Lemon Velvet Sheet Cake

October 11, 2018
35 Ratings
Photo by Jenny Haung
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves 12
Author Notes

My lemon velvet sheet cake tastes like a cake from a boxed mix, but in the best way. The lemon flavor is extra bright from copious amounts of zest and freshly squeezed juice. I use oil, rather than butter (a la Betty Crocker and my grandmother) for an extra moist cake, with a tender crumb. (It also helps that subbing oil for butter makes it easier.) I call for a couple of yolks for additional moisture and richness, and crème fraiche (or sour cream) for a little tang. The glaze, however, is straight from my grandmother. I like to think this cake would make her happy. —Jessie Sheehan

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Lemon Velvet Sheet Cake
  • For the cake
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup tightly-ish packed lemon zest (about 4 large lemons)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup neutral olive oil – not extra virgin (i use filippo berio)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 yolks
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup crème fraiche (you can sub sour cream)
  • For the glaze
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 5 tablespoons lemon juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray a 13x9x2-inch pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar and the zest and using your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar until fully incorporated. Add the extracts and oil and whisk. Add the eggs and yolks, one at a time, whisking between each addition. Add the juice and whisk again; and then the crème fraiche, whisking a final time to incorporate—don’t be afraid to whisk relatively vigorously throughout all of this.
  4. Add the dry ingredients all at once, and using a rubber spatula, very gently fold the dry into the wet.
  5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 33 minutes, rotating at the half way point, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a moist crumb or two.
  6. Set the pan on a cooling rack and let the cake cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Invert the cake right side up on to the rack, and rest it in a baking sheet with sides. If you want to serve it from the pan, you can skip this step.
  7. To make the glaze, place the confectioners’ sugar and the lemon juice in a large bowl. whisk vigorously until smooth.
  8. Gently pour the glaze over the cake, using an offset spatula to spread the glaze, if it pools, and let the cake cool until room temperature. (fyi: My grandmother's recipe recommends poking the cake all over with a toothpick, so that the glaze seeps into the cake. I have done this, but it results in a pock-marked cake. the choice is yours). The cake is super moist and will keep tightly covered at room temp for 3 to 5 days. This cake is probably one of those that tastes even better on day two, but i wouldn't know . . .

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • ايمان ابراهيم
    ايمان ابراهيم
  • Garth
  • Erin
  • Wendy Chapman
    Wendy Chapman
  • Jessie Sheehan
    Jessie Sheehan
Bio: Jessie Sheehan is the author of The Vintage Baker and Icebox Cakes. Her new easy-peasy baking book, Snackable Bakes, hits shelves in spring 2022. She contributes to the Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Food Network, and the Kitchn, among others.

66 Reviews

Nicki February 16, 2024
I followed this recipe without deviation, I even made sure to fold gently as some reviewers had mentioned they missed this. I used the full two cups of sugar with sour cream (no lemon extract). The cake is undoubtedly delicious. Without the icing, the lemon is subtle but still distinctly lemon flavored. The icing definitely adds an unmistakable punch of flavor.

I will say, while I’m new to making actual cakes, this strikes me as more of a pound cake in texture density (despite the gentle folding.) Not that I dislike pound cake, but I expected something spongier and fluffier and more like actual cake. I supremely enjoyed the taste without the icing; I could have easily eaten it that way with coffee or tea.

Alas, the completionist in me insisted on the icing. Made as directed in the recipe, but I only used a thin layer of icing, so only needed half the amount that the recipe produced in order to cover the top of the cake.

After 12 hours sitting at room temperature I tried the iced cake. To my surprise, much of the icing leaked into the cake, making it slightly more dense and fudgy. It reminded me of a brownie texture, if you could make a brownie lemon flavored instead of chocolate.

All of this to say, the recipe was delicious, well received by coworkers and family alike, and only one person felt it was overly sweet (out of a dozen taste testers.) It’s not the cake I expected, but it’s a recipe I will save. If you like the lemon poppyseed cake slices at coffee shops like Starbucks, you will like this cake. Very similar, absent the poppyseed crunch.

