Lemon Vanilla Shortcut Cake

I love to bake but it can be hard to find the time to put together the truly great desserts I adore. That’s why I love shortcut recipes that remove some of the extra work that makes baking a chore. It’s no wonder that recipes like this scrumptious Lemon Vanilla Shortcut Cake appeal to me so much. It starts with a cake mix and then it makes things interesting (and delicious) by adding to it.

For anyone who has never made a cake using a mix as a shortcut, there are several reasons to give one a try. The first is that using a mix helps guarantee that a cake will turn out well. The mix has the ingredients perfectly measured and precisely combined. You don’t need to sift or weigh, or check for freshness. Then you just take that basic bag of dry cake mix and add to it.

Using stand mixer to make cake batter.

So how does it work? Well, you ignore the directions on the back of the mix just add everything from this recipe. The dry cake mix is simply an ingredient on the list for this cake. I find cakes like this turn out best when I beat them in my stand mixer, but if you have a handheld beater that will work perfectly well. Maybe you usually mix your cakes by hand, if so, you shouldn’t have much trouble doing the same with this one.

The true secret to this recipe isn’t actually the cake mix, however. It’s the lemons. Fresh lemons really give this cake its zing. Because you’re starting from a cake mix, you won’t mind quickly juicing and zesting a few lemons. I find that four lemons is usually more than enough to get juice and zest for both the cake itself and the frosting. I always zest the lemons before I squeeze them.

Lemon Vanilla Shortcut Cake

Recipe by Add Recipes
3.4 from 392 votes
Course: Dessert


Prep time


Cooking time



Cake Ingredients

  • 1 box Yellow cake mix

  • 4 Eggs

  • 3/4 cup Buttermilk

  • 3/4 cup Butter (melted)

  • 1/2 cup Lemon juice (fresh)

  • 2 tablespoons Lemon zest (fresh)

  • 1 teaspoons Vanilla extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt

  • Lemon Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Ingredients
  • 4 cups Confectioner’s sugar

  • 1 cup Butter (softened, room temperature)

  • 3 tablespoons Lemon juice (fresh)

  • 2 teaspoons Vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt

CAKE Directions

  • Grease and flour 9×13 cake pan or two 9 inch round cake pans. Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C).
  • In large mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl, combine cake mix, butter, and buttermilk. Once fully incorporated, add in eggs one at a time and beat on medium-low to medium speed for one minute.
  • Add Lemon juice, Lemon zest, Vanilla extract, and salt. Beat for one minute to combine thoroughly.
  • Pour batter into cake pan(s). Place pan(s) in preheated oven.
  • Bake 29-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle of cake comes out clean.
  • Lemon Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Directions
  • In large mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl, beat butter for 1 minute on medium-low to medium speed until well whipped.
  • Add Confectioner’s sugar one cup at a time on low speed, allowing each cup to fully incorporate before adding more.
  • Add Lemon juice, Vanilla extract, and salt; stir slowly to incorporate. Once fully incorporated, beat on low for one minute or until desired creamy consistency.
  • Frost cake once cake is completely cool.


  • Fresh lemon juice is highly recommended for both the cake and frosting recipes, as is fresh lemon zest.
  • Use real butter, not margarine. Both for the cake and the frosting recipes.
  • If frosting is too loose (runny), add extra Confectioner’s sugar 1/4 cup at a time until desired consistency.
  • If frosting is too tight (firm), add 1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream at a time to loosen until desired consistency.

I love the added vanilla in this recipe, both in the cake itself and in the frosting. It adds a real dimension of depth to the fresh lemon flavor that I find to be divine. I like to use simple vanilla extract, but if you prefer to work with fresh vanilla bean, that would be perfectly lovely. It might be best to do a quick google search to find the right substitution ratios for vanilla extract to vanilla beans.

Softened butter.

Finally, neither the cake nor the frosting will be the same if you don’t use real butter. I actually use salted butter because it’s what I always have on hand. Unsalted butter would be fine, but you may want to add a pinch or two more salt to both the cake batter and the frosting, depending on your salt preference. If you find that using unsalted butter in your baked goods leaves them a bit bland, then adding a little more salt may work well for you.

14 thoughts on “Lemon Vanilla Shortcut Cake”

  1. Step 2 or 3 do not tell you to add the 1/2 C of lemon juice. (although the 1/2 C of lemon juice is listed in the cake ingredients). I found I had 1/2 C of lemon juice missing from the cake – it still came out o.k., but not as lemony as i wanted.

    • Hi, Denise, I’m so sorry the lemon juice was omitted from the cake recipe steps! The lemon juice should be added in step three. I think it’s best to add it after the eggs are thoroughly incorporated. Thanks so much for helping me catch that error!

  2. I would like to try the recipe, but I can find anywhere that it says when to add the fresh lemon juice to the cake batter. It onlynsa to add the zest.

    • That would be a very different cake, but I think it would probably still taste good! Please let me know how it turns out if you give it a try!

  3. What happ to my cake, i baked it till toothp came out clean. Took it out of oven and it fell. What did i do wrong?? Taste wonder will try again

  4. Great “made from scratch” taste! An easy way to convert a box cake miX to an EXCEPTIONAL cake is to sub melted butter for the oil, Whole milk for the water and add an additional egg. No one but you will ever know.


Leave a Comment