Lemon cake with lemon buttercream

I modified an Alice Waters recipe for this lemon cake, substituting in applesauce for half the butter, and it is surprisingly awesome. It’s easy to hide applesauce in a pumpkin cake, but I wasn’t sure it would work in a yellow one. But the cake stays moist for days afterward, and the buttercream frosting lasts beautifully as well.


  • 3 cups cake flour (or 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon buttercream ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened at room temperature (don’t use microwave – if you are in a hurry, just cut butter in to cubes to speed softening)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (IF using unsalted butter)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon milk (or another tablespoon lemon juice for a more lemony frosting)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cake directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8″ round cake pans.
  2. In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest.
  3. In a large bowl, mix softened butter with sugar until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well until light and fluffy.
  4. Add lemon juice and vanilla extract.
  5. Add roughly 1/3 of flour mixture, mixing until just combined (overmixing may create a tough cake).
  6. Add 1/2 the milk and applesauce. Mix again to combine.
  7. Repeat one more time with 1/2 the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining 1/2 of the milk, then ending with the last of the flour. Each time mix until just combined, do not overmix.
  8. Divide batter into prepared pans. Spread batter evenly or shake pans back and forth to settle batter down into pans.
  9. Bake about 30-35 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool cakes before removing from pans, first using knife around the edge of the pans to loosen the layers.

Frosting directions

  1. If you are picky about lumps, sift your powdered sugar first.
  2. In a mixing bowl or food processor, mix butter (and salt, if using unsalted butter) until fluffy. Add powdered sugar. The volume of powdered sugar will shrink down dramatically as it gets mixed in.
  3. Add lemon juice, milk and vanilla, mixing well.
  4. Frosting should look smooth and creamy but still hold nice peaks. If frosting still seems stiff, add a bit of milk. If it gets too runny, add a bit more powdered sugar.


  • Use an additional stick of butter (1/2 cup) if you don’t have applesauce on hand.
  • You can also make cupcakes (approximately 30). Bake for 18-20 minutes.

Here’s a link back to the post and pictures.

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