Amy M. February 3, 2024
I'm always looking for a great lemon recipe this time of year to use my house-grown Meyers, and this is it! Based on the reviews, I used only 1 cup of sugar in the cake and cut baking time to 20 minutes. It was perfect! Thanks, all!
Jessie S. February 3, 2024
Yay! so happy to hear.
e2d2 April 12, 2022
i made this cake last night for a dinner with friends, and we LOVE it! the most perfectly sugary lemon cake i’ve made. subbed canola oil and sour cream. if you don't like sweet (???) you can always make less frosting; a lot of the sweetness is there. and i highly recommend reading the accompanying article about the author’s grandmother. it brought actual tears to my eyes and reminded me of my own grandmother, who demonstrated so much love through food, and from whom i did not learn enough (though i later discovered her brownies—iconic in my eyes—were duncan hines!). how wonderful the author collaborated, in a way, with her grandmother to create this delicious recipe. 10 stars!!
Jessie S. April 12, 2022
love that you read my story about my grandmother and appreciated it! means so much though maybe not quite as much as the fact you loved the cake - yay yay yay. XO
Czafik J. January 23, 2021
It's delicious! But I can't eat too much from it. It's a little too sweet
Jessie S. January 23, 2021
Glad you liked and sorry you found it too sweet.
Czafik J. January 23, 2021
It's delicious! But I can't eat too much from it. It's a little too sweet. 🧁🍋🍋🍋
Jessie S. January 23, 2021
ايمان ا. August 7, 2020
Dangerously easy to make is always what I’m trying for!
Jessie S. August 7, 2020
Yay!!! 💛💛💛💛💛💛
Garth March 1, 2020
=) =) I see the trouble other reviewers may be having re: producing a lighter cake. They probably made the same mistake I did and overlooked the "fold gently". Ha! I continued whisking thoroughly and vigorously through EVERY step and the result was, indeed, a light, moist lemony cake. I topped slices with a simple meringue and a sliver of candied lemon peel and the result was amazing
Jessie S. March 1, 2020
Glad u enjoyed! So are u saying ignore the direction to fold gently if u want a light cake?
Jill F. August 26, 2019
This cake is lemony and delicious, with a perfect texture. We loved it! So easy to make, which is a dangerous prospect.
Jessie S. August 27, 2019
Yay!!! Dangerously easy to make is always what I’m trying for!
Vero April 30, 2019
Made this for my lemon cake-loving mom. She said it's the lemon cake she's been searching for her whole life! Really beautiful crumb and the glaze is delicious.
Jessie S. April 30, 2019
Wow! That is so so lovely to hear. Absolutely makes my day/week. Thank you for sharing. XO
MJ W. April 21, 2019
Made this cake today. It is very dry and bland. Rose a lot higher than what the photo and video showed. I was surprised that the lemon flavor isn't that strong. Even with the glaze, the cake itself is very dry and I checked my cake at 28 min and it was done. I should have checked at 22-24 minutes. I was expecting a much moister, dense cake. This isn't it.
Jessie S. April 22, 2019
Wow. So sorry to hear you were disappointed. It sounds like it must have over baked, as I have yet to hear the criticism that the cake is dry. Do U have an oven thermometer? Perhaps your oven runs hot?
Sarah April 18, 2019
I have made this cake twice now with fantastic results - everyone loves it! I bake it in an aluminum 9x13 pan, I use canola oil instead of olive, I use sour cream instead of creme fraiche and I do add the lemon extract. I do also poke holes in the cake before applying the glaze. Served straight from the pan - Lemony deliciousness!
Jessie S. April 18, 2019
Yahoo!!! Love hearing this. Thanks for sharing. XO
RisenWell February 14, 2019
I made this cake yesterday exactly as written, save for using a bundt pan vs. sheet pan. Cake rose well, baked well, had great crumb. But.Despite all the lemon, it was pallid in flavor and had an unpleasant cornstarch taste coming through (likely from the called-for cake flour). Given the oil and sour cream, I'd hoped for a more succulent texture. I've been baking for 60 years and am always willing to try new recipes but this one isn't going to be added to my files.
