Ricotta Strawberry Lemon Cake
This ricotta strawberry lemon cake is made from scratch with fluffy ricotta lemon cake, fresh strawberries, and strawberry buttercream. Soft, bright, and full of summery flavor, this cake is perfect for a birthday party, BBQ, dinner party, or any get-together where you need dessert for a crowd!
Every year, I make my mama something special for Mother’s Day and this cake was this year’s contender. Much like me, she’s a berry and citrus girl when it comes to desserts, so this was an easy one. My sour cream lemon pound cake with blackberry glaze and my blueberry almond skillet cake were both contenders. But, the strawberries have been unreal this year so I knew I had to cake-ify them!
Since May, I have made this cake no less than three times. It’s dumb good, absolutely everything you could possibly want out of a summer dessert. The combo of strawberry and lemon is true life the best. Plus, the ricotta adds tang and richness and makes this cake unbelievably soft. I know turning on the oven in the summer is a drag but this time, it’s worth it.
Why you’ll love this cake
This lemon cake with strawberry frosting is a showstopper. An impressive, yet simple, summery dessert. The cake is based on my favorite recipe from pastry school, and the buttercream is totally unreal. It’s one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever eaten if I do say so myself! Just a few highlights about this recipe:
- It’s the perfect balance of sweet, tart, and bright thanks to the lemon zest.
- This layer cake looks impressive but it’s honestly easy AF to make.
- The cake is dense enough that it can be stacked into layers while still being light and fluffy!
- You can get up to 12 servings out of this cake so it’s great for parties and holidays.
- We’re going with the naked frosting style because, lazy.
Ingredients you’ll need
- Sugar – to add a bit of sweetness to the cake. Regular granulated is what I use.
- Lemon zest – you’ll need quite a few lemons, because we’re adding a hefty amount of zest to the batter. This will give us that bright lemon flavor without extract!
- Flour – this will give the cake structure. All-purpose is great for this recipe!
- Baking powder – to make our cake nice and fluffy.
- Kosher salt – to balance the sweetness in the cake.
- Unsalted butter – not only does butter add moisture but it also adds so much flavor to the cake. We’ll also use it as the base of our buttercream.
- Eggs – to help add structure and texture to the cake. They also make the cake nice and tender!
- Vanilla extract – I rarely make baked goods without vanilla extract. It adds such a lovely depth!
- Ricotta – this will add a tangy richness to the cake! You can also use sour cream if you prefer.
- Neutral oil – to add moisture. I use vegetable or canola oil.
- Whole milk – a splash of whole milk will loosen the batter, making the cake light and fluffy.
- Powdered sugar – this will sweeten the frosting and make it nice and smooth.
- Freeze dried strawberries – we’ll use these in the frosting for intense strawberry flavor. You can find these in the dried fruit section at the grocery store, at Target, or at Trader Joe’s!
- Fresh strawberries – layered in-between the cake, strawberries add a nice pop of freshness!
How to make this cake
Lemon Ricotta Cake
- Start by combining the lemon zest and sugar in a large bowl. Rub the ingredients between your finger tips for about 1 minute until it smells like citrus heaven.
- Next, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set it off to the side for a bit.
- Add the butter to the lemon sugar and beat until it’s all light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Then, mix in the vanilla extract, ricotta, and neutral oil.
- Once that’s whipped up nicely, mix in the flour mixture and milk in two batches. Scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to get any un-mixed bits.
- Grease three 6-inch cake pans. Then, divide the batter between the cake pans and bake at 375°F for 18-21 minutes, just until an inserted toothpick has a few moist crumbs.
- Once the cakes are baked, let them cool completely.
- While the cakes bake, crush the freeze dried strawberries in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle until you have a fine powder. Sift the mixture to remove any big lumps.
- Then, in a large bowl, beat the butter and half of the powdered sugar until it’s nice and fluffy. Add the strawberry powder and the rest of the powdered sugar. Mix until combined.
- Then, add some vanilla, milk, and a pinch of salt. Whip until it’s very fluffy, about 3-4 minutes!
Assemble the cake
- Now for the fun part. Spread a layer of buttercream on one of the cake layers. Add a layer of sliced strawberries.
- Then, pipe a dam of buttercream on the edge of the cake layer to keep the strawberries from poking out!
- Top with another layer of cake and repeat the above steps. Top the third layer with some buttercream and smooth it out to make it look pretty.
