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Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

I do hope I’m not the only one that often finds the food and meals in a novel more memorable than the book itself.

For example, I read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake last year, and could not stop thinking about cake (On the contrary, I was quite disappointed when the Life of Pi turned out to be not so much about pie as I had hoped, although that didn’t stop me from having visions of creamy chocolate and tart cherry pies every time I picked it up.)

While I enjoyed the book very much, I couldn’t help but resenting the author for associating such a bright and cheery cake with sadness. Of course, it’s not actually the cake that’s at fault, rather the main character’s mother, whose despair she can taste with every bite.

Luckily, I baked this cake with a smile on my face and a grin in my heart, and I encourage you to indulge in the particular gladness of MY lemon cake.

There’s nothing sad about it. In fact, I’d argue that this cake is the epitome of happy.

Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

The base is a classic, moist yellow cake infused with Meyer lemons (I lied when I told you the season was over; I found a bag of them at Whole Foods just last week!) In a somewhat unorthodox combination, the bright lemon cake gets paired with a rich and fudgy chocolate buttercream. See, I wasn’t joking when I said lemon and chocolate would make a perfect paring.

Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

Of course, you could certainly omit the lemon part if you just want something simple and classic, and so much better than any box or tub can provide.

I’ll share also that one of the best gifts I’ve received in recent memory are a set of 6-inch cake pans. Perfect for halving any 8 or 9-inch layer cake recipe, they allow me to bake up a fancy triple layer cake without worry of it going to waste. Because no matter how much you love cake, after 3 or 4 days it starts to get dry and you really wish it would just stop already. Turns out a 6-incher is just perfect for two. I love my little cakes so much I even had a custom-sized cake stand made just for me by Lindsay of Suite One Studio. It’s perfect, don’t you think?

Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

Yield: 1 9-inch layer cake (halve for a 6-inch cake)

Total Time: 2 1/2 hours

Ingredients:

For Cake:
3 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
1 cup whole milk, divided
5 large eggs
4 teaspoons lemon or Meyer lemon zest (from 4 medium lemons)
3 tablespoons lemon or Meyer lemon juice (from 4 medium lemons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Frosting:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup cocoa powder
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream, more or less as needed
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 9-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper; butter parchment.

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix to combine. Add butter and 3/4 cup of whole milk. Mix on low speed until flour is evenly moistened, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

In a small bowl, beat remaining 1/4 cup milk with eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Add to the batter mixture one-third at a time, mixing well after each addition. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (about 25 minutes for 6" pans), rotating pans halfway through baking, until lightly golden on the edges and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer pans to a wire cooling rack to cool completely, about 1 hour. Run a knife or thin spatula around the edge of the pan, then invert the cake onto wire rack. It should come out easily and cleanly. Remove parchment from the bottom. At this point the cakes can be wrapped tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and freeze until ready to use (in fact, I recommend you freeze the cakes overnight, as the frozen cakes will be easier to level and frost later.)

To prepare frosting, in a large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add cocoa powder and beat until incorporated. Add powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. As frosting thickens, add a few tablespoons of cream as needed. Depending on the temperature and consistency of your frosting, continue alternating adding cream and powdered sugar, then continue beating until frosting is light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla.

To assemble, level each cake layer by cutting of the domed top with a long serrated knife. Place one layer, flat side down, on a cake stand or serving platter. Spread on about 1/2 cup of frosting onto cake using an offset spatula. Position second layer on top and press to adhere. Repeat with another 1/2 cup of frosting, and then position final cake layer, flat side up.

Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting. This "crumb coat" will keep the stray crumbs in place and make frosting the cake easier. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes to allow this crumb coat to set.

Remove cake from refrigerator and cover with remaining frosting, reserving some for piping decorative details if desired.

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79 CommentsLeave a Comment →

  1. 1
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Beautiful cake! I haven’t been able to find Meyer lemons anywhere near me – boo.

    Reply

  2. 2
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 8:53 am

    The irony of such a book title, huh?

