Vegan Lemon Cake

Enjoy this light and fluffy vegan lemon cake with lemon buttercream frosting for a sweet and tangy treat.

lemon cake with dried lemon slices on a white cake stand

This vegan lemon cake is an excellent springtime recipe to make for those bright, sunny days. Paired with a fruity, vegan lemon frosting, it makes a perfect dessert for Easter or Mother’s Day brunch.

You’re just a few short ingredients away from lemony bliss.

Ingredient Notes

Dry Ingredients for the cake:

  • Cake flour and All-purpose - this combination gives a good balance of structure and lightness for layer cakes.

    Using only all-purpose flour or cake flour is fine. Be careful not to overmix the batter or the cake could become dense.
  • Granulated sugar
  • Baking soda
  • Salt

Wet Ingredients for the cake:

  • Soy milk
  • Fresh Lemon juice and zest
  • Apple cider vinegar – activates the baking soda to help the cake rise.
  • Oil
  • Vanilla

Vegan Lemon Buttercream Frosting:

  • Vegan butter or margarine - use stick margarine and not spreadable, which has more moisture. Soften to room temperature for easier mixing.
  • Confectioner’s sugar - sift to remove any lumps
  • Vanilla
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Bottled lemon juice or lemon extract - bottled juice usually contains citric acid which helps boost the tart lemony flavor. You could also use a bit of lemon extract as well.
  • Lemon zest
  • Lemon Yellow food coloring

To Decorate:

  • Dried Lemon Slices - they are so easy to make. I got the inspiration to use them on the cake from Broma Bakery.

    They add such a rustic look but I wouldn’t recommend eating them raw as the bitterness in the rind gets stronger when oven-dried. Save them for tea!

    For more milder-tasting decorations, try using fresh berries.
close up of slice of cake on a white plate next to a cake stand

Step-by-Step Instructions

Cake:

1. Line three 6-inch cake pans with parchment or use one of the alternatives to parchment paper. I recommend using cake strips for a more moist, even bake. Soak in water until ready for use. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

2. Add the sugar to a large bowl of a stand mixer, then sift in the remaining dry ingredients.

flour and sugar in a mixer bowl

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the liquid ingredients including the zest until fully combined.

side by side image showing liquid ingredients in a bowl

4. Add the bowl of dry ingredients to the stand mixer and while mixing on low, gradually pour in the wet ingredients.

5. Mix for about 30 seconds or until most of the flour is just moistened and the batter is smooth with a few tiny lumps.

cake batter in a mixer bowl

6. Scrape the bottom of the bowl with a large spoon or silicone spatula to mix in any dry flour. Don’t overmix.

7. Evenly distribute the batter between the cake pans. If using cake strips, squeeze out excess water, wrap around each pan and secure.

three pans filled with cake batter on a tray

8. Place the pans in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes with cake strips or about 20 to 25 minutes without. A skewer or toothpick inserted should come out clean.

9. Fully cool the cakes in the pans.

Lemon Buttercream Frosting

1. Add the vegan butter and confectioners’ sugar to the stand mixer bowl. Give it a stir for a few seconds by hand.

hand mixing icing sugar and butter in a stand mixer bowl

2. Add the bowl to the stand mixer and mix on low while gradually adding the lemon juice and vanilla. 

frosting in a mixer bowl

3. When smooth and creamy, remove about ¼ cup of the frosting and set aside. Add the lemon zest and lemon extract to the remainder.

frosting with lemon zest in a stand mixer bowl

4. Add enough food coloring to get your desired shade of yellow. Keep in mind that the colors do darken a bit as the frosting sets and dries.

lemon frosting in a stand mixer

To Assemble:

1. Filling a piping bag, or zip-top bag with the corner snipped, with yellow frosting.

2. Dab a bit of frosting on a cake board, stand or plate. Place the first cake layer on the board.

3. Pipe a swirl of frosting on top, without gaps. Spread evenly then add the second cake layer.

4. Add another swirl of frosting, then the final layer, bottom side up.

5. Spread the top and sides with a thin layer of frosting to crumb coat. Place in the fridge for one hour or until the frosting is chilled.

