Tender gluten free lemon cake with smooth and fluffy lemon cream topping. Every bite is filled with lemon flavor!
What makes this lemon cake recipe special?
Incredibly tender and moist white cake with tons of lemon flavor, this cake is filled and topped with light and bright lemon cream. There’s also a lemony crumb topping, just like the Olive Garden cake.
The crumb topping is another step, and you should feel free to skip that portion of the recipe. I mostly included it if you really miss Olive Garden and want the full experience.
There are more than a couple ingredients to this cake, particularly with the topping. That’s because we’ve made it from scratch, unlike most other copycat lemon cream cake recipes I’ve seen.
How to make this cake ahead, in stages
When I make this gluten free lemon cake, I always serve it with at least some topping—but not always the lemon cream filling as specified in the recipe.
I usually make the cakes themselves ahead of time. Just let them cool completely, wrap tightly, and freeze. Defrost at room temperature before serving. Don’t refrigerate the cakes, though, as the refrigerator tends to be drying.
If you do make the crumb topping, it can be made ahead, too. Just store it covered at room temperature for a day, or wrapped very tightly and frozen for weeks, and allow it to come to room temperature before serving.
The cream filling is quite a bit softer than a traditional buttercream frosting, so I really don’t like to fill and frost the cake until the day I plan to serve it. Cream cheese frosting is softer than all butter frosting, and folding in whipped cream softens it further.
Assemble the cake soon before you serve it, and if you store it in the refrigerator be sure to allow it to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving. Cakes made with butter taste dry when chilled.
Other frosting options
The cake has quite a bit of lemon flavor, so you don’t have to serve it with the lemon cream just to ensure that it tastes, well, like lemon cake. There are other options for frosting or even icing that taste great with this cake.
Swiss meringue buttercream
You can’t ever go wrong with a Swiss meringue buttercream. The quick, foolproof recipe I use and recommend is by SugarHero. She doesn’t cook the sugar, which makes everything a snap! You can also add some lemon zest to it, or lemon extract.
You can always make a simple glaze to pour over each individual slice, or the whole cake. Place 1 cup (115 g) confectioners’ sugar in a medium-size bowl and add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice (or water).
Mix until you have a very smooth, thick paste. Add more lemon juice until you have a very thickly pourable glaze.
Add the liquid slowly, because it’s much easier to thin it than to thicken if once you’ve added too much liquid. Pour or spoon the glaze over the cooled cake or each slice before serving.
For a classic vanilla buttercream, you’ll need 8 tablespoons (112 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 cups (115 to 175 g) confectioners’ sugar, 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, and milk by the teaspoonful, at room temperature.
For full details on how to make that buttercream, please click over to our recipe for gluten free Funfetti cupcakes with frosting. Just leave out the edible rainbow confetti (or don’t)!
Ingredients and substitutions
There is dairy in this recipe in a few forms: milk and milk powder in the cake, butter in the cake recipes and in the cream filling/frosting, and cream cheese and heavy whipping cream in the filling. I have suggestions for how to replace all of it with non-dairy alternatives—except for the frosting.
For the butter in all cases, I highly recommend a vegan butter alternative. Melt and Miyoko’s Kitchen brands are my favorites.
For the milk powder, you can try using coconut milk powder. It does tend to be a bit drying, so add more milk by the teaspoonful until the consistency of your cake batter is right.
For the milk, any nondairy milk will work. Even water works here, but milk with some fat makes for a richer, more tender result.
This recipe calls for 1 whole egg and 3 egg whites so that it’s only made yellow by the lemon. Otherwise, it tends to be a lot darker yellow. If you’d prefer, you can use 2 whole eggs + 1 egg white instead.
If you can’t have eggs, I’m afraid I don’t recommend trying to make this cake with an egg replacer. It simply has a lot of eggs, and I don’t think you could replace them successfully.
This recipe works best with my Better Than Cup4Cup blend, which is a less starchy variation of Cup4Cup gluten free flour blend. If you don’t want to make that blend, you can use Better Batter or Cup4Cup itself.
If you use Better Batter, use the following flours:
- 2 cups (280 g) Better Batter or mock Better Batter
- 1/4 cup (36 g) cornstarch
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (54 g) milk powder
If you use Cup4Cup, use Cup4Cup in place of all flours. Cup4Cup is quite starchy, and uses plenty of milk powder already. Here’s the full amount of Cup4Cup to use in place of the flour blend, xanthan gum, and milk powder in this recipe:
- 2 5/8 cup (368 g) Cup4Cup or mock Cup4Cup