Lemon Buttermilk Sheet Cake

You know how there are those recipes that you make once and you think, “This is good, but I’ll probably never make it again…”? For whatever reason–it was too much work, it was good but not that good, it was a layer cake and your name is Kate and almost every time you make a layer cake, it looks ugly…you know…all those reasons.

And then there are other things that you make and you just know it will become a go-to recipe in your house.

This cake is one of those go-to recipes for me. It was easy. It was so unbelievably delicious. It was not a layer cake and therefore pretty close to fail-proof when it comes to me and baking cakes.

I recently picked up America’s Test Kitchen’s Best Summer Desserts at Sam’s Club and I seriously sat around one morning ogling every recipe, totally beside myself about what I should make because everything looked amazing. And I’ll be honest and say that really hardly ever happens to me–I’ll get a food magazine and mark 2 or 3 recipes in the whole thing that I might get around to making someday and ultimately forget about them. But not this time. I was fantasizing about icebox cheesecakes and ice cream freezer-less ice creams and Snickers Icebox Pie. Try getting THAT out of your head.

Ultimately  I decided on the Lemon Buttermilk Sheet Cake because I had leftover buttermilk. I also had about 3 bags of lemons because I would need them for a recipe, think I had them, wouldn’t be able to find them, would buy another bag, find the first bag, yada yada yada. Not the most romantic tale of how I chose which recipe to make, but definitely the most practical one.

You’ll need cake flour (no, there are no substitutions. Not in this cake. I haven’t tried it with another flour, but I know in my soul that things would go wrong if you didn’t use cake flour and then you’d leave a mean comment or email me mean things and I would say, “I informed you thusly.”), baking powder, baking soda, table salt, buttermilk, lemons and lemon zest, white sugar, butter, and 3 eggs plus an egg yolk.

Make sure the oven rack is in the middle position (unless you’ve found that another position works better in your oven for baking) and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13″ baking dish and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a measuring cup, combine buttermilk, lemon juice, and vanilla. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the white sugar and lemon zest

on medium speed until moist and fragrant (about 1 minute). Remove 1/4 cup of the sugar mixture and place it in a small bowl. Cover and set aside.

Add the softened butter to the remaining sugar mixture and beat until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Beat in the eggs and yolk, one at a time, until incorporated. Reduce speed to low. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk mixture in 2 additions. Mix until smooth (about 30 seconds)

Scrape the batter into the reserved baking pan and smooth out the top.

Bake until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (about 25-35 minutes). Be careful not to over bake. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

While the cake is cooling, combine the glaze ingredients in a small mixing bowl

and whisk until smooth.


Gently spread the glaze over the cake and sprinkle evenly with the reserved sugar mixture.

Allow to cool completely, at least 2 hours. Serve. Cover any leftover with foil and eat within 2-3 days.




  1. I love love love lemon and want to make this as soooooon as i get home!! Thanks for all the yummy recipes!! I love your blog!

  2. This looks brilliant and I’m definitely going to make it. I heart lemon! Maybe it’s just too early for me to be reading recipes, though, but I can’t figure out what to do with the reserved 1/4 cup sugar/lemon zest mixture. Help!

    1. I’ll help Kate out (you know, new baby and all). You sprinkle the reserved sugar/lemon misture over the cake at the end on top of the glaze 🙂 Sounds awesome. I bet that little crunch from the sugar sends it over the top.

  3. I made this very cake for the 4th of July (I added some blueberries to the batter, though) and it was AMAZING! So heavenly.

  4. Thanks for another good looking recipe! I’m wondering if I can double the recipe and make an 11×17 sheet cake? Hmmmmmm…will have to post and let you know how it goes.

    1. I think you could probably make it in the bigger pan without doubling the recipe. My mom makes a chocolate sheet cake and the recipe says to bake it in a 9X13″ pan. The cake is thick and yummy, but I prefer to make it in the bigger pan so it’s more like a big, well, sheet cake. I don’t have to double it to use the bigger pan and still get a nice cake. I just made this lemon one and it is divine (and I used all purpose flour). It is thick and yummy too so I think next time I’ll try it in the bigger jelly roll pan.