6. Spread the sides and top with the remaining yellow frosting and smooth.

7. Dab some of the reserved white frosting at random spots on the cake. Smooth to add white streaks.

8. Place the dried lemon slices on the cake and add dots of the remaining white frosting with a #2 piping tip.

Key tips to follow 

How to zest lemons and measure:

lemon zest in a small bowl next to three whole lemons
  • It’s easier to zest the lemons whole before cutting. 
  • Use a Microplane grater to gently remove the outer yellow skin. 
  • Try not to remove any of the white parts as they can be bitter.
  • Pack the zest into the measuring spoon until it’s filled.
  • While you can use lemon extract, you’ll get the most natural flavor in the cake using the zest and some lemon juice.

    However, you can add a bit of extract to the frosting to avoid adding too much liquid from the juice.

Other recipe variations and substitutions 

  • Plain white vinegar can work if you don’t have any apple cider vinegar.
  • Almond or cashew milk may be used instead of soy milk.
  • Add some fresh blueberries or raspberries to the cake batter for a fruitier twist.
  • Alternatively, blueberry or raspberry jam or lemon curd would make a great filling.
  • Make half of the vegan cream cheese frosting from this carrot cake recipe. Use it as a filling in the cake as it’s much softer at room temperature.

    I would suggest making half the lemon buttercream and using some as a border for the filling. Use the remainder for the outside of the cake.

Storage suggestions

Wrap the lemon cake in cling film and store in the fridge for up to 4 days. Apply extra frosting to the sides of a sliced piece to keep from drying out when storing. 

For longer storage, it’s best to freeze the cake. Wrap a few times in cling film then aluminum foil. Freeze for up to a month.

Bring the whole cake or a slice to room temperature for the best texture.

For more tips check out this detailed post on How To Store Cakes.

Common FAQs 

How do you add more lemon flavor to a cake?

To add even more lemon flavor and moisture to a cake after baking, brush the layers with fresh lemon juice mixed with zest.

Why is my lemon cake bitter?

If your cake is tasting bitter, you may have added too much baking soda. Also, make sure the baking soda is still fresh.

Another reason is that you may have included too much of the white part of the lemon skin while removing the zest. 

Can vinegar be substituted for lemon juice?

Given that lemon is the key flavor in this dish, you probably shouldn’t use vinegar as a substitute.

More Vegan Cake Recipes

lemon cake with dried lemon slices on a white cake stand

Vegan Lemon Cake

No ratings yet
Prep: 1 hr
Cook: 40 mins
Resting/Chilling Time: 2 hrs
Total: 3 hrs 40 mins
Servings: 12
Calories: 952kcal
Print Pin Rate
Enjoy this light and fluffy vegan cake with lemon buttercream frosting for a sweet and tangy treat.

Baking Recipes: For more accuracy, select the Metric option below and use measuring spoons.

Ingredients

Dry ingredients for the cake:

  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¾ cups cake flour
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients for the cake:

  • ½ cup soy milk
  • cup lemon juice, or juice of 4 lemons
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoon oil
  • 2 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoon packed grated lemon zest, from about 3 lemons

Vegan Lemon Buttercream Frosting:

  • 2 cups vegan butter or margarine (not unsalted), room temperature (stick not spreadable in a tub)
  • 8 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice, from about 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice, or 1 - 2 tsps lemon extract
  • 2 tablespoon packed grated lemon zest, from about 2 lemons
  • 8 to 14 drops Lemon Yellow food colouring

To Decorate:

Instructions

Cake:

  • Line three 6-inch cake pans with parchment or use one of the alternatives to parchment paper. I recommend using cake strips for a more moist, even bake. Soak in water until ready for use. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
  • Add the sugar to a large bowl of a stand mixer, then sift in the remaining dry ingredients.
    1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour ,1 ¾ cups cake flour ,1 ½ cups granulated sugar ,1 tablespoon baking soda ,½ teaspoon salt
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the liquid ingredients including the zest until fully combined.
    ½ cup soy milk ,⅔ cup lemon juice ,¼ cup apple cider vinegar ,½ cup plus 2 tablespoon oil ,2 tablespoon vanilla ,3 tablespoon packed grated lemon zest
  • Add the bowl of dry ingredients to the stand mixer and while mixing on low, gradually pour in the wet ingredients.
  • Mix for about 30 seconds or until most of the flour is just moistened and the batter is smooth with a few tiny lumps.
  • Scrape the bottom of the bowl with a large spoon or silicone spatula to mix in any dry flour. Don’t overmix.
  • Evenly distribute the batter between the cake pans. If using cake strips, squeeze out excess water, wrap around each pan and secure.
  • Place the pans in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes with cake strips or about 20 to 25 minutes without. A skewer or toothpick inserted should come out clean.
  • Fully cool the cakes in the pans before removing.

