Love and Olive Oil

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

Did you make this recipe?


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


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.

All images and text © / Love & Olive Oil

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  1. I’m going to make the 6” version snd would like to know the changes needed… esp. bake time? 

  2. I made this cake a day ahead of my husband’s birthday. He is a big chocolate lemon fan so when I found this recipe, I had to try it. It turn out beautiful, tasty, and everyone loved the flavor combination! I creamed the sugar and butter together then added one egg at a time and beat the mix until combined. Next I combined the dry ingredients and rotated between adding the milk and dry ingredients to the batter. Lastly, I added the zest plus the juice of four Meyer lemons plus the vanilla. To bring out the lemon essence, I added lemon curd between the cooked and cooled layers and frosted with the chocolate frosting. Absolutely delicious and worth the effort!!

  3. I doubled the cake and icing recipes, baked the cake in an angel food cake pan and frosted it that way. I served it to six (seven counting me) at our gathering to celebrate the eightieth birthday of one (the age of all of us this year). I can’t remember previously receiving such praise for my cooking: all raved and asked for the recipe. It will be a standard for me from now on!

  4. I made this today for Christmas. It turned out fantastic. The lemon flavor is not coming through but the pound cake is better than store stuff. My mother, a fierce critic, loved it. I used readymade frosting of milk chocolate and we’re giving away slices to our guests and in our sweet boxes. Its just delicious. Thank you for this recipe. A recipe worth saving.

  5. Hi! I’m hoping to make this cake with 6 inch cake pans. Would you halve the recipe and use two or three 6 inch pans? Thanks!

    • 6-inch pans are exactly half the volume of 9-inch, so you’d want to divide it into three layers. :)

  6. I made this mom for my moms birthday, and it was great! Actually my first time making a cake like this, but I thought I did okay. I had only 8 inch tins, but we used the same recipe provided and it was fine. My only thing is that the recipe uses so much eggs and butter. We are probably going to end up giving the rest to our friends because it is so rich! Overall great cake, thanks for the recipe.

  7. Made the cake Thursday for a potluck Friday, came out excellent after adjustments for high altitude – I live at 9,000′! I added 3 tsp flour, -2 tsp sugar, +2 tsp baking powder, and +1 tsp salt, I estimated them based on a similar cake in Susan Purdy’s Pie in the Sky. My only problem was two of the layers were a bit overdone as two of my tins were dark and one was shiny, I’m going to have to pick up two more shiny pans.

    Love the icing! That’ll definitely be a go-to recipe, and I will make the cake again, though probably halved as it’s just my wife and I normally.

    • That’s great to hear this worked well for you at high altitude, that definitely makes baking more complicated! I’m sure this info will be very useful to others with a similar conundrum. :)

      And I definitely like to keep the baking pans consistent. I prefer light aluminum (I linked to my favorite 6-inch ones in the post which are perfect for 2), as I find they bake more evenly than darker finishes.

  8. Made this cake yesterday. Wanted more yellow than in the picture so I was searching some ways to naturally dye the cake more yellow and landed on a pinch of saffron threads sprinkled into the milk, then simmered for a brief moment and straining through a fine sieve. Also spritzed the cake rounds with more lemon juice after baking and before frosting. Chocolate and lemon was strange combo, but hey, I knew what I was getting into.

    Directions were fantastic, never made a cake this well before. Excellent. Will make again, most likely with vanilla frosting instead.

  9. What size pans were used in this picture? i am looking to make this for a group. Thank you.

    • The cake in the photo is a 6-inch cake, halve the recipe as written if you’d like to make this smaller size. For a group of people though the larger 9-inch cake might be optimal though!

  10. I just re read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and I was really keen to have the cake too! I’ve made your recipe as a three layer cake and it was incredible! I’ve just treated myself to 9” pans as my 7” cakes go too quickly!

  11. Let me tell you about this cake! So a couple months back my boyfriend told me his favorite cake was lemon cake with chocolate icing. I assumed he was mistaking the “lemon” for yellow cake since it is bright yellow. But he was adamant that his mom used to make the lemon cake mix with fudge tub frosting every year for his birthday. So me being a supporter of no cake mixes I took on the task of making it homemade. I was overjoyed to find an actual recipe so it wouldn’t be a total shot in the dark. And this cake was AMAZING. I think he loves me even more because of it. I was so nervous there would be nothing better than the traditional cake mix version but I can honestly say this cake is my new favorite. The frosting isn’t too sweet and compliments the slight lemon flavor of the yellow cake. If you’re looking for a typical cake with just that little extra make it! Thank you so much for the recipe. Really helped a girl out!

