Tender, moist, and springy! This paleo lemon coconut flour cake has a pillowy crumb with big lemon flavor, all wrapped up in cashew cream cheese frosting. Sneakily maple-sweetened and free of gluten, grains, dairy, and nuts.
Thanks to Bob's Red Mill for sponsoring this post! Find more GF cake recipes here.
I've been on a bit of a paleo cake roll lately, sharing recipes for this dreamy coconut flour vanilla cake and super-moist chocolate coconut flour cake. I'm pretty sure I'm 90% cake at this point! (And there are even more GF cake recipes in my cookbook Alternative Baker!)
But this paleo lemon cake recipe nearly broke me. I tested it 10 times to get the consistency just right. I grated so many lemons in the past week, I thought my wrist was going to fall off.
Recipe Testing Coconut Flour Lemon Cake
It all started when I brought home a bunch of lemons from my MIL's tree after Mother's Day. I whipped up a small-batch paleo version of this gluten-free lemon poppy seed cake. I swapped the sugar for maple syrup, the grain flours for cassava, coconut, and tapioca, and the sour cream for coconut yogurt. It was delicious - moist and springy, kissed with lemon flavor, and perfectly pitched with my paleo cream cheese frosting.
We brought some on a hike and ate gooey slices while lounging by a lake in Marin. Jay said it reminded him of Twinkies if Twinkies tasted like edible sunshine.
But then! When I went to make a full batch using volume measurements, the paleo lemon cake turned out dry and crumbly, like cornbread. I started tweaking the large batch – adding more egg, less flour, more leavening – but it still wasn't great. Wondering if I'd hallucinated the first gloriously moist and tender version, I went back to my original recipe. I weighed all the ingredients, then I increased the recipe using weights instead of volume.
It turned out that slight variations in the volume measurements were conspiring to make the cake dry and tough. The moral of the story is that it's always more accurate to measure by weight, especially with recipes that use ultra-absorbent coconut and cassava flours.
Tips for Great Cake
A few guidelines for foolproof cake-baking:
- Measure the ingredients by weight if you have a food scale (this is the one I use). It's more accurate *and* there are fewer dishes to wash – both huge perks!
- If you don't have a scale, be sure to measure as accurately as possible by volume using the dip and sweep method: scoop up the flour so that it's mounded over the dry measuring cup, then sweep the excess flour away so it's level with the top of the measuring cup.
- Use an accurate liquid measuring pitcher for wet ingredients.
- And if you can, use the exact ingredients called for in the recipe the first time around before trying ingredient swaps – more on this below!
Now onto paleo lemon cake!
Ingredients and Substitution Suggestions
- Lemon zest adds loads of lemon flavor to this paleo cake. Use a microplane to grate only the yellow part of the zest. I've tested versions with Meyer and regular lemons and both work well.
- Lemon juice adds acidity to the batter, which influences the texture as well.
- Coconut yogurt moistens and enriches the batter. I made this with Cocojune plain yogurt, which is quite rich. Other brands that would work are Culina and Coyo. You could also use a dairy-free sour cream. Or if you're cool with dairy, use sour cream or creme fraiche instead.
- Eggs help lift and set the batter. I don't recommend swapping them out if you can help it. But if you're allergic, you could try some combination of applesauce, flax or chia egg, aquafaba, or Just Egg.
- Avocado oil adds moisture while keeping the flavor neutral. Mild-tasting olive oil or other neutral oil, such as sunflower or grapeseed, would also work.
- Maple syrup sweetens the cake. Use a light-colored syrup and you won't taste it in the finished cake. Or use a darker maple if you want more maple flavor. The consistency of the maple is important for the texture of the cake, so try not to swap it for another liquid sweetener if you can help it. That said, agave syrup would be the closest in terms of moisture content and sweetness level.
- Baking powder and baking soda lift the batter, making it light and airy. Be sure both are fresh and perky for the best lift.
- Salt sharpens the flavors. I use fine sea salt, but kosher salt will also work. Avoid table salt, which can taste harsh.
Grain-Free Flours for Paleo Cake
A trio of flours creates lofty cake layers that no one would ever guess are gluten- and grain-free! Since I tested this cake extensively with these flours, I'd recommend making it as written at first. But if you must use different flours, I've given my best guess suggestions below!