Lemon Buttercream Frosting:

  • Add the vegan butter and confectioners’ sugar to the stand mixer bowl.
    2 cups vegan butter or margarine (not unsalted) ,8 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • Add the bowl to the stand mixer and mix on low while gradually adding the lemon juice and vanilla.
    ¼ cup fresh lemon juice ,1 tablespoon vanilla
  • When smooth and creamy, remove about ¼ cup of the frosting and set aside. Add the lemon zest and lemon extract to the remainder.
    2 tablespoon packed grated lemon zest ,1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice
  • Add enough food colouring to get your desired shade of yellow. The colour may darken as the frosting dries.
    8 to 14 drops Lemon Yellow food colouring

To Assemble:

  • Filling a piping bag, or zip-top bag with the corner snipped, with yellow frosting.
  • Dab a bit of frosting on a cake board, stand or plate. Place the first cake layer on the board.
  • Pipe a swirl of frosting on top, without gaps. Spread evenly then add the second cake layer.
  • Add another swirl of frosting, then the final layer, bottom side up.
  • Spread the top and sides with a thin layer of frosting to crumb coat. Place in the fridge for one hour or until the frosting is chilled.
  • Spread the sides and top with the remaining yellow frosting and smooth.
  • Dab some of the reserved white frosting at random spots on the cake. Smooth to add white streaks.
  • Place the dried lemon slices on the cake and add dots of the remaining white frosting with a #2 piping tip.
    Dried Lemon Slices

Notes

  • Warm lemons for about 20 seconds in the microwave, before cutting, for easier juicing.
  • Scrape the mixer beater as long strands of zest may stick to it.
  • Bottled lemon juice usually has citric acid added which can help add extra tartness and lemony flavour.
Tried this recipe? Upload a photo in the comments below!If you enjoyed it, please consider leaving a rating. It really helps the blog.

Nutrition

Calories: 952kcal | Carbohydrates: 133g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 46g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 1g | Sodium: 751mg | Potassium: 101mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 105g | Vitamin A: 1452IU | Vitamin C: 12mg | Calcium: 37mg | Iron: 1mg
Nutrition Disclaimer
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Diet: Vegan, Vegetarian

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2 Comments

  1. This looks beautiful and I bet it tastes great! I’m going to bookmark this and maybe have the time to make it just in time for Mother’s Day!

    A question for you, if you can help out with tips. I’ve always had issues with vegan buttercream frosting where it’s too runny to use as frosting for decoration. I tried putting it in the fridge to chill completely, but it doesn’t seem to hold up if I try spreading it on the cake for any longer than 10 minutes. And even if I attempted to put it back in the fridge multiple time during the course of trying to simply decorate the layered cake, it still manages to become runny. I think it’s the vegan butter that I used(?) I’m not sure what I should be doing instead to ensure a stabilized vegan buttercream frosting. Thanks!

    1. Hi Deresse,

      Thank you for the compliment! I think you've actually figured it out too. My first guess would also be the type of vegan butter being used. I used to have the same issue in my earlier baking days. The spreadable tub margarines/butters often aren't stable enough for warmer temperatures or in frostings for layered cakes. Try using the stick kind similar to Earth Balance buttery sticks. There are other dairy-free brands as well.

      I've also seen recommendations to add shortening but I personally don't like the flavour and find that it makes the frosting heavy and greasy instead of light.

      Also, wait until the vegan butter, sugar and any flavourings are mixed together well before adding any plant-based milk. The butter softens more as it's being mixed so if it looks dry initially just give it a few more seconds. Taste the frosting and if it's gritty, add a tablespoon of plant-based milk at a time and continue mixing between each addition until smooth.

      I hope this helps but feel free to ask any more questions.