This ricotta strawberry lemon cake is made up of fluffy lemon ricotta cake layered with fresh strawberries and strawberry buttercream. It’s soft, bright, and full of summer flavors!
Every year, I make my mama something special for Mother’s Day and a ricotta strawberry lemon 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. I don’t think it’s a secret that strawberries are my favorite summer produce and they have been absolutely unreal this year. So obviously I had to throw them into a cake, cause what else is a girl to do?
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.
A little about this ricotta strawberry lemon cake
This cake is a showstopper. An impressive, yet simple, summery dessert. The kind of thing you make when you meet your boyfriend’s parents for the first time. And 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
- Baking basics – all purpose flour, baking powder, salt, whole milk, unsalted butter, sugar, vanilla extract, eggs, neutral oil, and powdered sugar.
- Ricotta – this will add a tangy richness to the cake!
- Lemon zest – you’ll need quite a few lemons, because we’re adding a hefty amount of zest to the batter.
- Fresh strawberries – for the filling.
- Freeze dried strawberries – for the frosting. You can find these in the dried fruit section at the grocery store, at Target, or at Trader Joe’s!
Watch how to make this cake
Start by baking the cake
This ricotta strawberry lemon cake is a must-make. Here’s how to do it!
- Start by combining the lemon zest and sugar in a large bowl. Rub the ingredients between your finger tips for about a 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.
- Now, come back to your lemon sugar concoction. Add the butter and beat until it’s all light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Then, mix in plenty of vanilla extract, a heavy dollop of ricotta, and some neutral oil.
- Once that’s whipped up nicely, we’ll add the flour mixture and milk in two batches. Scrape the bottom with a rubber spatula to get any un-mixed bits at the bottom.
- Grease 3 6-inch cake pans up real good. Divide the batter between the cake pans and bake at 375°F for 18-21 minutes, juuuust until an inserted toothpick has a few moist crumbs.
- Once the cakes are baked, let them hang out and cool completely.
Now, make the strawberry buttercream
- 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 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 for ~balance~. 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 everything inside the cake!
- 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.
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!
If you have 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.
If you want to make this cake in advance, you can always freeze the individual layers and assemble once you’re ready to serve the cake. To freeze the cake layers, wrap them up in plastic wrap or parchment paper and store them in an airtight container for up to a month. I do not recommend freezing the cake whole because the texture will get funky once the strawberries and buttercream de-frost!
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! I do this before layering the strawberries in-between the cake, and then I add a dam of frosting around the edges of the cake layers. You can also pat the strawberries dry before adding them in the cake, but I don’t find this totally necessary.
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. Plus, I personally don’t love a ton of frosting on my cakes, so this keeps them from getting too buttercream-heavy.
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!
- Pipe a thick layer of frosting in-between each cake layer. It should be overlapping the sides of the cake. Place the cake on a turntable or plate that you can easily spin around.
- 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/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 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.
- Line the bottoms of the cake pans with parchment paper before greasing. This makes removing the cakes from the pans 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.
- To thin the frosting, add whole milk 1 Tablespoon at a time. To thicken the frosting, add powdered sugar 2 Tablespoons at a time.
- 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.
More summery cakes
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Ricotta Strawberry Lemon Cake
- 3 6-inch cake pans
Lemon Ricotta Cake
- 1 c sugar
- 2 Tbs lemon zest (about 3-4 large lemons)
- 1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp baking powder*
- 3/4 tsp table salt
- 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/3 c whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1/4 c neutral oil
- 1/2 c whole milk
- 1 c unsalted butter, softened
- 3 c powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 c freeze dried strawberries
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 Tbs whole milk, plus more as needed
- Pinch of table salt
- 1 c fresh strawberries, sliced
- Strawberries, lemon slices, etc., for decorating
Ricotta Lemon Cake
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.* Line the bottoms of 3 6-inch cake pans with parchment paper and grease with baking spray, unsalted butter, or neutral oil.
- In a large bowl, add the sugar and lemon zest. Use your fingertips to rub the two ingredients together until the lemon sugar is very fragrant and starting to clump together a bit, 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 a 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 mixture 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!
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day: Cool with You by Her’s