All flours can be ordered from Bob's Red Mill, or look for them along with other alternative flours at well-stocked grocers. *Note to folks with severe nut allergies that Bob's Red Mill flours may contain trace amounts of nuts.
- Cassava flour gives this cake structure and a springy texture. If grains aren't an issue, try using a GF or paleo all-purpose blend by weight. Since all flour blends are different, you might not love the results!
- Organic coconut flour absorbs moisture and fluffs up the batter while keeping the flavor neutral. Coconut flour is far more absorbent than any other flour, so if you swap it out, you'll want to increase the amount of flour (by about double). You could try blanched almond flour, which is commonly used in paleo baking.
- Tapioca flour makes the cake extra light and tender. You could also try using arrowroot flour, which should be interchangeable in baking recipes, though I haven't tested it here. Bob's has a great guide to starches for the curious!
How to Make Paleo Lemon Cake
This coconut flour lemon cake comes together with just a large bowl and a whisk. You can get it in and out of the oven in under and hour. It makes one 8-inch, 2-layer cake, or 2 dozen cupcakes, or a 9x12-inch sheet cake, serving 16+.
Paleo Cream Cheese Frosting for Paleo Cake
When the cake layers have cooled, slather them with vegan paleo cream cheese frosting. I'm so obsessed with this creamy, tangy, silky-smooth frosting. It's good enough to eat straight from the fridge with a spoon. It comes together in minutes (plus some chilling time) and it's every bit as workable as a butter- and sugar-laden frosting.
Leave the sides half naked as I did here if you like, but don't skimp on the layers! The tart frosting complements the lemon cake perfectly, especially when enjoyed at room temperature.
Layer Cake Baking & Decorating Tips
It had been some time since I'd decorated a proper layer cake and I was nervous about it! But thankfully the components are so easy to work with that dolling it up was a breeze.
Here are some tips:
- Make sure your cake layers are flat and even. This starts with smoothing the cake batter to the edges of the pan, and making sure your oven racks don't tilt. This paleo lemon cake recipe bakes up with flat tops, making the layers extra easy to work with. But if for some reason they bake up with domed tops, use a large serrated knife to trim them flat before you get to work frosting them.
- Get your cake layers cold before working with them. Cool completely, then refrigerate or freeze until firm. You can wrap the cake layers well and freeze for up to a month if you like.
How to Frost a Layer Cake
- To frost the cakes, place the bottom layer, right side up, on your serving platter. Spread a thick layer of paleo cream cheese frosting over the bottom cake layer, making the layer as even as possible.
- Place the second cake layer on top and smush it down a bit.
- Spread another thick layer of frosting on top of the cake.
- Using an offset spatula, pull the frosting from the top down the sides of the cake.
- Smooth the sides with the offset spatula, then smooth the top. This is your crumb coat of icing. For more icing layers, chill or freeze the paleo lemon cake, then repeat frosting the top and sides of cake with another 1-2 layers of frosting.
- To decorate the top as shown here, slice a lemon thinly, then cut the slices into quarters and remove any seeds.
- Place some frosting in two piping bags fitted with large and small star tips. Decorate the top with the lemon slices, piped frosting, then sprinkle with bee pollen and edible flower petals if you like.
Paleo Lemon Sheet Cake
Want to skip all that layer cake fuss? Bake the cake in a 9x12-inch baking pan lined on the bottom and sides with parchment paper for a paleo lemon sheet cake. Once the cake has cooled, invert it onto a large cutting board, peel away the parchment paper, then invert it right side up on a serving platter. Slather the top with paleo cream cheese frosting and top with your decorations of choice, if using.
Small-Batch Paleo Lemon Cake
For a smaller cake that serves 8, make the small-batch recipe below. Bake the cake in one 8-inch round or square pan for a single layer cake, or divide it between two 6-inch cake pans for a smaller layer cake.
Paleo Lemon Cupcakes
The small batch recipe will make 10-12 cupcakes. Just divide the batter among muffin tins lined with paper muffin cups and reduce the baking time as needed.