- Finish by smoothing the frosting on the sides and decorating as desired. Enjoy!
The secret to strawberry buttercream
I’ve gone through my fair share of bad strawberry buttercreams. Fresh strawberry purées (too runny). Strawberry jam (weird pectin taste?). Strawberry extract (tasted like a Jolly Rancher but not in a good way).
The real secret though? Say it with me: freeze dried strawberries. Trust me, it’s the only way! Once you crush those freeze dried strawberries into a powder, it mixes in just like regular old powdered sugar but with an uber concentrated, in-your-face strawberry flavor. It’s the best.
To store leftovers, leave the cake whole (individual slices will dry out faster). Place the cake in an airtight container or press plastic wrap against the cake to protect it from the fridge. Store it in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Usually, I wouldn’t recommend storing cake in the fridge because the moisture in the fridge tends to dry out cake. But since we have fresh strawberries in-between the layers, I’m breaking the rules. Very badass!
Freezer & make-ahead
To freeze the cake layers, wrap them up in plastic wrap or parchment paper and store them in an airtight container for up to 1 month. I do not recommend freezing the cake whole because the texture will get funky once the strawberries defrost!
If you want to make this cake in advance, freeze the individual cake layers. When you’re ready to assemble the cake, defrost the layers at room temperature, uncovered, for about 1 hour. Make the buttercream and assemble the cake as directed.
How to keep the strawberries from getting soggy?
To keep the strawberries from seeping into the cake, all you have to do is seal the cake with a layer of buttercream! To do this, add a thin layer of frosting on top of the cake layer. Add the strawberries, and then pipe a dam of frosting around the edge before topping it with another cake layer. (See the video in the recipe card for a visual!)
If you’d rather make lemon cake with strawberry filling you can also use easy strawberry compote instead of fresh berries!
Tips on frosting a naked cake
I love a naked cake because they’re super easy and chill. And, since they’re supposed to be a little rustic, it’s honestly really hard to mess them up.
Before we start, keep in mind that there are a lot of ways to frost a naked cake. But this is how I do it to keep everything simple and stress-free!
- Place one cake layer on a turntable or plate that you can easily spin around. Then, pipe a thick layer of frosting in-between each cake layer, finishing with the third layer. The buttercream should be overlapping the sides of the cake.
- Next, place the flat edge of a bench scraper or offset spatula parallel against the cake. Spin the turntable or plate as you gently press the bench scraper or offset spatula against the cake, smoothing out the frosting.
- Use a piping bag or offset spatula to fill any gaps in the frosting. Continue smoothing out the frosting and filling in gaps as necessary. It doesn’t have to be perfect!
- Use an offset spatula to smooth out the top or add swirls. Decorate as desired.
Bonus tip: if you’re worried about crumbs, freeze the cake for about 30 minutes before frosting to prevent the buttercream from getting crumbs in it. I personally don’t worry about it but if you want a cleaner cake, this is the way!
Here are just a few fun ways to decorate this lemon strawberry layer cake:
- Top with whole or sliced strawberries and lemon slices. Sliced strawberries will leak a bit, so add them right before serving.
- Pipe swirls of frosting around the top with a piping bag and pretty frosting tips.
- Add sprinkles, crushed freeze dried strawberries, or candies to the top.
- To keep things simple, simply swirl some buttercream on top with an offset spatula.
Tips & tricks
- Bring the ingredients to room temperature to help everything mix together easily. Using room temperature ingredients creates silky, tender, lump-free cakes.
- Use the fluff-and-scoop flour method. To measure the flour, first fluff it with a fork or whisk. Then, scoop the fluffed flour into a measuring cup. Level it off without packing the flour in.
- Line the bottoms of the cake pans with parchment paper before greasing. This makes removing the cakes sooo much easier!
- To make an 8” or 9” cake, evenly distribute the batter between 2 cake pans. Keep an eye on the cakes, because they will likely take a few minutes longer to bake.
- Use a food scale to evenly distribute the batter between the cake pans. Each pan should have between 290-300 grams of batter.
- If you want to frost the entire cake (not just a naked cake), double the frosting.
- To prevent the cake from leaning, push a dowel or chopstick down the center once the cake is assembled. Then, top with frosting to hide the top of the dowel/chopstick.
How do you increase the lemon flavor in cake?
My favorite trick to a super lemony cake is to ‘rub’ the sugar and lemon zest together before creaming it with the butter. Just use your finger tips to ‘rub’ the sugar and lemon zest together until the zest releases its oils, 1-2 minutes. Those oils will add so much flavor without any lemon extract!
