled butter, egg, lemon juice, and whisk to combine. Sift flour and baking powder into the same bowl. Gently fold with a spatula to make a thick batter.
Step 4 - Spread batter evenly into the greased baking pan.
How to make the gooey filling
Step 1 - Combine cream cheese and powdered sugar in a large bowl. Mix with a spatula to break up any lumps.
Step 2 - Add salt, egg yolks, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Whisk until smooth and creamy. You can use an electric mixer but you don’t need to.
Step 3 - Pour the filling onto the batter. Place the baking pan onto a larger baking sheet (this will catch any butter leaking out of the bottom). Place into the middle of the oven.
Step 4 - Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the middle is puffed. If you see it browning too quickly, tent the top with a piece of aluminum foil.
Step 5 - Let cool for 10 minutes before releasing the sides of the pan or lifting out the cake. Slide it onto a serving plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve.
Yes, you can swap for lime, orange, blood orange, or even grapefruit. Use the rind and freshly squeezed juice.
Yes, you may have to add 5 minutes to the baking time since it'll be thicker and watch so it doesn't burn. Tent with foil if it starts getting too golden brown.
I haven't tried it and I don't recommend it. You can serve the cake with lemon curd if you like for even more lemon flavour. Check out these lemon curd filled cookies to use up your lemon curd.
You can bake this in an 8" or 9" square pan and cut into bars. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper, leaving handles on the sides to be able to lift it out.
Or you can bake in a regular pan (8" or 9" will work), and line the bottom and sides with one whole piece of parchment paper. Leave enough overhang off the sides to be able to lift it out in one piece.
No. It lacks all of that zesty lemon flavour that you get when you squeeze a fresh lemon.
You need lemon zest for this recipe anyways. Grate the zest first. Cut in half and then squeeze the juice.
You will need about 2-3 large lemons. It may vary depending on the size of your lemons.
Check out these other recipes:
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Lemon Butter Cake
- 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 lemon zested
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 large egg room temperature
- 1 cup unsalted butter melted and cooled
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice freshly squeezed (from about 1 ½ large lemons)
- 2 ¾ cups all purpose flour
- 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 8 oz cream cheese softened (full fat, brick style)
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice freshly squeezed (from about 1 large lemon)
- 1 lemon zested
- 4 tablespoons powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 340°F (170°C). Grease a 9” round springform pan with a small piece of butter. If using a regular round pan, line the bottom and sides with parchment paper to be able to lift it out easily.
- Combine grated lemon zest, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Using your fingers, rub the mixture until the sugar becomes fragrant and pale yellow.1 ½ cup granulated sugar, 1 lemon, ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Add the egg, lemon juice, and melted cooled butter. Whisk to combine.1 large egg, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 cup unsalted butter
- Sift flour and baking powder into the same bowl. Gently fold with a spatula to make a thick batter. Spread batter evenly into the greased baking pan.2 ¾ cups all purpose flour, 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- Combine softened cream cheese and powdered sugar in a large bowl. Mash with a spatula to break up any lumps.8 oz cream cheese, 2 cups powdered sugar
- Add salt, egg yolks, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Whisk until smooth and creamy. You can use an electric mixer but you don’t need to.⅛ teaspoon sea salt, 2 large egg yolks, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 lemon
- Pour the filling on top of the batter. Place the baking pan onto a larger baking sheet (this will prevent butter leaking out of the bottom). Place into the middle of the oven.
- Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the middle is puffed. If you see it browning too quickly, tent the top with a piece of aluminum foil.
- Let cool for 10 minutes before releasing the sides of the pan or lifting out the cake. Slide it onto a serving plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve immediately for extra gooey-ness or chill for a firmer texture.4 tablespoons powdered sugar