Paleo lemon cake gets an upgrade with a moist and springy crumb all coated in tangy paleo cream cheese frosting. Sneakily maple-sweetened and free of gluten, grains, dairy, and nuts, with a classic taste and texture. Thanks to Bob's Red Mill for sponsoring this post!
I've been on a bit of a cake roll lately. There's been gluten-free carrot cake, gluten-free rhubarb cake, gluten-free strawberry cake, and gluten-free tiramisu made with gluten-free sponge cake. I'm pretty sure I'm 90% gluten-free cake at this point!
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.
If you don't have a scale, be sure to measure as accurately as possible by volume. Use the dip and sweep (a.k.a. scoop and swoop) method for measuring dry ingredients. Use an accurate liquid measuring pitcher for wet ingredients. And if you can, use the ingredients called for in the recipe the first time around before trying ingredient swaps – more on this below!
Now onto paleo lemon cake!
Coconut Flour 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.
- 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.
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 Cake Serving Suggestions
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 Cake for Everyone
This lemony coconut flour 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!
More Gluten-Free Cake Recipes
- Gluten-Free Lemon Almond Olive Oil Cake (grain-free, dairy-free)
- Gluten-Free Sponge Cake with Strawberries and Cream (paleo option)
- Gluten-Free Red Velvet Cake
- Gluten-Free Carrot Cake (dairy-free, paleo option)
- Gluten-Free Tiramisu (grain-free, dairy-free, paleo options)
More Paleo Dessert Recipes
- Paleo Peach Cobbler
- Paleo Banana Bread with Chocolate
- Grain-Free Banana Bread with Dates, Walnuts, and Cinnamon
- Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Paleo Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies
More Lemon Dessert Recipes
- Gluten-Free Lemon Bars
- Gluten-Free Lemon Tart
- Gluten-Free Lemon Almond Cake (grain-free)
- Paleo Vegan Lemon Tart
- 40 Citrus Recipes
*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 (gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free, maple-sweetened)Print 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, Culina, or Coyo
- 2 tablespoons (23 g) lemon zest, packed (from 4 large or 8 small lemons - regular or Meyer)
- 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
- 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 lemon juice
- for decorating (optional): lemon wedges, bee pollen, edible flowers
- Make the frosting and chill until firm while you prepare 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.
- Meanwhile, sift the cassava, coconut, and tapioca flours together with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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. 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 on a serving platter. Slather the top with paleo cream cheese frosting and top with your decorations of choice, if using. 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.