Jessie S. February 14, 2019
So sorry to hear this.
Troy N. March 19, 2019
Before totally throwing int he towel, you might want to try it again using the sheet pan. It worked great for me.
Jessie S. March 19, 2019
Thank u for adding this comment! And so glad it worked well for u.
Normie February 9, 2019
I want to bake this for my Mom. She loves lemon cakes. How long should I bake the cake using a bundt pan?
Jessie S. February 9, 2019
So glad u want to make it for your mom!! Not sure how it will do in a bundt pan, honestly, as it is a very dense cake. Are u opposed to doing it in a sheet pan?
Sara K. January 27, 2019
Absolutely love this cake and also find that it freezes very well so that my husband and I can enjoy at a later date too. But my cake really sinks in the middle a lot. Could this be because I should mix the flour more vigorously or that I am using the cornstarch substitute method to make the cake flour? It is still delicious but it is a major hollow in middle of pan!
Jessie S. January 27, 2019
Hi Sara and so happy to hear u love the cake and so sorry about the sinking. Hmmm. I’m wondering if your oven temp is inaccurate? Or you could be working with expired baking powder? You definitely should not be more vigorously mixing the batter and I’m not sure if the cake flour substitute is causing the sinking. I’m sorry to not be more helpful, but I would start with making sure your oven is accurate, your BP is still working, and be gentle when mixing.
Erin December 24, 2018
I made this for my mother in law, who loves lemon desserts. Mine did not turn out as expected - was very light and airy without a strong lemon flavour (it was there but very much a hint of lemon). I think I over mixed and added too much air to the batter. It still tastes good, but I think I need to use lemon oil and be less vigorous next time (will make again).
Jessie S. December 24, 2018
I am so sorry u did not love the cake. And surprised it was not lemony enough. Did u apply the glaze? That definitely helps boost the lemon flavor. Please try it again and hope when u do u enjoy!
john November 27, 2018
I made this cake and it was very yummy! I did 190g to measure out 1.5c of flour. I also used canola oil because I didn't have the olive oil on hand.
Jessie S. November 27, 2018
Yay! Sounds all good. Thanks for sharing. XO
Wendy C. November 23, 2018
This cake was fabulous. No, it's not light, nor is it meant to be, so the comments about its density are a bit confusing. Is it sweet? Yes. This is a cake that reminds you of childhood, meaning, it's not *sophisticated,* rather, it's just downright delicious. I subbed canola oil for the light olive oil (because I didn't have any) with great success. This is a new family favorite!
Jessie S. November 24, 2018
Happy to hear all of this!
MelissaH October 22, 2018
When you measure flour, how do you do it? Dip and sweep? Spoon and sweep? Better yet, if you measure a cup of flour (however you do it), what does it weigh? Flour in particular has so many variables in measuring that it can be difficult to get the same results as the recipe writer intended without guidance.
Jessie S. October 22, 2018
Agreed re: flour! and thanks for asking. i just dip and sweep - usually a cup of flour weighs around 130-135 grams for me.
Jennifer October 22, 2018
Just made this but I found the cake way too sweet before even adding the glaze. I also think there’s way too much flour - makes for a very heavy & dense cake which is not my fave. Usually love your recipes but this one was not a keeper.
Jessie S. October 22, 2018
So sorry to hear u were disappointed. The cake IS dense from the oil, I”d say, but that is intentional and yes: I like a sweet cake, but apologies that that is not your thing.
Jenna K. October 21, 2018
This sounds delicious. But there’s a video included that’s confusing. It has different amounts of AP flour, baking powder, sugar, lemon extract, and leaves out baking soda entirely. Which recipe is more accurate? The video also includes 1 tbsp of creme fraiche in the glaze. Is that correct?
Jessie S. October 21, 2018
Oh, gosh. So sorry about this. Please follow the recipe ingredient amounts and not the video! I know Food52 is working on fixing the video!