Coconut Flour Lemon Cake for Everyone
This paleo lemon cake is friendly to many dietary restrictions: dairy-free, gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free, and refined sugar-free. But it tastes as luscious and tender as any classic lemon cake.
Please let me know if you give it a try. Hopefully you won't need to test the recipe 10 times to get it just right like I did!
*Bojon appétit! For more Bojon Gourmet in your life, follow along on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest, purchase my gluten-free cookbook Alternative Baker, or subscribe to receive new posts via email. And if you make this paleo lemon cake recipe, I’d love to know. Leave a comment and rating below, and tag your Instagram snaps @The_Bojon_Gourmet and #bojongourmet.*
Paleo Lemon Cake with Coconut FlourPrint Recipe Pin Recipe
- 2 batches paleo cream cheese frosting, chilled until firm
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil for the pans
- 1 cup + 1 tablespoon (245 g) rich, plain coconut yogurt such as Cocojune or Culina
- 2 tablespoons (23 g) lemon zest, packed (from 4 large or 8 small lemons - regular or Meyer)
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon (165 g) avocado oil (or mild olive oil)
- 1 ¼ cups (390 g) maple syrup (preferably light-colored)
- ¼ cup (55 g) strained fresh lemon juice
- 1 ¼ cups + 3 tablespoons (215 g) Bob's Red Mill cassava flour*
- ¾ cup (70 g) Bob's Red Mill coconut flour*
- ¼ cup (30 g) Bob's Red Mill tapioca flour*
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (16 g) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (6 g) baking soda
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) fine sea salt
For Decorating (optional)
- lemon wedges, bee pollen, edible flowers
- Make the frosting and chill until firm while you prepare the cake layers.
Make the Cake Layers
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Rub the sides of two 8-inch round cake pans (with 2-inch high sides) with the coconut oil. Line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper cut to fit. Alternatively, use 9-inch cake pans for thinner layers.
- In a very large bowl, whisk together the coconut yogurt and lemon zest to combine. Let sit for 15 minutes to draw out the lemon flavor and to bring the yogurt up to room temperature.
- One at a time, whisk the eggs into the yogurt mixutre. Whisk in the avocado oil until combined and emulsified. Whisk in the maple syrup, then the lemon juice.
- Sift the cassava, coconut, and tapioca flours together with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl.
- Dump the sifted flour mixture into the yogurt mixture and whisk until smooth; the batter will start out very thin, but it will thicken up as the flours absorb moisture.
- Pour even layers into the prepared pans (about 710 grams each by weight) and smooth the tops.
- Bake the cake layers until the tops are golden with some cracks, the edges pull away from the sides of the pans, and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs, 30-35 minutes.
Assemble & Frost
- Place the cakes on a wire rack and let cool completely. Once cool, wrap tightly and chill (or freeze) until firm; this will make them easier to handle and frost.
- Once the cakes are chilled or frozen, loosen the edges of the cakes from the pans using a small, offset spatula. Turn the cakes out onto plates and peel away the parchment.
- To frost, place one cake layer on a serving plate or cake stand. Spread a healthy layer of frosting over the top, making it as even as possible. Place the second cake layer over the frosting and smush it down slightly.
- Now spread a healthy layer of frosting over the top of the cake. If frosting the sides, pull the frosting down the sides to cover. Smooth with an offset spatula. This is your crumb coat; you can leave the sides with a thin layer as I did here if you like. Otherwise, chill or freeze the cake until the frosting is firm, and repeat frosting the top and sides to make a thicker layer. You can repeat this once more for a third layer if you like. Smooth the top of the cake.
- If you want to get fancy, top the cake with lemon slices cut into quarters. Pipe more frosting around the edges using a large star tip, then use a small start tip to pipe on more goodness. Sprinkle with bee pollen if you like, and top with edible flower petals, if using.
- Chill the cake until ready to serve. If you’re waiting more than a few hours, place the cake in a box to keep the frosting from drying out.
Cut & Serve
- To cut clean slices, dip a large, sharp chef’s knife in hot water, then wipe dry between each cut.
- The frosting will stay firm at cool room temperature for an hour or two, but it does melt easily if placed in direct sun or if the room is warm. Ideally, chill until ready to serve, then slice and let slices come up to room temperature before serving. This will ensure gooey frosting and soft, pillowy cake.