  12. Thank you for the recipe!
    How do you recommend storing of the cake until ready to serve? In the fridge or out?
    Thank you!

    • If you’re making it more than a couple hours ahead of time then yes, I’d recommend refrigerating it, especially in the summer. It’s best to eat at cool room temperature.

  13. Thank for posting this! I was scouring the internet for a great recipe specifically because Particular Sadness is one of my favorite books! Can’t wait to try it out.

  14. Hi!! I have been dying to find a lemon and chocolate cake recipe! One question is can I use regular lemons and also does halving the recipe make ONE six inch round or two?

  15. Oh my goodness, I specifically searched for this cake because I’ve been craving it ever since I read Aimee Bender’s book a few months ago! I’m finally making it tonight, about time. That was such a delightful novel, and I’m sure this will be a delightful cake! Thank you for the recipe.

  16. Why don’t you cream the butter and sugar first? What is your reasoning behind the order of mixing the ingredients? Just curious! Thanks!

    • I’ve had better luck with the dry method, it produces a smoother crumb. The wet method (butter + sugar, then eggs, etc) always comes out sort of curdled for me, with bigger bits of butter that turn into holes in the cake. Both methods can produce good results, that’s just my personal baking style. :)

  17. Wow, I can’t believe that so many of those commenting here claimed that they’d be baking this cake right away, but never bothered to write back with their results.  Whenever I read a recipe online, I always scroll down to see the results from the people who’ve already tried it out.  It’s kind of shocking that the only person who tried it nearly “gagged” from the “smell of butter and eggs”?  So odd — and the only possible explanation is your suggestion that her products must have expired.  (I’ve never in my life had a cake “smell” of eggs?  Eggs don’t really have much a smell, do they? And what little they do is balanced by the vanilla.)

    Anyway, I ACTUALLY BAKED THIS CAKE TONIGHT!  It’s absolutely delicious.  Unfortunately, I did it on the spur of the moment, and since I was down to two sticks of butter (plus a little extra for greasing the pans), I reduced the recipe by 1./3 and made only two layers.  (I have only two layer cake tins anyway).  I used one stick of butter in the recipe and replaced the remainder of the missing butter with olive oil.  It turns out I was low on flour, too, and so 1/4 of my flour was almond flour.  To give the cake a bit of a lift I used four eggs (not 3-1/2, as I would have done for the reduction).

    The cake turned out to be incredibly moist!  However, I have one suggested change:  MORE LEMON JUICE.  My niece and I tasted the batter, and we could hardly tell any lemons were pleasant,  and so I ended up DOUBLING the amount of lemon juice.

    I also added a tablespoon of lemon juice to the chocolate icing.  (Why not?)   

    I’ve never combined lemon and chocolate before, and wanted to take advantage of the abundance of Meyer lemons on our two bushes, and the Dutch chocolate (from Holland!) in my cabinet.  I’ll definitely be baking this cake again — thank you! 

  18. omg I was into the 3rd chapter when I thought, “I should totally check out Pinterest to see if there’s a good recipe for lemon chocolate cake” too funny! Can’t wait to make this with my Meyer lemons I’ve been patiently waiting to ripen since late summer. Thanks for the recipe!

  19. Has anyone tried this recipe as cupcakes? 

  20. 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.

  21. 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 :)

  22. 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.

  23. 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

    • 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.

  24. Whoa what a cake ~ diving in!

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

  26. 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!

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

  27. 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.

  28. 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!

  29. 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!

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

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

  32. 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

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

  34. So pretty! I go crazy for lemony desserts!

  35. Delicious looking cake!

  36. 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.

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

  38. daggum, girl! That cake is absolutely PERFECT!

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

  40. 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.

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

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

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

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

  45. 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.

  46. 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!

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

  48. Lindsay, that is one beautiful cake I must say.

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

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

  51. 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!

  52. 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.

  53. 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!

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

  55. 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.

  56. 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!

  57. Fudge on lemon?! YUM!!

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

  59. 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!!


    • 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.

  60. 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!!

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

  62. 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! :)

  63. 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?!”

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

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

  66. 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! :)

  67. 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

  68. 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!

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

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

  71. 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.

    • 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. :)

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

  73. 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 ;)

  74. 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!

  75. 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!

  76. 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

  77. Wow, so delicious! Great job!

    Regards, Edina.

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

  79. 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

  80. 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!

  81. I would never omit the lemon part! Looks wonderful.

  82. 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…

  83. 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. :)

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

  85. 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!

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

  87. 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

  88. 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!

  89. 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 :)

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

  91. 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?

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

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