    I’m thinking there will be no sadness if I surprise my family with this one. The combination of lemon with chocolate is sublime … or should that be sublemon?

    Reply

    • Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:32 am

      *chuckle* sublemon… love it! :)

  3. 3
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Well this is a gorgeous cake. I always think about food in the stories I’m reading. My Life in France was torture!

    Reply

  4. 4
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:05 am

    not only does this cake look amaaaze, but thank you for sharing those 6″ pans! I always find I have the same issue with dessert making in my home, and I could def put those smaller pans to use! Less waste, less space :)

    Reply

  5. 5
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:06 am

    I absolutely find the food and meals in a book more memorable than the book itself but only when the writing is good and I can feel like I can literally taste the food. What a gorgeous cake! Lemon and chocolate make a perfect paring! Yes, love this. . and the cake stand is perfection. Totally going to try this recipe!

    Reply

  6. 6
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Just. Lovely. I’ve never baked a lemon cake with chocolate fudge frosting before. But, the idea of using 6-inch cake pans (makes so much sense for just 2 people, like me and The Big Lug) has made my mind up to try your recipe, Lindsay. I’m working on a paleo layered cake today (God willing I formulated the grain-free flours accurately!) and adore my 8-inch cake pans for 3-layered cakes. I have both 5- and 7-inch cake pans as well, but I think I really need those 6-incher cuties, too! They seem so ideal as to their size, don’t they? Thanks for sharing yet another unique baking recipe with
    Meyer lemons! xo

    Reply

  7. 7
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Amazing!! Choc and lemon really do well together..I could demolish a slice right now and its breakfast :)

    Reply

  8. 8
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:27 am

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves making 6-inch many-layer cakes!

    I need to get me one of those cakes stands. beautiful!

    Reply

  9. 9
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:30 am

    It may only be 10:30 AM here in Florida, but I am drooling right now. Cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

    Reply

  10. 10
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:33 am

    I also really enjoyed that book! It was one that I saw as I was browsing the shelves, and the cover sold it. This cake looks delicious and I can’t wait to try it! Hopefully mine will taste very happy, too. :)

    Reply

  11. 11
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:40 am

    ummm this cake intrigues me. I’ve never thought to mix chocolate and lemon together. Sadly, I hardly ever have the time to read any more…

    Reply

  12. 12
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:45 am

    I would never omit the lemon part! Looks wonderful.

    Reply

  13. 13
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:51 am

    What a perfect cake! I love the LEMON in here!! My Whole Foods also still had some Meyer lemons last week, and I snatched them right up!

    Reply

  14. 14
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:52 am

    I love lemon and chocolate and have one where I do lemon curd in the middle! This cake looks delicious and a must try, XOXO

    Reply

  15. 15
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:58 am

    This sounds absolutely wonderful! Lemon and chocolate is a great combo

    Reply

  16. 16
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Wow, so delicious! Great job!

    Regards, Edina.

    Reply

  17. 17
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Love the idea of lemons and chocolate ;) Will definitely give it a try :D And I am also so fond of my little cake tin! I also use it often if I just want to try out a new recipe and only my boyfriend and I will eat it :D I also think that sometimes smaller cakes look more sophisticated? ;) Or is it just me :P I am still looking for a small cake stand, though :P

    Reply

  18. 18
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:10 am

    I loved that book! But I did think that chocolate and lemon was a weird pairing–but I suppose if orange and chocolate works, so should this!

    Reply

  19. 19
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Yummy looking cake. I still have a bag of Meyer lemons I need to do something with, this would be perfect.

    Now to check out the site for a homemade cake stand. That sounds like fun!

    Reply

  20. 20
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:18 am

    I have never actually attempted a layered cake before. They seem daunting to me. I might have to do this one though and break that fear… looks GREAT!

    And yes, Life of Pi probably didn’t leave much good food thoughts behind, unless you are into raw fish ;)

    Reply

  21. 21
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Love your triple layer cake – so beautiful! And the lemon/chocolate combo – I can just taste it right now.

