This recipe for Italian lemon cake is easy to make and is utterly delicious. This Italian dessert cake tastes so good that when I had my first bite all I could say was WOW. Or was it, “Momma Mia!”?
This type of lemon cake is not only simple to make, but it uses simple ingredients that every household should have, so I’m sure you can make it.
What is Italian Lemon Cake?
This recipe is probably one of my favorite Italian dessert recipes.
Italian lemon cake has the texture and consistency of a cake. It is moist and light. It is a lemon flavored Italian cake using lemon juice.
It is not a Bundt cake or a pound cake. Plus, this recipe does not use cream.
Due to the lemon juice (or fresh squeezed lemons), you may think that the cake would have a strong lemony flavor and is tart. But this is not the case thanks to other balancing ingredients.
This Italian lemon cake is not like a lemon meringue pie where the lemon flavor is strong. In contrast, this cake is light and has a slight sweetness to it.
It’s not unusual to add lemon for a subtle hint or undertone to recipes. I’ve done this many times in my recipes, such as my pasta with lemon and asparagus, where it creates a light and bright taste.—Jump to Recipe and Skip These Tips—
Is Italian Lemon Cake a Dense Cake?
The density is just slightly denser than a regular cake. This Italian cake is only about an inch in height since it uses minimal eggs, no oil, and very little sugar. Because of this I consider this to be a healthier version compared to other lemon cake recipes.
Where is this Lemon Cake Recipe From?
This particular recipe is not from the hidden vaults of anyone on either side of my family.
My curiosity was peaked.
However, after much research the recipes I found were either far too complicated or used ingredients I most likely wouldn’t have on hand, like almond flour for example. I also didn’t want to use any olive oil or other oil in the cake.
After quite a bit of testing and recipe development that lasted a full month, I finally created my own Italian cake recipe that I could proudly put my name behind.
Just watch the video below and step through the recipe with me.
Here are the ingredients you need to make a good Italian lemon cake. Specific measurements are included in the recipe card at the end of this post.
- Baking powder
- Confectioners sugar for top
- Whole milk – 2% is fine
- Lemon juice or juice of whole lemon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
How to Make Italian Lemon Cake
This recipe takes 25 minutes to prepare (unless you’re fast which I’m not), and takes only 30 minutes to bake in the oven at 350F.
1. Mix the flour and baking soda in a separate medium bowl.
2. Then in a larger bowl mix the wet ingredients together and blend using a mixer or whisk.
3. Add in the sugar and blend again until well incorporated.
4. Once blended, start slowly adding in the flour/baking soda and mix until a thick dough is formed. The dough should be like a brownie mix – too loose to form any cookies, but a thick wet dough.
5. Place in the oven and bake at 350F for about 30-35 minutes. You’ll know when it’s done by doing the toothpick test and it comes out clean without any wet cake dough sticking to it.
6. Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes so you can handle it. Once cooled, remove the cake from the pan by placing it upside down on a wire rack.
7. Let cool again for about 30 minutes.
8. Sprinkle confectioner sugar when ready to serve and you’re done.
Easy right? Right! Si!
Using Lemon Extract vs Lemon Juice
For this recipe I decided to use lemon juice, not lemon extract. I use lemon extract in other lemon recipes, but at the time I wanted to incorporate ingredients most of us will have at home already.
Lemon juice is more acidic than lemon extract because the extract is from the peel which has the lemon oil. The tartness comes from the inside of the lemon, hence why lemon juice is more tart. Some describe it as sour, others say tangy.
This doesn’t mean the cake will taste tart or sour. The 1/2 cup of sugar and the dash of vanilla extract will help mellow it out to a perfect balance.
Using Fresh Lemon Juice vs. Bottled Lemon Juice
Fresh lemon juice is always nice to use, but we don’t always have it available. One whole lemon will produce 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice which is what this recipe uses.
If you only have lemon concentrate, then use two Tablespoons of the concentrate. To give perspective, a whole medium lemon should produce 2 to 3 Tablespoons (approximately 1/4 cup) of fresh lemon juice.
Don’t sweat the exact measurements if you don’t have fresh lemon juice. Here’s a great article that talks about this exact topic on lemons in greater detail.
How Long will Italian Lemon Cake Keep in the Fridge?
Italian lemon cake will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days just like any other regular cake. You can also keep it on the counter for up to 3 days but make sure it is kept in an air tight container to maintain it’s moisture content. I prefer to keep mine in the fridge however.
You can also freeze the cake in an air tight container or in a freezer bag for up to 6 months. However make sure to wrap it in plastic wrap or try to squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible.
