Lemon Velvet Sheet Cake

October 11, 2018

Test Kitchen-Approved

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

Serves: 12
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 45 min


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
In This Recipe


  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 . . .

More Great Recipes:
Cake|American|Lemon Juice|Lemon|Bake|Make Ahead|Serves a Crowd|Summer|Winter|Sunday Dinner|Backyard BBQ|Birthday

Reviews (44) Questions (3)

44 Reviews

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.
Author Comment
Jessie S. February 14, 2019
So sorry to hear this.
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?
Author Comment
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!
Author Comment
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).
Author Comment
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.
Author Comment
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!
Author Comment
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.
Author Comment
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.
Author Comment
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?
Author Comment
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!
Selin October 20, 2018
Can I just do the cornstarch sub to make my own cake flour?
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 20, 2018
I’m sure u can if that is what u usually do when a recipe calls for cake flour, i’ve just never done it that way.
Yolanda October 20, 2018
This story reminded me of my grandmother. When i went through her recipes, i was surprised at the non-gourmet tricks she used to make her seemingly gourmet desserts. My question: In the story, you said your slice was tall, but in the video it seems that it doesn’t rise very high. Is there a way to make it high as you described in your wonderful story?
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 20, 2018
Ahhh, yes, you’re right. I think the cake will actually bake up a bit higher than in the video, but the memory of the “tall” slice perhaps is more wishful thinking than anything else?
Yolanda October 21, 2018
That’s probably what I’m experiencing as well! ;->
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 21, 2018
Anna S. October 19, 2018
The printed recipe shows 1 1/2 cups each of the 2 flours but the video says 1 1/2 cups cake flour and 1 cup a.p. Flour. Which version is correct?
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 19, 2018
Please follow the printed recipe! Apologies for the mistake in the video. The powers that be at Food52 are working on fixing it!
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 20, 2018
This has been fixed, FYI!
Alyce October 21, 2018
I just watched it, and unfortunately it’s still 1 1/2 + 1. <br /><br />Also, the recipe talks about inverting the cake, but the video shows serving the cake from the pan. If we were going to turn it out, which is the “right side” that should be up when the glaze is poured on? Is it invert-peel off parchment-invert again? Thanks!
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 21, 2018
I was wrong! It has not - sorry . . .
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 21, 2018
So sorry about the video! Hoping it will be fixed soon and I’ll change the recipe to indicate it is okay to NOT invert, if u want to serve from the pan. As for inverting: yes, flip out of pan, remove parchment, and flip back over so the top is the top. Hope this helps!
Emma L. October 18, 2018
Can't wait to make this, Jessie! Looks sooooo good.
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 18, 2018
yay! hope u like. XO
CoffeeAndBaconYum October 17, 2018
Okay to use lemon juice as a substitute for the lemon extract? Or, would increasing the amount of lemon zest instead of using lemon extract work?
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 17, 2018
You know i think you can just omit it and not worry about it - it makes the lemon flavor pop a bit more, but really isn't integral.
Emma L. October 18, 2018
I bet limoncello would work as a substitute, too!
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 18, 2018
GREAT idea.
CoffeeAndBaconYum October 18, 2018
CoffeeAndBaconYum October 18, 2018
Eric K. October 17, 2018
Divinely lemony. Love this cake—and its story.
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 17, 2018
awww, thanks eric. means a lot. XO
FrugalCat October 17, 2018
I used coconut oil- my house is always warm so it is a liquid. I cook with turbinado sugar as well. Didn't have any lemon extract so I used lemon vodka! Will make again- maybe as cupcakes?
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 17, 2018
yum! lemon velvet cupcakes!!!
Laura E. October 12, 2018
This sounds amazing. Can't wait to make it. I adore lemony desserts.
Author Comment
Jessie S. October 12, 2018
Yay! Hope U like this one - super easy (which I love).