    Reply

  22. 22
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:27 am

    The 6 inch pans are great! But tell me how you halve 5 eggs. I know there is an adjustment but i don’t remember what it is.

    Reply

    • Posted On March 18, 2013 at 11:43 am

      Just eyeball it. I put the egg in a little dish and spooned out approximately half of it. A little more/less isn’t going to hurt it. :)

  23. 23
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Mmmm, lemon and chocolate! This looks incredible. :)

    Reply

  24. 24
    Katie B
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:53 am

    This cakes looks so deliciously beautiful! Thank you for sharing, I can’t wait to make it this week!

    Reply

  25. 25
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:57 am

    What a wonderful post! I *cannot* wait to make this cake. I agree with your point on the food and meals in novels. I’ve found that food memoirs provides a happy balance between story and meals/recipes.
    And I am so glad that Meyer lemons are still around – I am going to make a quick dash to Whole Foods myself! Great idea about the six-inch cake pans, too! I also often don’t have very many mouths to feed!

    Reply

  26. 26
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:57 am

    I was just gonna say that I love the cake stand! Your cakes are always so perfect–nothing compared to my always uneven layers lol

    Reply

  27. 27
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:59 am

    I have never had a lemon cake with chocolate frosting. I love the idea. And I literally LOL when you said about the Life of Pi not being about Pie.. I sure wish it was! :)

    Reply

  28. 28
    Lindsey
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 11:09 am

    You should check out the blog YummyBooks! It’s all about making food from books. It’s really wonderful, I’m totally addicted.

    http://yummy-books.com/

    Reply

  29. 29
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Oh goodness, chocolate and lemon? You had me there!

    Reply

  30. 30
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Given my passion – no, obsession! – for lemon, I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve never had lemon + chocolate together, and actually have kind of turned up my nose at the idea. BUT, now that you’ve shared this and I’ve been holding hostage Mindy’s bag of meyer lemons she brought to the Bachelorette shindig, my interest has been piqued. If the lemons are still good when I get back to town, Imma be making some lemon-chocolate-y something!

    Oh, and, I love the 6″ cake idea! I’ve only got 8″ers and you’re right – I never thought I’d be tired of cake, but for just the two of us you are kinda’ like “when is this going to end?!”

    Reply

  31. 31
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 11:47 am

    I totally read this book, craving cake, and depressed over how sad they made cake feel in the book! Your cake looks spot on, and would be extremely happy! :)

    Reply

  32. 32
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    This cake is gorgeous! And thanks for sharing the tip about 6-inch cake pans – what a great idea!

    Reply

  33. 33
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Oh wow, I swear I’m the only person to not have tried lemon and chocolate together yet. I keep seeing all these amazing recipes and I really must make one soon! This looks amazing, may have just decided on a birthday cake for myself!
    And no, you’re not alone in remembering food in novels haha! In fact my guilty pleasure is reading baking murder mysteries where they give you all the recipes at the end of the book!!

    Reply

  34. 34
    janis m
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Hi Lindsay! Both the choc +lemon combo and the 6″ cake idea intrigued me. How should I adjust the bake time for the 6″ pans? Thanks so much!!

    :-)

    Reply

    • Posted On March 18, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      You know what, this is the bake time for 6″ pans. It’d probably be another 10 or so for larger pans, I’d assume.

  35. 35
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    I love the combo of lemon and chocolate. Decadence deliciousness :)

    Reply

  36. 36
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Fudge on lemon?! YUM!!

    Reply

  37. 37
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    So true, the 9in double layer cake is too short and squat but a 3rd 9in layer makes a massive cake and you have to make a larger batch…. I am ordering 3 6in cake pans as we speak!

    Reply

  38. 38
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    I chose that book for my last online book and bake club selection. I absolutely hated it! It had such potential and in the end was a huge let down. I made a lemon and fudge cake too and loved it. I love the citrus and chocolate combination.