You can also slice the cake and individually wrap each slice in plastic wrap and then keep it in a container. When you have a desire for some lemon cake, but not the whole cake, just take out a slice and let it thaw.
Italian Lemon Cake Video
Watch my video in the recipe card below to see the proof that it really is that easy! The printable recipe is further down.
The video is a little longer than my normal videos but that’s because I really explain what I’m doing so everyone can feel comfortable doing this recipe.
I hope you enjoy the video and benefit from the tips I give you.
Cooking Supplies for Making Italian Lemon Cake
Hand held or a stand mixer will do. I used a stand mixer, but I actually wonder if the hand mixer would have been better.
The reason is because you use it to “cream” the butter and sugar.
In my experience with the stand mixer it turns the lemon cake dough into a paste which is fine, but when I added all the other ingredients it didn’t incorporate all that sugary goodness into the batter fully.
I ended up doing a final manual mixing to blend it in.
You’ll see what I mean in the video.
Spring form pan
If you can, use a spring form pan.
I wouldn’t want anyone held back from doing the recipe if they don’t have one, so use a cake pan if you don’t have a spring form pan.
Just make sure it’s greased down so well that the cake won’t have a problem coming out.
This truly is a good thing to have on hand and I understand why so many bakers use it. Cut the parchment to fit the bottom of the pan and brush with butter or cooking spray. It will help prevent the cake from sticking to the pan.
This is important because we want to remove the cake from the pan and gently place it onto the wire racks upside down.
This is also handy to have for brushing butter onto the cake pan so the cake won’t stick to the sides and bottom.
What Goes Well with Lemon Cake
When you serve this Italian cake it is important to choose complimentary food and beverages. It can be eaten as dessert or as a late morning brunch. Lemon cake is a light cake, so avoid overly heavy drinks, such at hot chocolate. However, coffee or espresso are perfect choices.
For cooler beverages, choose sparkling drinks and avoid colas.
Lemon cake goes well with wafer dessert crackers, fresh fruit, or light Italian cookies.
When to Make Lemon Cake
Italians enjoy making this lemon cake during the holidays, such as Easter and even Christmas. It lends itself especially well for the warmer months since the cake is light and refreshingly delightful.
Remember, you can make Italian lemon cake in advance. Serve at room temperature.
Other Lemon Cake Recipes
There are many types of lemon cakes. There are lemon cakes that use olive oil, lemon cakes that have icing, or cakes that are baked in a Bundt pan.
My recipes are Italian on this site, and they are easy. I believe this is one of the best lemon cakes I’ve ever had, and I’m very proud of the recipe. I like the fact that it is a slightly denser cake because it is this type of consistency that goes well with a cup of coffee or a small amount of liqueur.
I use confectioners sugar on top instead of icing as I feel icing would overpower the delicate nature of this cake.
Other Italian Lemon Desserts
If you like this recipe, you may also like these Italian-themed recipes.
Italian lemon ricotta pie for dessert – this dessert is easy and refreshing.
Anginetti cookies – these cookies are flavored with lemon and are perfect for holidays and weddings.
Anise pizzelles recipe – these cookies are perfect for making in advance and freezing until ready.
Italian Lemon Cake
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 4 tbsp butter plus 1 tbsp for melting
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup whole milk 2% is probably fine
- 1/4 cup lemon juice or juice of whole lemon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- confectioners sugar for top
- Mix the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and set aside
- Melt 1 Tbsp butter and put parchment paper down in pan
- If you don’t have parchment paper, don’t worry but you’ll want to really make sure the bottom is buttered
- Brush the melted butter on all sides and bottom (yes on top of parchment paper)
- Coat the pan with white flour and tap off excess as shown in video. You want all sides covered with a nice coat of flour
- Use a mixer to cream the butter (1/2 stick) and sugar until evenly blended
- Add in the eggs one at a time while mixing and mix until well blended
- Then add in the milk, lemon juice, and vanilla and blend well
- Then slowly add in the flour and blend until it is a nice creamy smooth thick batter
- Pour the batter into the coated cake pan
- Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes until done in center
- Remove and let stand for 10 minutes
- Flip upside down on wire rack and remove from pan. Let stand for 20-30 minutes until cool
- Add confectioners sugar when ready to serve
- Store in a container, not out in the open as it will dry out.
- Using a spring form pan makes it easy to release the cake vs a standard cake pan. But you can use a cake pan if you want, just make certain it is greased or buttered to prevent sticking.
- Serve Italian lemon cake with espresso or coffee
- This cake can be made for Easter, Christmas or any other occasion.
- Make sure to let the cake fully cool before adding the confectioners sugar, otherwise it will dissolve.
This recipe was originally posted October 2018. Updated January 19, 2023.