Tender gluten free lemon cake with smooth and fluffy lemon cream topping. Every bite is filled with lemon flavor!
What makes this lemon cake recipe special?
Incredibly tender and moist white cake with tons of lemon flavor, this cake is filled and topped with light and bright lemon cream. There’s also a lemony crumb topping, just like the Olive Garden cake.
The crumb topping is another step, and you should feel free to skip that portion of the recipe. I mostly included it if you really miss Olive Garden and want the full experience.
There are more than a couple ingredients to this cake, particularly with the topping. That’s because we’ve made it from scratch, unlike most other copycat lemon cream cake recipes I’ve seen.
How to make this cake ahead, in stages
When I make this gluten free lemon cake, I always serve it with at least some topping—but not always the lemon cream filling as specified in the recipe.
I usually make the cakes themselves ahead of time. Just let them cool completely, wrap tightly, and freeze. Defrost at room temperature before serving. Don’t refrigerate the cakes, though, as the refrigerator tends to be drying.
If you do make the crumb topping, it can be made ahead, too. Just store it covered at room temperature for a day, or wrapped very tightly and frozen for weeks, and allow it to come to room temperature before serving.
The cream filling is quite a bit softer than a traditional buttercream frosting, so I really don’t like to fill and frost the cake until the day I plan to serve it. Cream cheese frosting is softer than all butter frosting, and folding in whipped cream softens it further.
Assemble the cake soon before you serve it, and if you store it in the refrigerator be sure to allow it to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving. Cakes made with butter taste dry when chilled.
Other frosting options
The cake has quite a bit of lemon flavor, so you don’t have to serve it with the lemon cream just to ensure that it tastes, well, like lemon cake. There are other options for frosting or even icing that taste great with this cake.
Swiss meringue buttercream
You can’t ever go wrong with a Swiss meringue buttercream. The quick, foolproof recipe I use and recommend is by SugarHero. She doesn’t cook the sugar, which makes everything a snap! You can also add some lemon zest to it, or lemon extract.
You can always make a simple glaze to pour over each individual slice, or the whole cake. Place 1 cup (115 g) confectioners’ sugar in a medium-size bowl and add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice (or water).
Mix until you have a very smooth, thick paste. Add more lemon juice until you have a very thickly pourable glaze.
Add the liquid slowly, because it’s much easier to thin it than to thicken if once you’ve added too much liquid. Pour or spoon the glaze over the cooled cake or each slice before serving.
For a classic vanilla buttercream, you’ll need 8 tablespoons (112 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 cups (115 to 175 g) confectioners’ sugar, 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, and milk by the teaspoonful, at room temperature.
For full details on how to make that buttercream, please click over to our recipe for gluten free Funfetti cupcakeswith frosting. Just leave out the edible rainbow confetti (or don’t)!
Ingredients and substitutions
There is dairy in this recipe in a few forms: milk and milk powder in the cake, butter in the cake recipes and in the cream filling/frosting, and cream cheese and heavy whipping cream in the filling. I have suggestions for how to replace all of it with non-dairy alternatives—except for the frosting.
For the butter in all cases, I highly recommend a vegan butter alternative. Melt and Miyoko’s Kitchen brands are my favorites.
For the milk powder, you can try using coconut milk powder. It does tend to be a bit drying, so add more milk by the teaspoonful until the consistency of your cake batter is right.
For the milk, any nondairy milk will work. Even water works here, but milk with some fat makes for a richer, more tender result.
This recipe calls for 1 whole egg and 3 egg whites so that it’s only made yellow by the lemon. Otherwise, it tends to be a lot darker yellow. If you’d prefer, you can use 2 whole eggs + 1 egg white instead.
If you can’t have eggs, I’m afraid I don’t recommend trying to make this cake with an egg replacer. It simply has a lot of eggs, and I don’t think you could replace them successfully.
This recipe works best with my Better Than Cup4Cup blend, which is a less starchy variation of Cup4Cup gluten free flour blend. If you don’t want to make that blend, you can use Better Batter or Cup4Cup itself.
If you use Better Batter, use the following flours:
If you use Cup4Cup, use Cup4Cup in place of all flours. Cup4Cup is quite starchy, and uses plenty of milk powder already. Here’s the full amount of Cup4Cup to use in place of the flour blend, xanthan gum, and milk powder in this recipe:
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease two 8-inch round baking pans and set them aside.
First, make the cakes. In a large bowl, place the flour blend, xanthan gum, nonfat dry milk, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest, and whisk to combine well. Break up any lumps in the lemon zest.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large bowl with a hand mixer, place the butter and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla, beating on medium-high speed until well-combined after each addition.
Add the dry ingredients and the milk and lemon juice, alternating between the dry ingredients and milk or lemon juice, and beginning and ending with the flour, beating on medium speed to combine after each addition. The batter will be fluffy but rather thick.
Divide the cake batter evenly among the two prepared cake pans and shake into an even layer in each. Place in the center of the preheated oven and bake, rotating once, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached (about 25 minutes).
Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes before inverting onto wire racks to cool completely.
Make the (optional) crumb topping. Place the flour and confectioners’ sugar in a medium-size bowl and whisk to combine well. Add the butter, vanilla and lemon juice and mix to combine. The dough will be thick.
Place the dough between two small sheets of unbleached parchment paper and roll out into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Remove the top sheet of parchment paper and transfer the dough still on the bottom sheet of parchment to a small rimmed baking sheet.
Place in the center of the preheated oven and bake for 7 minutes, or until just beginning to brown on the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes before breaking and crumbling into small pieces. Set aside.
Make the lemon cream filling. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or a large bowl with a hand mixer, place the heavy whipping cream and beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form (about 5 minutes). Scrape the whipped cream into a separate bowl and place it in the refrigerator to chill.
In the same mixer bowl, place the cream cheese and butter and beat (with the paddle attachment if using a stand mixer) until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the salt and confectioners’ sugar, and beat on low speed until the sugar is absorbed into the cream cheese-butter mixture.
Add the lemon juice and lemon zest, turn the mixer up to high speed and continue to beat until the frosting is light and fluffy (about 3 more minutes). Remove the whipped cream from the refrigerator and fold it into the cream cheese frosting.
Assemble the cake. Place one of the cooled 8-inch cakes, still upside down, in the center of a serving platter. Brush the exposed side of the cake with lemon juice and place about one-half of the lemon cream filling on top. Spread into an even layer all the way up to the edge of the cake, and top with the other cooled 8-inch cake, still upside down.
Brush the exposed side of the top cake with lemon juice and cover the whole cake, top and sides, with a very thin layer of the filling. Cover with the remaining filling on the top and as much of the sides as you like. Sprinkle the top and sides of the cake with the optional crumb topping, pressing the crumbs gently into the frosting/filling to adhere. Chill the cake for 10 minutes to make slicing and serving easier.
Adapted heavily from Food.com. Originally published on the blog in 2015. Most photos and video new; recipe tweaked slightly for clarity.