    Reply

    • Marie
      Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:10 pm

      My book club was also disappointed. The common response to the end was WTF?

  39. 39
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    This is absolutely gorgeous!! What a picture perfect cake :)

    Reply

  40. 40
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    When I saw the title from BlogLovin, I thought, WEIRD Chocolate and lemon? I wonder how that would taste? And the more I thought about it, the more I wanted it. Beautiful photos, I’m sure it was a delightful cake!

    Reply

  41. 41
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    I love the combination of Lemon and Chocolate! My meyer lemon tree is in full fruit right now, so it is the perfect time to make it. Thanks.

    Reply

  42. 42
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Ive always wanted smaller cake pans b/c as you said, no matter how much you love cake, unless you’re having a party or a huge family, layer cakes linger. And your customized cake stand. Swoon. I love the recipe, the pics, and the links in this post, Lindsay!

    Reply

  43. 43
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    I love that you matched your photos with the book cover. :D Lemon cake and fudge makes me very glad!

    Reply

  44. 44
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    I totally read that book and remember thinking about wanting lemon cake! This is gorgeous!

    Reply

  45. 45
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Lindsay, that is one beautiful cake I must say.

    Reply

  46. 46
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    I’ve never tried lemon and chocolate together in a dessert, but this looks fabulous! Yum!

    Reply

  47. 47
    margie/mom
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Funny how the cake totally looks “regular” size in the photo, even when comparing it to the lemons in the background and the made to order mini cake stand. But now that you mention the 6 inch pans, I want some too!

    Reply

  48. 48
    Marie
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    I read that book with my book club last year and considered making the cake for our meeting. I ended up not having the time to do it, but maybe I’ll bring it sometime just for fun. :)
    We did not particularly like the book, but still talk about over a year later.

    Reply

  49. 49
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    Lemon and chocolate! such an unexpected combination, a great twist on a classic cake :)

    Reply

  50. 50
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Beautiful. I wish I could find some Meyer lemons around. I bet the chocolate and lemon combination was perfect. Sweet and sour, yum

    Reply

  51. 51
    Posted On March 18, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    How on earth did you get this cake to look so pretty?!? This sounds so good! I would love a piece right now!

    Reply

  52. 52
    Posted On March 19, 2013 at 7:15 am

    Gosh I know someone who just adores lemon cake with chocolate frosting! I have never had the flavor combo but they swear by it!!!

    Reply

  53. 53
    Posted On March 19, 2013 at 8:26 am

    If only Life of Pi were really about pies. That would’ve been awesome ;) Love the tip for 6″ cakes. I’ve actually been meaning to get some smaller pans.

    Reply

  54. 54
    Posted On March 19, 2013 at 8:52 am

    I would have never thought to combine lemon cake and chocolate frosting…I bet it’s delicious!

    Reply

  55. 55
    Posted On March 19, 2013 at 10:17 am

    daggum, girl! That cake is absolutely PERFECT!

    Reply

  56. 56
    Posted On March 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Great idea! :) I love the idea of lemon and chocolate. Delish! :)

    Reply

  57. 57
    Posted On March 19, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    I wish I had more time to read. I definitely get hungry reading, or even watching a really good movie. Everytime I watch It’s Complicated with Meryl and Alec I NEED a slice of chocolate cake, but I think this one will do just fine.

    Oh and 6″ pans.. YES. I hate having to throw cake out because I couldn’t finish it.

    Reply

  58. 58
    Posted On March 19, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Delicious looking cake!

    Reply

  59. 59
    Posted On March 20, 2013 at 1:01 am

    So pretty! I go crazy for lemony desserts!

    Reply

  60. 60
    Posted On March 20, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Stunning! Seriously, what a gorgeous cake! And I love the combo of Lemon & Chocolate! :)

    Reply

  61. 61
    Posted On March 21, 2013 at 9:57 am

    lemon and chocolate sound like a divine combination. I love your frosting swirls – so professional. You can think about Pi as the roundness of criss-cross of the crust on a pie

    Reply

  62. 62
    Posted On March 21, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    I’ve not heard about a book but a title is intriguing. Your lemon cake looks beautiful.

