This post was created as in partnership with Imperial Sugar. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.

This Lemon Earthquake Cake is a fun and easy dessert for all kinds of Spring and Summer gatherings from potlucks to backyard barbecues. The signature cracks and crevices of an earthquake cake are made by pouring cake batter over coconut, pecans, and lemon sandwich cookies, which create a delightful crunchy base before swirling in an easy cream cheese frosting. 

An overhead image of a lemon earthquake cake in a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Table of Contents
  1. What You'll Need
  2. How to Make Lemon Earthquake Cake
  3. Recipe FAQ's
  4. Tips for Success
  5. Storage & Freezing Instructions
  6. More Lemon Recipes
  7. More Easy Cake Recipes

Earthquake cakes get them name from the craters that form as the cake bakes around swirls of frosting, coconut, and other mix-ins. I have already shared a Red Velvet Earthquake Cake but today I'm back with the lemon version!

This dessert is so easy and so fun to make. And it is absolutely delicious and irresistible. I found myself slivering off "just one more piece" every time I went through the kitchen because it was so good!

Serve it at room temperature or chilled - it's yummy either way. There is no need to frost an earthquake cake because it's already perfectly sweet with the frosting baked inside it like magic!

If you love lemon desserts, be sure to also check out our Easy Lemon Bars, Lemon Meringue Pie Bars, and Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Frosting.

An overhead image of slices of lemon earthquake cake next to fresh lemons.

What You'll Need

Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.

  • Lemon cake mix - Use your favorite brand along with the eggs, oil, and water called for in the instructions.
  • Shredded sweetened coconut - This provides a bottom base layer and will toast as the cake bakes so there is no need to toast it first.
  • Pecans - Chopped macadamia nuts or walnuts would also be good with the other flavors of lemon, white chocolate, and coconut in this cake.
  • Lemon sandwich cookies - These add such a fun element and flavor to the cake, but if you have a hard time finding them then Golden Oreos or any vanilla sandwich cookies will work almost just as well.
  • Cream cheese - Make sure this is softened to room temperature by pulling it out at least 30 minutes before using so you don't end up with unmixed chunks of cream cheese in the frosting part of the cake.
  • Salted butter
  • Powdered sugar - I use Imperial Sugar because it's a brand that I love and trust for a great quality, reliable product that is perfect for all my baking needs. I have partnered with them for years and they are fantastic.
  • Vanilla extract
  • Salt
  • White chocolate chips
Ingredients for lemon earthquake cake.

How to Make Lemon Earthquake Cake

  1. Layer coconut, pecans, and cookies. Sprinkle the base ingredients over bottom of a 9 X 13-inch baking dish. They will bake into the cake creating a chewy, toasty sort of bottom layer that is just delicious!
  1. Prepare cake batter. Beat cake mix, water, oil, and eggs in a large bowl for 2 minutes on medium speed until well-combined. Pour over coconut, pecans, and cookies in an even layer.
  2. Make the cream cheese frosting mixture. Beat cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt until combined. Drop spoonfuls of cream cheese mixture over cake batter.
  1. Swirl. Gently swirl into batter with a knife. Sprinkle with white chocolate chips.
  1. Bake. Transfer the cake to a preheated 350 degree F oven and bake for 55-60 minutes until done.

Be sure to visit Imperial Sugar's site for the FULL RECIPE and instructions.

A slice of lemon earthquake cake on a plate.

Recipe FAQ's

How do I know when this cake is done?

This kind of cake can be trickier to tell when it is done because a skewer or toothpick doesn't always come out clean thanks to the cream cheese swirl. Instead, it should look lightly browned on top and around the edges, which should be starting to pull slightly away from the edges of the pan. You can also try sticking your toothpick in an area of the cake that looks like it has more of the cake part than the cream cheese part and if it comes out with just a few crumbs that is an indicator that the cake is done.

Can I leave out the coconut or nuts?

If you are concerned about allergies to nuts or coconuts, I recommend replacing the chopped pecans with some coarsely chopped pretzels for added crunch and simply omitting the coconut layer since I don't have a good substitute suggestion for those in this particular recipe.

Do I frost an earthquake cake?

No, there is no need to frost an earthquake cake because the "frosting" part of the recipe is already swirled into the cake batter for a perfectly sweet, creamy finish.

Tips for Success

  • Use the right cream cheese. Be sure to use full-fat cream cheese, not the spreadable variety that comes in a tub.
  • Don't overmix. You don't want to swirl the cream cheese mixture into the cake batter too much or it will melt into the cake. It's good to still have some dollops of cream cheese frosting to create the rocky, cratered effect that earthquake cake is known for.
  • Play with the flavor! You can use this same recipe with strawberry cake mix with lemon sandwich cookies for a strawberry lemonade earthquake cake. Or omit the sandwich cookies altogether (or use vanilla or chocolate Oreos) and use any other cake mix flavor like spice, chocolate, or red velvet.
  • Want more lemon flavor? If you are looking to intensify the lemon experience, you can add 1-2 Tablespoons of fresh lemon zest to the cake batter before pouring it over the coconut and pecans. You could even consider adding 1 teaspoon of lemon extract for more of a lip-puckering lemon candy cake flavor.

Storage & Freezing Instructions

If you have leftover earthquake cake, you can store it at room temperature in the baking dish it was cooked in by covering it with a lid or tightly with plastic wrap to keep it from going stale. Even though it has cream cheese in it, the sugar and baking process helps act as a preservative that keeps this fresh and safe at room temperature for 2-3 days.

You can also transfer slices to an airtight container and store it in the fridge for about 5 days or freeze individually wrapped slices for up to 2 months. Let it thaw at room temperature for 1-2 hours before enjoying.

A slice of lemon earthquake cake on a white plate in front of more pieces of cake and a halved lemon.

Be sure to stop by Imperial Sugar's site for the FULL RECIPE. I have partnered with them now for a few years and love their products for my baking needs!

More Lemon Recipes

More Easy Cake Recipes

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Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.

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About the author

Hi, I'm Amy

I enjoy exploring the world through food, culture, and travel and sharing the adventure with mostly from-scratch, family friendly recipes that I think of as modern comfort cooking.

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