Gluten-Free Lemon Cake – This bright, tangy gluten free lemon cake recipe is like eating a bite of sunshine. Gluten free, dairy-free, and absolutely delicious.
PS – Looking for a paleo/naturally sweetened lemon cake? Try this Almond Flour Lemon Cake!
Once upon a time when Michael and I were newlyweds living in a 400 square foot apartment, we decided to host my siblings for our very first Easter together. Our apartment was less “modern IKEA/cute tiny house” and more “tiny-basement-hovel.” For seating, we had a single loveseat and about four folding chairs, so obviously we had all the essentials covered. (cough)
I decided that, since nothing feels more like spring to me than a bright pop of lemon, I’d make a lemon coconut cake. I used one of Ina Garten’s recipes and, through no fault of Ina’s (love you, Ina!), the cake was a disaster. About half of it ended up stuck in the bundt pan, but everyone was arriving in just a few minutes, so I thought I’d just try to cover the damage with a bit of shredded coconut.
It made things worse. Just…SO. MUCH. WORSE.
Thankfully, we were able to laugh about it, and I sort of closed my eyes while I ate it, and it all turned out fine.
We have–blessedly–come a long way since those days, but lemon cake is still my favorite spring dessert and always comes to mind when Easter rolls around. It’s like taking a bite of sunshine. This gluten free lemon cake has just the right amount of lemony punch. The secret is that the lemon comes in three phases…
What Makes This Gluten Free Lemon Cake So Great:
IT’S PERFECT FOR CELEBRATING! First off, I always feel like I need to include a disclaimer when I post a recipe that isn’t vegetables, so consider yourself disclaimed 😉 Yes, this is a cake. Yes, it has actual sugar. Yes, it has icing made from more sugar. And YES, it’s SUPER delicious. We LOVE this cake for birthdays, Easter, baby showers and more, and I don’t feel one tiny bit guilty or bad about it. (I hope you don’t either!)
THERE’S A TRIPLE DOSE OF LEMON! You get lemony goodness from the cake itself (with lemon zest + lemon juice), then a second dose from the lemon-honey glaze you brush over the still-warm cake. Finally, you get a third dose from the white lemon icing on top. It’s lemon in every bite. Yum!
IT’S GLUTEN, DAIRY, AND NUT FREE. Last year, after I posted my paleo lemon cake, lots of you asked for a version with a 1:1 gluten-free flour blend or white flour. This is it! I use a gluten free one to one baking mix, which keeps things easy (and gluten free!). Then, you can use non-dairy milk to fit your needs (nut free or not). I usually use unsweetened vanilla almond or cashew milk, but you can use whatever you drink–coconut, soy, oat, rice, or dairy milk if that’s your jam!
IT’S SUPER LIGHT AND FLUFFY. Adding lemon juice to make a lemony faux buttermilk, and using a nice, light gluten free flour blend gives this cake a light, fluffy texture. The two gluten free flour blends I like best for cakes are Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Baking Flour and King Arthur Flour Measure for Measure. They’re a cup-for-cup substitute for white flour in recipes like this, and they have the perfect combination of gluten free flours and starches to give a light, fluffy result super close to traditional flour.
Cake Baking Tips for Baking Gluten-Free Lemon Cake:
BE MINDFUL OF THE PANS YOU CHOOSE. I bake my gluten-free lemon cake in 9-inch round cake pans. You can use an 8×8″ pan if you don’t have a round cake pan, but you may want to check it a few minutes early, as it may cook faster. Also: darker pans cook darker and faster than lighter pans. I use these lighter cake pans and love that I get gorgeous caramelization without any burning.
KEEP YOUR CAKE FROM STICKING TO THE PAN: Grease your pan and line it with parchment. It might seem silly, but I do both. I spray my cake pans with avocado oil spray (or coconut oil spray), or you can grease them with butter, vegan butter, coconut oil, or avocado oil. Make sure to pay attention to the sides, and get the bottom. Second, trace the bottom of your cake pan on a piece of parchment paper and cut out a circle of parchment. Then, place it on the bottom of the pan, and it’ll help the cake lift right up after baking.
LET THE CAKE REST IN THE PAN BEFORE TURNING IT OUT. Give the cake about 10 minutes in the pan to cool a bit before you turn it out. This will allow the edges of the cake to slowly release from the pan a bit as the cake cools. (Cakes shrink slightly as they cool and steam inside evaporates.) It’ll also be less fragile and more likely to hold its shape when you turn it out of the pan.
HOW TO TURN OUT YOUR CAKES. This always feels like the highest stakes moment of the cake baking process! If you’re nervous about getting your cake out of the pan successfully, I recommend watching this tutorial which walks you through 2 of the most common methods. I’ve done both with good results. Also: try not to hesitate–it’ll help!
MAKE AHEAD TIPS. If you’ll be eating the lemon cake within a day, I recommend making the entire thing–bake the cake, brush with syrup, then glaze–and refrigerating it covered overnight. If you’re making it more than 1 day ahead, I recommend baking it, brushing with the lemon-honey syrup, and letting it cool completely before wrapping it and freezing. Thaw it in the fridge for a few hours before glazing and serving.
How To Decorate Your Gluten-Free Lemon Cake:
There are LOTS of ways you can garnish this pretty gluten-free cake. First, you can simply use the lemon glaze as your decoration. It’s gorgeous and thick, and the drip line around the edge of the cake is stunning on its own. Beyond that, you can try…
- Fresh berries – I use strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. You can use one or a mix, just be sure that they’re washed and dried. If they’re still wet, they’ll slip off your cake or make the icing go runny.
- Candied lemon slices – Candied lemon slices work better than fresh since fresh lemon slices tend to be too wet. (The lemon juice cuts through the icing and can make for soggy cake). You can buy pre-candied lemon at Trader Joe’s, or you can make your own.
- Edible flowers – Fresh flowers look BEAUTIFUL with gluten free lemon cake. The only caveat is to make sure they’re edible. Check by the fresh herbs at your grocery store–sometimes they sell them in small packages near other fresh herbs. Otherwise, you can choose something like chamomile (pictured here)
FAQ + Substitutions For This Gluten-Free Lemon Cake Recipe:
Can I use a different kind of sugar? I haven’t tested this with liquid sweeteners, like honey or maple syrup, since other ingredient amounts would need to be adjusted. If that’s what you’re looking for, I suggest my paleo lemon cake, which is naturally sweetened. As for other powdered sweeteners, like erythritol/Swerve, I haven’t tried them before. I’d love to know how it goes if you give it a try!
Can I make it into gluten free lemon cupcakes? Yes! I’ve got all the instructions in this Gluten-Free Lemon Cupcake post, along with a lemon frosting that’s delicious! And they’re SO PRETTY!
Can this be turned into a layer cake? I think so! I haven’t done it myself, but other readers have in years past with great results. You can halve it lengthwise after it’s baked (trickier), or divide the batter in half and bake in two pans (it’ll cook faster!). Then, you’ll frost it with your favorite frosting (rather than glaze it). You can try my lemon buttercream frosting if you like!
Can I make it vegan? I haven’t tried it without eggs, but if you’re going to try it, I’d recommend starting with a powdered egg substitute, like Ener-G or Bob’s Red Mill. In recipes like this, a chia or flax egg can sometimes be a bit dense or add grit to your cake (which isn’t what we’re going for).
Recipe originally posted March 2016. Post, recipe, photos and video updated April 2018.