- The cake is best within 1-2 days of baking, but leftovers will keep, refrigerated airtight, for up to 3 days. Or freeze leftovers for up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature before enjoying.
The cake layers can be made 1 day ahead, wrapped tightly, and refrigerated. Or freeze airtight for up to 1 month.
- The frosting can be made several days ahead and refrigerated until needed.
Want to skip all that layer cake fuss? Bake the cake in a 9x12-inch baking pan lined on the bottom and sides with parchment paper. Increase the baking time as needed. Once the cake has cooled, invert it onto a large cutting board, peel away the parchment paper, then invert it right side up onto a serving platter. Slather the top with paleo cream cheese frosting and top with your decorations of choice, if using. *Note to folks with severe nut allergies that Bob's Red Mill flours may contain trace amounts of nuts. Nutritional values are for the cake only; 1 of 16 servings.
Small-Batch Paleo Lemon CakePrint Recipe Pin Recipe
- ½ cup (122 g) rich, plain coconut yogurt such as Cocojune, Culina, or Coyo
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons (194) maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon packed lemon zest (from 2 large or 4 small lemons – regular or Meyer)
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ cup + 3 tablespoons (85 g) avocado oil (or mild olive oil)
- 2 tablespoons (27 g) strained lemon juice
- ¾ cup (105 g) cassava flour
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons (35 g) coconut flour
- 2 tablespoons (15 g) tapioca flour
- 2 teaspoons (8 g) baking powder
- ½ teaspoon (3 g) baking soda
- ½ teaspoon (3 g) fine sea salt
- Follow the mixing instructions above.
- Bake the cake in your baking vessel of choice, greased with coconut oil and/or lined with parchment paper.
- Adjust the baking time as needed, and remove when a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs.
Can’t wait to try this but I’ve not been able to find plain coconut yogurt anywhere. Do you have suggestions for substitutes?
Hm! I would go with one of the following: 1) flavored coconut yogurt (like vanilla) 2) coconut cream from a can 3) vegan sour cream 4) other plant-based yogurt as rich as you can find! If dairy isn't an issue you could use regular sour cream or creme fraiche.
Please let me know what you try!
Hello! We were asked to make a gluten free cake for a gathering so we tested out the small batch recipe after reading so many on blogs. I’m so glad we went with this one. It is absolutely fabulous! My husband had no idea it was gluten free! My sister thought she was having a really good and moist lemon cake. Thank you- it turned out absolutely delicious and absolutely perfect. Now we’ll be diving into the rest of your gluten free cakes recipes.
Aw this completely makes my day! I'm so glad you all loved the recipe. Thanks a bunch for the kind note and please let me know if you try more recipes!
This looks delicious. Do you think I could layer it with pineapple and whipped cream? I have done this with your meyer lemon cake and I would like to try it with this cake as well. I know there may be choices from Alternative Baking as well. Can you recommend the best cake for this purpose? Thank you so much.
Hi Lena, Yes, I think that would be delicious! The other recipe that might work well is the GF Sponge Cake (on TBG and in my book too!) There's a paleo variation on the blog in case that's a concern. It's more soft and airy, and would soak up all the good juices from the fruit. Let me know which one you try!
Hi wow that one sounds good too! :) I wanted to make sure whatever I made was able to handle the lemon syrup and fillings. I made the Paleo Lemon Cake in 2 eight inch pans and sliced each cake in half. I made a three layer cake so I could taste one of the layers. It was delicious and I am sure the person I gifted the cake to is enjoying it as well. Thanks for the lovliest of recipes, they are always much enjoyed and appreciated :)
Aw that's fantastic! What a lucky cake-gifted person, that is so sweet of you. I hope it's a big hit (how could it not be??) Thanks so much for trying my recipe and for the sweet note!
are there 4 eggs in the full recipe?
Yes, 4 eggs in the full recipe. :)
Vaishali Singhal says
I made this today and it is amazing! My cake rises but not as much as I think it should. It is still fluffy and soft. I am wondering if there is anything I can do so it can rise more. Great recipe!
