Lemon “Velvet” Sheet Cake

I kind of feel like I have a story to tell about how my lemon “velvet” sheet cake came to be and I want to begin at the beginning. My paternal grandmother made a “lemon velvet” sheet cake that was just spectacular. It was super moist, super lemon-y, had that perfect sweet/tart balance, and a to-die-for lemon-sugar glaze that kind-of/sort-of shattered in your mouth each time you took a bite. I still remember flying home from visiting her many moons ago, with a carefully wrapped (kind of large-ish) piece of her cake in my bag. I had every intention of sharing it with my then boyfriend, but upon my return, as I waited for him to pick me up at the airport, my willpower dissolved and I quickly shoveled the whole thing in my mouth before he arrived. And, FYI, my take-away from this memory (besides how amazing the cake was) is utter disbelief in my resolve. Today I would have eaten that sucker on the plane. But I digress.The most important thing about my grandmother’s lemon velvet cake is not how quickly I consumed it back in the day (or how much faster I would consume it today) but the fact that she made her delicious cake with a box of lemon Jello, a package of “lemon velvet” cake mix, oil, and eggs. And truth be told, I didn’t know the provenance of her cake until somewhat recently. I was developing this lemon bundt cake for Baked Occasions, and, in need of inspiration, I naively wrote to my cousin to see if i could get my hands on our grandmother’s “homemade” lemon cake recipe. Of course, when I received it, the recipe proved to be of no use to me in the development process, but to say I was disappointed isn’t really accurate. Honestly, it was more like an “a-ha” moment. As has already been documented here, I love the taste of a cake from a box, and so when I realized that my grandmother’s lemon cake — a cake I have loved my whole life — was one of those kinds of cakes, it kind of all made sense.However, since my grandmother’s recipe was not going to provide me with the secret to baking the perfect uber-lemon-y and moist lemon cake, I needed to look elsewhere — not only in order to develop the lemon bundt cake recipe for Matt and Nato, but because I was now on a personal mission to duplicate the “lemon cake from a box” of my childhood. And so began my several-years-long lemon cake journey, where I came across many amazing (and inspiring) cakes (and developed a couple of my own – for Baked, as mentioned above, the “ultra lemony lemon bundt cake,” and for this, “easy lemon sheet cake”) and discovered many a lemon-cake-tip along the way. From Ina Garten’s lemon loaves, I embraced the notion of loading my cake with zest. From Dorie Greenspan’s lightly lemon-y perfect party cake, I learned to rub said copious-amounts-of-zest into the sugar (to better activate the zesty-ness). and from cook’s country’s lemon buttermilk sheet cake, I was inspired to include some cake flour in with my dry ingredients.And even prior to all of these “tips” making their way into the sheet cake I present to you today, I had been hard at work on a myriad of other lemon-y desserts. (For Icebox Cakes, I developed two different lemon icebox cakes: one that calls for lemon wafers and lemon whipped cream — and caramel, but that is a story for another day — and one that calls for lemon pudding and lemon curd whipped cream.) And because I’ve always got a few “how to make your cake extra moist and ‘box-cake-like'” tricks in my back pocket, it wasn’t long before my sheet cake recipe included not only all of my lemon dessert tips and tricks, but also olive oil (not for taste but for texture and NOT extra virgin) and creme fraiche. And so there you have it, the story of how I came to make this yummy (box-like) cake, why I make it the way I do, and (lucky you) the recipe — so you, too, can eat large-ish pieces of it either with, or without, your boyfriend.

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Lemon "Velvet" Sheet Cake

Recipe Author Jessie Sheehan
Course Dessert
Cuisine Cake


For the cake

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour sifted
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup tightly-ish packed lemon zest about 4 large lemons
  • 1 tsp lemon extract optional
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup neutral olive oil – not extra virgin
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 yolks
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup crème fraiche you can sub sour cream

For the glaze

  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar sifted
  • 5 Tbsp lemon juice


To make the cake:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13x9x2-inch pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar and the zest and, using your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar until fully incorporated. Add the extracts and oil and whisk. Add the eggs and yolks, one at a time, whisking between each addition. Add the juice and whisk again; and then the crème fraiche, whisking a final time to incorporate – don’t be afraid to whisk relatively vigorously throughout all of this.
  • Add the dry ingredients all at once, and using a rubber spatula, very gently fold the dry into the wet.
  • Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 33 minutes, rotating at the halfway point, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a moist crumb or two.
  • Set the pan on a cooling rack and let the cake cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Invert the cake right side up on to the rack, and rest it in a baking sheet with sides.
  • To make the glaze, place the confectioners’ sugar and the lemon juice in a large bowl. Whisk vigorously until smooth.
  • Gently pour the glaze over the cake, using an offset spatula to spread the glaze if it pools, and let the cake cool until room temperature (you can poke the cake with a toothpick to help the glaze seep in).
  • The cake is super moist and will keep tightly covered at room temp for 3 to 5 days.

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