How do you put fresh strawberries on a cake?
In-between each cake layer, I add a thin layer of frosting before adding the sliced strawberries to prevent the berries from leaking into the cake. (See more tips above!)
To decorate the cake with strawberries, I usually just pile a mix of whole and sliced berries on top right before serving (so they don’t leak into the cake). You can also slice the berries and put them in a concentric ring with the points sticking out for another cute look!
How long do strawberries last on cake?
If you’re decorating the cake with strawberries, I recommend adding them last minute, because they tend to start leaking juices within 30-60 minutes.
For the strawberries in-between the cake layers, they will last 2 days in the fridge. (See more storage tips above!)
Why did my cake sink?
If your cake sunk, it could be for a few of different reasons:
- Too much baking powder – make sure that your baking powder is fresh and that you’re using the proper amount for a level, fluffy cake!
- Underbaking the cakes – the cake is ready when an inserted toothpick has just a few moist crumbs on it.
- Over-mixing the batter – once you add the dry ingredients, stir just until the batter comes together to prevent a sunken and/or dry cake.
More delicious cake recipes!
No-Bake Strawberry Crunch Cheesecake
Cardamom Cake with Coffee Buttercream
Malted Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake
Funfetti Cupcakes with Marshmallow Buttercream
Vanilla Cake with Peach Filling & Caramelized White Chocolate Buttercream
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Ricotta Strawberry Lemon Cake
Lemon Ricotta Cake
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 Tablespoons lemon zest (about 3-4 large lemons)
- 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup neutral oil
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 cup freeze dried strawberries
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 Tablespoons whole milk, plus more as needed
- Pinch of Kosher salt
- 1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
- Strawberries, lemon slices, etc., for decorating
- 3 6-inch cake pans
Ricotta Lemon Cake
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line the bottoms of three 6-inch cake pans with parchment paper and grease with baking spray or neutral oil.
- Add the sugar and lemon zest to a large bowl. Use your fingertips to 'rub' the two ingredients together until the lemon zest releases its oils and the lemon sugar is very fragrant, about 60 seconds.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- Next, add the unsalted butter to the lemon sugar. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Mix in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Then, add the vanilla extract, ricotta cheese, and neutral oil and mix until smooth.
- Add half of the flour mixture followed by half of the milk. Beat just until combined. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Use a rubber spatula to scrape any leftover ingredients at the bottom of the bowl. Do not over-mix!
- Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans and smooth with a rubber spatula. Place the cake pans on a sheet pan and pop them in the oven. Bake the cakes for 18-21 minutes, just until an inserted toothpick has a few moist crumbs on it.
- Let the cakes cool in the pan for a few minutes. Then, flip them onto a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely.
- Place the freeze dried strawberries in a food processor. Pulse until you have a fine powder. Sift the strawberry powder through a fine mesh sieve to remove any seeds. Discard the seeds and set the strawberry powder aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the butter and half of the powdered sugar. Beat until the mixture is combined, about 2-3 minutes.
- Mix in the strawberry powder and the remaining powdered sugar until the frosting is smooth.
- Add the vanilla extract, milk, and salt. If the frosting is too thick, add milk 1 Tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency. Beat the buttercream until it's light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
Assemble the cake
- Use a serrated knife to evenly cut the domes off of the tops of the cakes, if necessary. Spoon about 2 cups of frosting into a piping bag.
- Place one cake layer on a plate or cake stand. Spread a thin layer of strawberry buttercream on the top of the cake and then add a layer of strawberry slices. Using the piping bag, pipe a thick layer of frosting around the rim of the cake to create a dam. Top with another cake layer, and gently press down to adhere the cake to the buttercream. Repeat, finishing with the third cake layer.
- Place a dollop of frosting on top of the third layer of cake and smooth with an offset spatula. To frost the cake, just place the flat edge of a bench scraper or offset spatula parallel against the cake. Gently press while spinning the cake stand/plate to smooth out the frosting. Fill in any gaps with more frosting using an offset spatula. Repeat as many times as necessary until you're happy with how it looks.
- Decorate the cake as desired. Serve and enjoy!
- Use 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder.
- Bake the cakes at 350° for 18-22 minutes.
xo Sara Lynn
Song of the day – Cool with You by Her’s
(Originally posted June 20, 2022).