  5. I agree with you that you can’t go wrong with America’s Test Kitchen. I’ve been paging through some of their cookbooks this summer. I’d love to work there– bake, test, eat, and repeat! Your cake looks wonderful and I am sure it tastes even better!

  6. oooh. Yum. Try the lemon icebox cheesecake if it’s in there. It’s amazing! (It might be from Cook’s Country magazine)

    1. I’m pretty sure it’s in that magazine because I thought long and hard about making that one, too. Seriously, there were only a handful of recipes I DIDN’T think would be right up my alley. 🙂

      1. I got so excited when I read “I informed you thusly”! My husband and I just watched that episode the other day and it made me LOL!

  7. Looks delicious! Just wondering, is it fine to use a regular ol’ hand mixer instead of the mixer with paddle attachment? I can’t wait until the day I own a real, fancy mixer, but I’m just not there yet.

  8. That lemon-sugar sprinkled on the top looks like it just kicks this cake out of the “regular ole’ sheet cake” pool and out of this world. Loving buttermilk + fruit” combos lately so after I make some peach buttermilk scones, and some blueberry buttermilk bread, I’ll be getting my hands on some lemons for this. Err..who am I kidding. This might just be made first! 🙂

  9. You guys post so many go-to recipes! Thank you 🙂 I finally tried the breadstick/ pizza dough recipe and boy am I sad I didn’t try it sooner!

  10. Oh my gosh, I don’t know how you know what’s on my browser, but I had just bookmarked this recipe from Cook’s Country to make for a friend’s birthday. I wasn’t sure it it would be worth it to turn on my oven, but you’ve just convinced me it will be! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Do you think it would be ok if I substituted whole wheat flour for the cake flour? TOTALLY kidding. You are too funny, Kate! (Love TBBT, too!)

  12. OOOH! “I informed you thusly.” BURNED! 😉 Just teasing…I can’t wait to try this. I looked through three cookbooks the other night in search of a cake recipe that sounded delicious but wasn’t chocolate. No luck. Now I have one! 😉

  13. YUM!! I’m a little obsessed with lemon right now… I just made my first-ever batch of lemon bars, but in the form of a tart with fresh berries on top. So good! And I love the lemon cupcake recipe you have on here. Can’t wait to try this – I bet the lemon sugar on top is awesome. 🙂
    Oh, and we are Big Bang fans around here, too!

  14. How perfect! I have some buttermilk leftover from making OBB’s District 11 rolls yesterday (which just about killed me with their exquisiteness, I will be making those often!) I have a binder that I have filled with your recipes so that I can always have them at my fingertips, even when my computer is not. The binder has traveled with me a number of times…

    I have an odd, and perhaps ridiculous, question for you…would it be possible to cook this batter in a cupcake pan? I realize it won’t be like traditional cupcakes but I am curious if there is an acceptable way to miniaturize the cake.

  15. FYI – if you don’t have buttermilk, you can make your own substitute:
    1 cup milk + 1 Tablespoon lemon juice (or white vinegar, or cream of tartar). Let sit for 5-10 mins, until curdled – voila. Works great with baked goods (cookies, cakes, etc.)

  16. Wait a minute…are you actually UP baking a cake like a week after having a c-section?? You must be super woman! 🙂 This looks so good! Will have to try it! 🙂

  17. My two favorites! CAKE and lemons! I did the same thing with the bags of lemons, I swear they were multiplying on their own. I finally broke out the juicer and poured the juice into ice cube trays and froze them, once frozen throw them into a zip lock bag. Now I always have “fresh” lemon juice in the freezer. Can’t wait to try this recipe with my lemon juice stash!