I'm so glad you like the cake, though I'm sorry it's not rising as well as you'd like it to! I struggled with the rise while I was recipe testing. It seemed like if there was a little too much coconut flour or not enough liquid, it would be more dense.
Are you measuring by weight or volume? If it's possible to measure by weight, that's usually more accurate. Either way, you might try making the cake with a tablespoon or two less coconut flour and see if it helps. Please let me know what you try!
Carson Love says
Hey there! I was wondering if I could adapt this recipe to be just a vanilla cake, rather than lemon (making it for a birthday with chocolate frosting). Do you think if I leave out the lemon zest and add vanilla extract, it would be okay? I’ve been dying to try one of your recipes, and this cake texture just looks too good!! Thanks so much!
Alanna Taylor-Tobin says
Yes I think that would work beautifully! I've actually been wanting to adapt this recipe to a vanilla cake, so please let me know how it turns out if you try it! I think chocolate frosting would be divine with the vanilla and coconut - yummm!
Was just about to ask the same- looking for a Twinkie tasting vanilla cake! How much vanilla extract swapping out for the lemon zest here? Also, if I wanted to have fun and indulge my childlike nature, could I do a simple deconstructed Twinkie dessert, just slicing this (vanilla rather than lemon zest) cake and plating it with a huge dollop of white frosting? Do you have a refined sugar free white thick frosting that may do?
Alanna Taylor-Tobin says
Ooh, so based on the above question, I actually developed a recipe for vanilla coconut flour cake here! I tweaked a couple of other aspects of the cake, so it's even lighter, floofier, and more Twinkie-like! ;) I really love the cashew "cream cheese" frosting that I shared in this post. Please let me know if you try it!
Allison Carlisle says
Can’t wait to try this recipe! Looks beautiful. I have a few questions..
Should I do anything different if I want to add blueberries?? I always worry about cassava flour getting doughy In the middle with too much moisture from fruit.
I love a lemon cake with a strong pop of lemon flavor. Do you suggest using extract or more zest? Using too much lemon juice will just change the ratios and probably ruin the batter. However, I like my baked goods not overly sweet. Maybe I can reduce the maple syrup to 1/3 cup and add more lemon juice?
Let me know your thoughts!
Alanna Taylor-Tobin says
Aw thanks! I love the idea of adding blueberries here! I do think you'd want to either decrease the moisture or add flour if you're adding blueberries. How many are you planning to add?
I bet lemon extract would be an easy to way to add extra lemon flavor that wouldn't risk changing the consistency of the cake. But yes, you could swap in some lemon juice for the maple syrup or add extra lemon zest if you like.
Let me know what you try!
I couldn’t get it to rise with the extra lemon. More lemon seemed to react with the baking soda and it made a very thick bubbly batter that did not rise properly. I added some milk and that helped but not enough. I’m still determined to figure out a way to add more lemon juice and get a proper rise.
This recipe sounds delicious, but flagging Bob's Red Mill is unfortunately not nut free for anyone with a nut allergy who came here from the nut free tag. They are may contain.
Alanna Taylor-Tobin says
Thank you for drawing my attention to that Davida, I'll make a note in the recipe!
Hi, I really want to try your recipies - they look + sound delicious. Can I swap the maple syrup for stevia or erythritol? And how could I balance the liquid element then?
I'd prefer to use maple syrup but I'm on a tight budget. Many thanks
I’ve been tasked with making a paleo two tier wedding cake. She’d like raspberry filling-do you think this cake could hold up to a fruit filling? Also, I found bobs red mill has a paleo flour-can I use that in place of the 3 flours used (in equal weight replacement)?
Alanna Taylor-Tobin says
Hi Kelly! Apologies for the slow response, I'm on a camping trip this week with limited cell signal. Yes I'm sure the cake will work well with a fruit filling - raspberry sounds so delicious! I wouldn't recommend changing the flours since I worked so hard to make the recipe work with these specific flours. Please let me know how the wedding cake turns out - I'd love to see pictures if you feel like sharing them via direct message on Instagram!
Can coconut cream be used instead of coconut yoghurt?
Alanna Taylor-Tobin says
That's a great question and one that I've been meaning to test! I *think* it should work without making any other changes but I'm not positive since I haven't tried it. Maybe start with a half batch to see?