Fluffy Lemon Rosemary Layer Cake

Sometimes I think I should start a separate blog called A Love Letter to Dessert. Or maybe just A Love Letter to Cake. So many flavors, so many fillings, so many different kinds of frosting. It makes me think of the segment of my high school math class about combinations and permutations–remember that? Where you total up the number of all the different ways a collection of things can be combined? Like if you have chocolate, peanut butter, and vanilla, you could make a chocolate cake with peanut butter filling and vanilla frosting–or a vanilla cake with chocolate filling and peanut butter frosting, etc., etc.? There have got to be thousands of cake permutations–or is it combinations? (Either way, look, math was useful! It can be applied to cake! Thanks, Mr. Cox!) I occasionally spend a little too much time thinking about these many configurations, but I’m happy to hit pause on my Cake Permutation daydream for this particular combination of lemon-rosemary cake with lemon cream cheese frosting. It is dessert nirvana. As someone who doesn’t really go for food trends, I am all for the current craze over the marriage of citrus and herbs in sweet treats. (Can we please just let lemon and rosemary get married already–I mean, you love who you love, right?)

I made this delight for my husband’s family’s Easter gathering last month and it received rave reviews. The high number of eggs gives it a light, fluffy texture that matches the lightness of the lemon flavor. Plus, the presentation of the rosemary sentries posted all around the cake make for visual interest. Definitely a special cake for a special occasion!

Fluffy Lemon Rosemary Layer Cake

(Adapted from Baker Bettie, who adapted it from Cook’s Illustrated)


For the cake:

2 1/2 c. cake flour (make cake flour from all-purpose flour by replacing 2 Tbsp. per cup with corn starch)
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar, divided
10 tbsp. butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 c. buttermilk (make buttermilk from regular milk by replacing 1 Tbsp. per cup with lemon juice or vinegar–let sit 5 minutes, then use)
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced
6 large egg yolks
3 large egg whites
1 lemon, sliced
8 sprigs rosemary

For the frosting:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. powdered sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch cake pans.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 1/4 c. sugar. In another bowl, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, vegetable oil, vanilla, lemon zest, minced rosemary, and egg yolks.

3. In a separate bowl bowl, beat egg whites at medium speed until foamy with a hand mixer or stand mixer. Stream in the remaining 1/4 c. sugar. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

4. Gradually pour butter mixture into flour mixture, mixing on low until just combined. Gently fold in meringue (egg) mixture one half at a time–a few white streaks are okay. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans.

5. Place cake pans on a baking sheet and bake 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through for best results, until cake does not jiggle in the center.

6. Cool on a wire rack about 20 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes and invert onto a greased wire rack or wax paper. Allow to cool completely (about another hour) before frosting.

7. Meanwhile, make the frosting by mixing all ingredients on medium speed until creamy.

8. Frost and garnish with sliced lemons and rosemary sprigs.

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