Simple, delicious recipes and helpful tips.

Mom's Famous Tart Lemon Cake

I have found lemon desserts to be quite popular at gatherings. It’s no wonder. They can be quite phenomenal. This is such a simple cake. No fancy frosting or decoration, but it’s just so darn good.

lemon cake squares on cake stand

This beautiful lemon cake is tart, moist, slightly sticky and just plan delicious. It’s dangerously good, ya’ll. Because it’s not sickly sweet, it’s all too easy to eat more than one piece. I have very little self control with this dessert. Consider yourself warned.

As the title says, this is my mom’s recipe. She made it from time to time for as far back as I can remember. This post is a bit emotional for me, actually, because we lost mom back in 2017. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer in August of 2016. For my birthday that following January, I asked her to make me this cake if she felt up to it, so she did. We lost her later that year.

Not only is this cake absolutely the best lemon dessert ever (I’m not exaggerating), but it tastes like childhood to me. Reminds me of mom. It’s easy to make. It’s not fancy, but it’s just so good. And bonus, it’s also dairy free!

*Heads up. This post may contain affiliate links. If you click one and make a purchase, I might make a small commission at no extra charge to you.

lemon cake squares on cake stand


Duncan Hines Cake Mix

It’s not the most “hey I’m a pro food blogger” thing to do, using a boxed mix. If you own a bakery, maybe don’t do that. But hey, I’m a busy mom so I’m good with it. 

Aside from that, I grew up eating this exact lemon cake. As I said, this is my mom’s recipe and of course, I want it to taste exactly how it always has. So I’m not changing a thing.

Make sure you get the Duncan Hines brand. For one thing, that’s what mom’s recipe calls for so it will have the right taste and texture. Bonus, if you’re dairy free, the DH white cake mix is okay for you!

Jello Mix

I’ve only ever bought and used Jello brand for this and that’s what mom always bought too. You can totally try a generic one, but I make no promises for how it turns out.

Making the Cake:


This is an easy one because all of the ingredients are mixed in one bowl. I like to use my KitchenAid mixer for this to speed up the process.


When the cake comes out of the oven, you can give it a little bit to cool slightly. But when you pour the icing over the top, you want it to be pretty warm still. 

This cake can be a little finicky and sometimes it likes to sink in the middle, even when it’s fully cooked. There are a few things that can cause this, but oven temperature and under baking are the two biggest culprits.

I won’t go into all that here. If your cake sinks a little in the middle, don’t worry. it will be just fine as long as a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 

However, when it’s time to ice the cake, you’ll want to make sure that not all of the icing runs into the middle of the cake. Pour it slowly and use the back of a spoon to spread it out towards the edges so it doesn’t get concentrated right in the middle.

It certainly won’t taste bad if that happens, but it will cause the centermost pieces of the cake to be quite wet and heavy. 


Because this is such a sticky cake, it’s not very suitable for layering. We normally just leave it in the pan, covered in the fridge, and cut a piece each time we serve it. If you want to display it for a party or to impress your guests, you can cut out squares and stack them on a cake stand. Sprinkle on some powdered sugar and top with a curl of lemon peel. 


Since this is a rather sticky cake, it can be a bit tricky to cut it without tearing it up. If you want to cut it nicely for presentation, use some butter or oil to grease up your knife and reapply if it starts to drag while cutting. This will help your slices come out nice and neat.

lemon cake squares on cake stand

Plan Your Menu

Need some dinner ideas to go with this cake? Try these amazing Chicken Chili Verde Nachos. They’re light and super filling, so you won’t feel guilty about indulging in some dessert. The chicken is dairy free, so just use your favorite dairy free toppings for a seriously good meal.

Eat good, drink good. This Classic Margarita pairs perfectly with nachos. I hope you make it!

lemon cake squares on clear cake stand with yellow background

Mom's Famous Tart Lemon Cake

Jen Tiffany
This beautiful lemon cake is tart, moist, slightly sticky and just plain delicious. It's dangerously good, ya'll. Because it's not sickly sweet, it's all too easy to eat more than one piece. Consider yourself warned.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 12


For the Cake

  • 1 box Duncan Hines white cake mix
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp powdered sugar - for preparing the pan
  • 3oz box of lemon jello mix
  • 4 eggs
  • cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup water

For the Icing:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ cup lemon juice - approximately 3 lemons


For the Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350° F
  • Prepare a 9x13" cake pan by runnimg the bottom and sides with a little butter or oil. Add 2 tbsp of powdered sugar to the pan. Holding the pan over the sink, tip the pan and tap the sides so that the powdered sugar covers the bottom and all sides. Tap out excess into the sink.
  • In a large mixing bowl, blend together the cake mix and flour.
  • Add oil and 2 eggs to the dry ingredients. Mix until well blended and smooth.
  • Add jello, water and last 2 eggs. Mix well.
  • Pour batter into cake pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. Cake should be golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.

For the Icing

  • Mix together powdered sugar and lemon juice. Whisk until all the sugar is dissolved.
  • When the cake comes out of the oven and while it's stll warm, poke a bunch of holes in it with a fork.
  • Pour the icing over the cake and use the back of a big spoon to spread the icing around. It sinks into the holes so you want to get it all over the cake, letting it run down around the edges too.
  • Serve immediately or allow to cool completely, then cover and store in the refrigerator.

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2 Responses

  1. I will be making this tonight and will be thinking of you ladies and Carol all the while!

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Jen Tiffany, Oklahoma girl, mom, creator of Tasty Sunrise recipes.

Hey, I’m Jen.

I’m a photographer and food blogger from Oklahoma. I love to cook and share great food with family and friends. Oh, and I do love to eat, too!