    Reply

  63. 63
    Posted On March 22, 2013 at 12:37 am

    You just put together two of my favorite dessert flavors. I cannot wait to try this cake.

    Reply

  64. 64
    Marcie@flavorthemoments
    Posted On March 25, 2013 at 12:08 am

    I know I’d be happy if I had this beautiful cake in front of me. I, too, scored on a bag of Meyer lemons at Whole Foods the other day, and I’m trying to figure out which wonderful recipe to use them for. I will add this to that list!

    Reply

  65. 65
    Posted On March 26, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    This looks amazing, and I will be requesting it for my birthday this year. Thanks for the idea about the 6 inch cake – I hate when they go to waste, too!

    Reply

  66. 66
    Posted On March 26, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    I love this cake. You have a gift for frosting.

    I’m with you on food in books. I get so caught up with it and end up making dishes from them.

    Reply

  67. 67
    Rebecca
    Posted On March 30, 2013 at 7:44 am

    So the recipe states that those amounts make 1 9″ cake- does that mean that for the three layers I have to triple the ingredients?
    Thanks- just trying to get it right!

    Reply

    • Posted On March 30, 2013 at 9:42 am

      No, the recipe as written will give you three layers. Just divide the batter accordingly among your three pans. :)

  68. 68
    Posted On April 9, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    I am a person who claims to not like cake, but this one looks delicious. Saving for later!

    Reply

  69. 69
    Posted On April 17, 2013 at 6:21 am

    Whoa what a cake ~ diving in!

    Reply

  70. 70
    gria
    Posted On June 27, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Dear Lindsay
    I followed the recipe, exactly the same, but the smell of butter and eggs (5 eggs) are overwhelming and it makes me gag and my husband didn’t want to try it so i ended up throw the cake. is there anyways to bake my cake not that smelly..can i reduce the amount of eggss and butter? didnt try to be mean and i love reading your blog and i wanted to share my though

    look forward to hearing from you back

    Reply

    • Posted On June 27, 2013 at 3:40 pm

      Sorry your cake didn’t quite turn out. Was there any chance your ingredients were expired? That’s the only thing I can think of, expired milk or bad eggs perhaps. When I made this cake it just smelled like, well, cake. It IS a yellow cake, however, which are heavier on the butter and egg yolks (that’s what makes it yellow). I wouldn’t adjust the quantities for fear it’d affect the structure/texture of the cake. If you’re not a fan of this kind of cake I might suggest trying something more like a white or angel food cake, which will use mostly egg whites. It’d be easy enough to add a hint of lemon to any basic white cake recipe and then use my chocolate frosting recipe with that.

  71. 71
    Posted On October 22, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    This looks so yummy!  I can’t wait to give it a try.  I think I will make it for my birthday.  It contain my two favorite flavors, lemon and chocolate.  Thank you for the recipe.

    Reply

  72. 72
    Sonya
    Posted On February 3, 2014 at 9:15 am

    I love my 6″ pans too!  It was Cook’s Illustrated’s cookbook “Cooking for Two 2009″ that first told me about them.  Not only do they make great half-sized layer cakes, but I’ve used them individually to divide any 8″ or 9″ square pan recipe by two, or to divide any 9″ by 13″ pan recipe by four.   They are my secret weapon for baking fresh desserts for my husband and I :)

    Reply

  73. 73
    JenL
    Posted On February 14, 2014 at 9:51 am

    That book is the exact reason I was looking for a lemon cake recipe!!! I agree that the cheery cake SHOULD not have been paired with that story. So I’ve been craving this cake for over two years…because I read it then. Your recipe looks like just what I wanted. Martha’s (Stewart) had me poking holes and adding a glaze…oops….won’t work for cupcakes.

    Reply

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