Lemon Buttermilk Sheet Cake

This lemon buttermilk sheet cake is one of those go-to recipes for me. It’s easy and unbelievably delicious, and it’s not a layer cake and therefore pretty close to fail-proof when it comes to cake baking. The cake itself is incredibly light and tender and instead of a thick, rich frosting on top, it’s covered in a light and tangy lemon buttermilk glaze and topped with lemon sugar, which gives it a unique little crunch on top. This lemon buttermilk cake is perfect for just about any occasion!

lemon buttermilk cake on a plate

Ingredient Notes

  • Cake Flour – You can find cake flour in a box near the other flours on the baking aisle. It has a finer texture than all purpose flour and is part of what makes this cake so tender and light. If you make this cake with all purpose flour, I’m sure it will still taste delicious- but it won’t be as light and tender as it would be with cake flour. I recommend taking the time to purchase cake flour for this recipe. If it’s not something you will use often, store the extra in your freezer to last longer.
  • Lemons – You will need both the juice and the zest. Use fresh lemons, no bottled juice or dehydrated lemon zest.
  • Butter – For best results, use real butter in this recipe.
  • Add ons – This cake is delicious on its own. If serving for an event, it looks beautiful topped with or served alongside blueberries, raspberries, and/or strawberries. A dollop of Sweetened Whipped Cream would be delicious as well! 

How To Make Lemon Buttermilk Sheet Cake

Here’s a quick overview of the process, keep scrolling for full detailed, printable instructions.

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees and prepare your baking pan.
  2. Whisk together your dry ingredients and your wet ingredients separately and set aside.
  3. This is where the magic happens. You’ll beat together granulated sugar and fresh lemon zest until it creates this gorgeous lemon sugar that you will want to eat with a spoon! Part of this will be reserved for sprinkling on top of the cake after, and the rest will be used to start your cake batter.
  4. Add the softened butter to the remaining sugar mixture and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and yolk, one at a time, until incorporated. Then add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk mixture.
  5. Scrape the batter into your baking pan and 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!
  6. 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.
lemon buttermilk cake being lifted out of pan

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I make this cake ahead of time? Yes. Feel free to bake ahead up to 24 hours in advance. Make sure the cake has cooled completely before covering with foil and storing at room temperature. 

Related Recipes

Looking for similar desserts? Try these Our Best Bites favorites:
White Texas Sheet Cake
Texas Sheet Cake
Creamy Lemon {or Lime!} Bars
Glazed Lemon Cake Family Ties
Blueberry-Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake Bars

Did You Make This?

I’d love to hear from you! Snap a picture and tag me on Instagram, then come back and give this recipe a rating!

Slice of lemon buttermilk cake

Lemon Buttermilk Sheet Cake

5 from 28 votes
A light, tart lemon sheet cake. Easy to make, yet elegant enough for company. Perfect for showers and parties!
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Cooling Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 50 minutes
Servings24 people

Ingredients

Cake

  • 2 ½ cups cake flour 10 ounces (no substitutions)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons lemon zest grated
  • ¼ cup lemon juice freshly squeezed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ cup white sugar
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened softened
  • 3 eggs large
  • 1 egg yolk large

Glaze

  • 3 cups powdered sugar 12 ounces
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk

Optional

  • fruit or whipped cream for serving see notes

Instructions

  • 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 9x13" 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, whisk the glaze ingredients together 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.

Notes

  • Cover any leftovers with foil and store at room temperature. Eat within 2-3 days.
  • This cake is delicious on its own. If serving for an event, it looks beautiful topped with or served alongside blueberries, raspberries, and/or strawberries. A dollop of Sweetened Whipped Cream would be delicious as well!

Nutrition

Calories: 229kcal, Carbohydrates: 40g, Protein: 3g, Fat: 7g, Saturated Fat: 4g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.5g, Monounsaturated Fat: 2g, Trans Fat: 0.2g, Cholesterol: 45mg, Sodium: 108mg, Potassium: 42mg, Fiber: 0.4g, Sugar: 30g, Vitamin A: 231IU, Vitamin C: 3mg, Calcium: 29mg, Iron: 0.3mg
Course: Desserts
Cuisine: Feeding a Crowd
Keyword: Lemon Buttermilk Sheet Cake, sheet cake
Calories: 229kcal
Cost: $10
Did You Make This Recipe?Snap a picture, and hashtag it #ourbestbites. We love to see your creations on our Instagram @ourbestbites!
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Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. 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?
    Thanks!

  2. 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.

  3. 5 stars
    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.

  4. 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!

  5. This looks so tasty! I have a pot luck to go to this weekend and this may be my choice, by the way just got your book and it’s great!!

  6. 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! 🙂

    1. Heck no, haha! Anything I post for the rest of the summer has already been made. 🙂

  7. 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.)

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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! 😉

  11. I am soooo addicted to your website!!!..This looks so amazing, but I only have limes 🙁 Do you think limes would work?

  12. Holy cow. That sounds so yummy!!! I love America’s Test Kitchen. They’re shows are my favorite on Create. LOL

  13. 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!)

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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! 🙂
    @

  17. I believe strongly in anything made with buttermilk!! This cake sounds divine. I think I’ll make it… next time I have cake flour in my pantry! 😉

  18. 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.

    1. Erika, you win the semi-obscure television reference! Not that TBBT is obscure in ANY way, but that line seems to get lost… 🙂 )

      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!

  19. 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. 🙂

  20. 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!

  21. 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.

  22. 5 stars
    I made this very cake for the 4th of July (I added some blueberries to the batter, though) and it was AMAZING! So heavenly.

  23. 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.

  24. 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!