Portillo’s Lemon Cake Recipe: A Delightful Treat to Brighten Your Day

If you have a sweet tooth and a penchant for citrus flavors, then Portillo’s Lemon Cake Recipe is a must-try treat. This beloved cake has gained a cult following, and for good reason. It’s moist, tangy, and bursting with lemony goodness. Whether you’re looking to recreate this famous dessert at home or just curious about its magic, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive into the recipe and all the tips and tricks you need to make the perfect Portillo’s Lemon Cake.

What Makes Portillo’s Lemon Cake Special?

Portillo’s Lemon Cake is not your average lemon cake. It’s a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, with a texture that melts in your mouth. The cake is known for its vibrant lemon flavor, achieved through both lemon zest and lemon juice, which give it that fresh, zesty kick. Topped with a creamy lemon frosting, it’s a dessert that screams sunshine and happiness.

The History Behind Portillo’s Lemon Cake

Portillo’s, a popular restaurant chain known for its Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef, originally introduced this lemon cake as a seasonal item. However, due to overwhelming demand, it quickly became a permanent fixture on their menu. The cake’s unique flavor and texture have made it a favorite among dessert lovers, and now you can bring that deliciousness to your own kitchen.

Ingredients for Portillo’s Lemon Cake

Before we get started, let’s gather all the ingredients you’ll need:

For the Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Lemon Frosting

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • A pinch of salt

Step-by-Step Guide to Making Portillo’s Lemon Cake

Now that we have everything ready, let’s jump into the cooking process. Follow these steps to create a mouthwatering lemon cake that rivals the one from Portillo’s.

Preparing the Cake Batter

  1. Preheat Your Oven: Start by preheating your oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans to prevent the cake from sticking.
  2. Mix the Dry Ingredients: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set this aside for later.
  3. Cream the Butter and Sugar: In a large mixing bowl, beat the softened butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy. This should take about 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add the Wet Ingredients: Beat in the eggs one at a time, ensuring each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the vegetable oil, buttermilk, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Mix until well combined.
  5. Combine the Dry and Wet Ingredients: Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, mixing on low speed until just combined. Be careful not to overmix, as this can make the cake dense.
  6. Divide the Batter: Pour the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans. Use a spatula to smooth the tops.

Baking the Cake

  1. Bake: Place the pans in the preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  2. Cool: Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. This helps prevent the cakes from becoming soggy.

Making the Lemon Frosting

  1. Beat the Butter: In a large mixing bowl, beat the softened butter until creamy and smooth.
  2. Add the Powdered Sugar: Gradually add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition. This ensures a smooth and lump-free frosting.
  3. Incorporate the Lemon and Vanilla: Add the fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Beat on high speed until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Assembling the Cake

  1. Level the Cakes: If needed, use a serrated knife to level the tops of the cakes so they’re flat. This helps the layers stack evenly.
  2. Frost the First Layer: Place one cake layer on a serving plate or cake stand. Spread a generous amount of frosting on top.
  3. Add the Second Layer: Place the second cake layer on top of the first, then spread a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake to create a crumb coat. Refrigerate for 15 minutes to set.
  4. Finish Frosting: Apply the remaining frosting, covering the cake completely. Use a spatula to create swirls or patterns if desired.
  5. Garnish: For an extra touch, garnish the cake with thin slices of lemon or a sprinkle of lemon zest.

Tips and Tricks for the Perfect Lemon Cake

Choosing Fresh Lemons

For the best flavor, always use fresh lemons. Bottled lemon juice can’t compare to the vibrant taste of freshly squeezed juice and zest. Plus, the zest adds an aromatic depth that takes the cake to the next level.

Measuring Ingredients Accurately

Baking is a science, so precise measurements are crucial. Use a kitchen scale for the flour and sugar, and make sure to level off the flour with a knife for accuracy.

Room Temperature Ingredients

Ensure that your butter, eggs, and buttermilk are at room temperature before mixing. This helps them incorporate more smoothly and evenly into the batter, resulting in a better-textured cake.

Don’t Overmix

When combining the wet and dry ingredients, mix just until they’re combined. Overmixing can develop the gluten in the flour, leading to a denser cake instead of a light and fluffy one.

Test for Doneness

To avoid overbaking, start checking the cakes a few minutes before the suggested baking time. Insert a toothpick into the center of the cake; if it comes out clean or with a few crumbs, the cake is done.


Portillo’s Lemon Cake is a delightful dessert that brings a burst of sunshine to any occasion. With its tangy lemon flavor and creamy frosting, it’s sure to become a favorite in your household. By following this recipe, you can recreate the magic of Portillo’s Lemon Cake right in your own kitchen. So gather your ingredients, preheat your oven, and get ready to bake a cake that will leave everyone asking for seconds!

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FAQs About Portillo’s Lemon Cake Recipe

Can I make this cake ahead of time?

Yes, you can bake the cake layers ahead of time. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store them at room temperature for up to two days, or freeze them for up to a month. Frost the cake on the day you plan to serve it for the best results.

What can I use instead of buttermilk?

If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make a substitute by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of milk. Let it sit for 5 minutes before using.

Can I use a different type of frosting?

Absolutely! While lemon frosting enhances the citrus flavor, you can use a cream cheese frosting or even a vanilla buttercream if you prefer.

How should I store leftover cake?

Store leftover cake in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. If you live in a hot climate, it’s best to refrigerate the cake and bring it to room temperature before serving.

Can I make this recipe into cupcakes?

Yes, you can! Simply divide the batter among cupcake liners and bake at 350°F (175°C) for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Frost and decorate as desired.