  18. Wow, amazingly delicious. I made this last night for work today and it went fast! This recipe is definitely going in my keeper file. Thank you!

    Shannon, I used a hand mixer and it worked just fine. For other notes, I used 1% buttermilk because that’s what the store had. And for others wondering how many lemons to buy, it took me 6 to get enough zest.

  19. Holy cow, this looks good! I have a total weakness for lemon flavored baked goods! I mean, lemon, sugar, butter…how can you go wrong? Will definitely have to make this.

  20. Hi Kate
    I am making this a day and a half ahead of time for my daughters baby blessing. Should I still put the glaze on soon after baking, or refrigerate the cake without glaze, and glaze closer to serving time?

  21. I made this cake last night for a lunch in the office with the girls today. Everyone loved it. The lemon sugar on the top was extra special!

  22. Hi Kate-
    Congrats on the baby! He is perfect! I love your website. I own your cookbook and use it at least twice a week. I am making this on Sunday for my dad and his picky wife-wish me luck. I had to tell you that your ingredient picture in this post has the word BUTT in it. Made me laugh out loud, are you trying to send subliminal messages?

  23. Made this for a baby shower this morning and got all kinds of oohs and ahhs. The cake just by its self is amazing! My husband who’s not much of a cake person even told me I have to make another one because one piece wasn’t enough 🙂 Thanks again ladies, your my heros!

  24. If the baked cake is anything like the batter…..we are in for a treat! Seriously, the lightest, fluffiest, yummiest batter ever! Can’t wait to dig into the actual cake tonight!

  25. So I used regular flour. I had all the other ingredients and I really wanted to make it and wasn’t going to go to the store for one ingredient. It was super delicious. The middle seemed just a tiny bit depressed when it was done baking but not noticeably so when it was glazed and it tasted just terrific. Maybe the cake flour would have kept the middle nicely puffed up though?

  26. This cake turned out fantastic and was a huge hit with my work colleagues! I served it on a bed of Triple Raspberry sauce (google Ina Garten for the recipe) which really took it over the top! Highly recommended!

  27. This cake is fresh out of the oven – my mother just made it. It smells AMAZING! Thanks for another fab recipe.

  28. I made this cake today and oh my goodness! It was SO good! I had to call my mom and sister over to have some so I didn’t hork it all down myself. Usually when I bake a cake for my family of seven, we each have a piece or two but I end up putting some of it down the disposal a few days later. This cake is already GONE and my daughter is asking if there is any more. We loved it! Thank you. By the way, I made your lemon poppy seed scones and passed them out after Relief Society a couple Sundays ago. The sisters were all abuzz about them and I had LOTS of recipe requests so I gave them a link to your recipe. YUM.

  29. Can this recipe be made in a jelly roll pan or is it better to have the cake part thicker? I’m wondering if this can be made just like a good ol chocolate sheet cake. Thanks.

  30. Made it last week for a ladies dinner. LOVED IT! Used a regular old hand mixer, which worked fine. Thanks for a great one!

  31. I am looking at making this cake for a luncheon. It looks divine! How many servings do you get? Is it OK made a day ahead?

  32. My daughter made this with regular flour, soured the milk with vinegar,and added blueberries to the batter. It turned out absolutely delicious and she and I will definately be making it again.

  33. This cake is AMAZING! I made it for a huge family gathering, so I doubled it and baked it in a half-sheet pan (18x13x1) and it fit perfectly. It was a huge hit, and this recipe is a keeper. The crunch of the lemon sugar over the glaze is the perfect finishing touch!

    1. UPDATE 2/17/13. This time the doubling didn’t go so well, and I had spillover like crazy in my oven. I’m now baking my double batch in two 9×13 pans! Not sure what I did differently.

  34. Oh, I meant to add that the leftovers kept well for several days too. Even covered with plastic wrap, the glaze/sugar combo didn’t get gooey and the cake stayed nice and soft.

  35. I’m thinking of making this cake for my anniversary next week. However I want to make a chocolate frosting. Do you think I ahould go ahead or will it ruin the taste? Advice pls

  36. I am decorating this cake for a birthday, so I still have to frost it. Should I still do the glaze, but not the sugar, or leave off the glaze and suagar completely?

  37. Just wanna say, this is literally one of the yummiest lemon cakes I’ve ever tasted and have found myself craving it so much (pregnancy!).. so much so that I just sent my husband out for lemons and buttermilk. Thank you guys!

  38. I’ve noticed you guys have low temps for the oven for your desserts. I end up with the middle not baked all the way and the edges browned from me keeping it in there longer. Do you have a confectioners oven?

    1. Nope, just a regular oven. And this recipe comes straight from America’s Test Kitchen, so my guess is your oven is just a tiny bit off. You might want to see if there’s an internal oven thermometer to check the temp.

      I actually have a gas oven and I don’t love it. It has hot spots and cooks things a little differently than my electric oven. Through trial and error, I had to kind of figure out what works (I have to move the rack up a notch, turn things halfway through baking, and throw baking times completely out the window.)

  39. I’ve never thought of hot spots in a conventional oven but maybe that’s it. However earlier I did bake this at my patents house at 350 after my dad said to try bumping up the temp (he runs a bakery and went to the American institute of baking so he’s kind of my go-to for advice). It turned out wonderful! And my oven does the same thing at my house… I’ve noticed baking temps from your site are off for my oven as well. Do you guys live at a higher altitude? I’m from toledo and we kind of sit in a valley so I’m wondering if this is the difference… I can’t think of to many other things since its my

  40. Parents and mine. Ill have to keep playing around with it. I made quite a few things from your site at Christmas and they were great!! But I had to bake longer or some things didnt get done all the way. My next item is the cookie pie for a birthday so ill have to try adjusting the temp and seeing if it works to make the temp higher like I did here.

  41. I don’t even have words for how amazing this was. I halved the recipe (and use 2 whole large eggs) and baked it in an 8″ square pan. I ended up increasing the temp to 350 because when I checked it at 25 minutes it wasn’t even close to being done, I ended up baking about 10 or so minutes more at 350 and it was perfect. Seriously, the most moist, delicious, lemony dessert I’ve ever made. Thanks for sharing!

  42. I made this yesterday in a 9 x 13 pan and mine was double the thickness as yours looks in the picture. What pan did you use? It’s called sheet cake but says use 9x 13 baking dish. I was planning to make it for a baby shower in a couple of weeks so was doing a trial run.

  43. In the process of making this as a layered cake for a little girls birthday party, used the perfect cupcake frosting recipe but used the held back lemon zest sugar (in lieu of plain sugar) with a bit of fresh lemon juice…can i just say YUM! Thanks for ALL the amazing recipes on this site, you ladies are my secret weapon for greatness!

  44. Hi I love this recipe! Made it once for my dad’s birthday and it was a hit. If I want to make it in 8 inch pans with three (thin) layers, should I double the recipe? Thanks in advance!

  45. Two thumbs up! I had to leave the house and turn the oven off then turn the heat back on an hour later and everything was fine. Still moist. Very forgiving.

  46. Just chiming in a few years late to say that it works just fine with all-purpose flour. I needed a dessert, but I had no fruit, chocolate, or chocolate chips to work with, except for three lemons in my fridge. This cake was perfect, even with all-purpose flour and regular whole milk.

  47. I made this recipe in a Bundt cake pan and it was great! I used all purpose flour. I didn’t have buttermilk so I mixed a cup of sour cream with 1/4 C milk (then measured out and used the amount the recipe called for). I needed 5 lemons to make enough zest. It was delicious!! Everyone at the table got seconds. I served it with Tillamook Strawberry ice cream, and they paired well together. I’ve also had it with Raspberry sorbet and that was a really good combination too. This is a perfect summer dessert!

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