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Ma Mag’s Lemon Cheese

A forerunner to modern-day lemon curd, lemon cheese is rich with eggs and butter and tart and tangy from fresh lemon juice. Ma Mag’s Lemon Cheese makes the best cake filling you ever put in your mouth! 

I know what you’re thinking….who is “Ma Mag” and what in the world is lemon cheese?

A slice of lemon cheese cake on a serving plate.

First things first. Ma Mag was my great-grandmother. Her name was Maggie Mae, and she was called “Ma Mag” by her grandchildren.

Now, to answer the question, what is lemon cheese? Well, you could think of it as an old-fashioned name for lemon curd. Still, they’re not exactly the same thing. I think lemon cheese is more buttery and a little richer than lemon curd, but they are quite similar. 

Ma Mag’s Lemon Cheese Cake (no, not “cheesecake”) is a huge favorite in our family. Our version is simply two white cake layers with a filling and topping of Ma Mag’s Lemon Cheese. Some people add a pretty white 7-minute frosting to the sides, but we usually don’t bother unless it’s a really fancy occasion.

Lemon Cheese is also an option for the filling (along with chocolate or caramel) in our Southern heritage multi-layer cakes, like my Chocolate Little Layer Cake. I was thrilled to see a lemon cheese little layer cake featured on Rebecca Lang’s beautiful blog! You don’t often see those cakes, and I’m pretty sure that’s the only one I’ve ever seen online.

If you’re a lemon lover, you’re going to fall hard for this recipe.

❤️ Why I Love This Recipe


  • It’s a true family heirloom. The exact recipe below has been handed down through our family for generations.
  • The flavor is a perfect balance of fresh and bright with rich and buttery.
  • It’s truly easy to make. Even a beginning baker can easily tackle lemon cheese.

You’ll also find this recipe in my cookbook!

You can see Ma Mag’s Lemon Cheese Filling on pages 266-267 in my cookbook, My Southern Table! Get your signed copy today.

🛒 Ingredient Notes


The ingredients you’ll need are very simple and easily sourced. You’ll need only five ingredients other than water.

Ingredients needed to make lemon cheese.
  • Granulated Sugar — You’ll need just common white, granulated sugar. I typically use either Dixie Crystals or Domino brand sugar.
  • Cornstarch — Cornstarch thickens without adding any flavor or color. That makes it a great choice for a recipe such as this.
  • Egg Yolks — Along with the butter, the egg yolks add richness to the lemon cheese. See “How to Separate Eggs” below.
  • Lemon Juice & Lemon Zest — The stars of the recipe, providing their bright, tangy flavor.
  • Butter — Adds buttery richness and enhances the smooth texture.

The complete ingredient list with detailed measurements is included in the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.

🥄 How I Make Ma Mag’s Lemon Cheese


  1. Place the water in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. While the water comes to a boil, mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a medium mixing bowl.
  3. To the sugar and cornstarch, add the egg yolks, lemon juice, and zest. Beat well, adding a small amount of the boiling water to thin the mixture.
  1. Pour the sugar and egg mixture into the boiling water. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has thickened (it should be thick enough to hold a mounded shape on the spoon without running).
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter. Stir until the butter has melted and is incorporated into the mixture.
  3. Allow the frosting to cool before spreading on cooled cake layers (on top and inside only).
Overheat shot of a bowl filled with lemon cheese.

🥚 How to Separate Eggs


There are several methods for separating eggs. I almost always use the hand method.

Method 1: Using the Eggshell

  • Have two bowls ready.
  • Gently tap an egg on a flat surface to crack the shell. Don’t use too much force so that the shell doesn’t shatter into pieces.
  • Hold the cracked egg over one bowl, and carefully pull the shell halves apart. Open the egg so that the yolk stays in one half while the white begins to drip out.
  • Gently transfer the yolk back and forth between the two halves of the shell until all the white has separated from the yolk and fallen into the bowl.
  • Gently pour the yolk into the second bowl.

Method 2: Using Your Hands

  • Have two bowls ready.
  • Gently tap an egg on a flat surface to crack the shell.
  • Working over one bowl, open the cracked egg and let it fall into your fingers.
  • Spread your fingers slightly to allow the white to fall through into the bowl while the yolk remains in your hand.
  • Transfer the yolk to the other bowl.

Method 3:  Use an Egg Separator

  • Have two bowls ready.
  • Place the egg separator on top of one bowl.
  • Gently tap an egg on a flat surface to crack the shell.
  • Hold the cracked egg over the egg separator and open it so that the egg contents fall into the separator.
  • Once the egg is in the separator, give it a moment. The white will begin to flow through the slots or holes into the bowl below, while the yolk will remain in the separator. (Note: you may need to gently shake the separator to encourage all the egg white to drain off.)
  • When all the white has drained into the bowl, transfer the yolk to the second bowl. After the white has fully separated, carefully remove the yolk from the separator and place it in a separate container if needed for your recipe. Be gentle to prevent the yolk from breaking.

⚠️ Troubleshooting Tips


  • If the frosting is too runny, simply cook it a bit longer on low heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning.
  • Should the frosting be too thick, whisk in a tiny bit more lemon juice or water to reach the desired consistency.
  • It’s important to keep the heat low and stir constantly to prevent scorching.
  • If your lemon cheese isn’t vibrant enough to suit you, add a drop or two of yellow food coloring.
Finished lemon cheese cake on a pedestal.

🔀 Recipe Variations


  • Lemon Cheese Cupcakes: Use this frosting to top your favorite yellow cupcake recipe.
  • With 7-Minute Frosting: As mentioned above, many cooks adorn the sides of the cake with a fluffy white 7-minute frosting.

🍽️ How I Serve Lemon Cheese


To be honest, I typically serve lemon cheese cake with no embellishment at all! All we need with this is a fork and a few minutes. But, if you want to fancy it up, you can always add a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and a few berries. Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are all delicious! 

🍚 How to Store


Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It can also be frozen for up to a month.

❓ Questions About Ma Mag’s Lemon Cheese


Can I use bottled lemon juice?

While freshly squeezed lemon juice (and freshly grated zest) will give you the best flavor, bottled juice can work in an emergency.

Can I make this frosting ahead of time?

Sure can! It keeps well in the fridge, so it’s great for advance preparation.

Lana Stuart.

Questions? I’m happy to help!

If you have more questions about the recipe, or if you’ve made it and would like to leave a comment, scroll down to leave your thoughts, questions, and/or rating!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

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A slice of lemon cheese cake on a serving plate.

Ma Mag’s Lemon Cheese

Rich with eggs and butter and tart and tangy from lemon juice, Ma Mag's Lemon Cheese is the best cake filling you'll ever put in your mouth!
5 from 1 vote
Print It Rate It
Course: Desserts
Cuisine: American, Southern, Southern, Vintage
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 16 servings
Calories: 92kcal
Author: Lana Stuart

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 egg yolks
  • Juice of 2 lemons and the grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)

Instructions

  • Place the water in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.
  • While the water comes to a boil, mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a medium mixing bowl.
  • To the sugar and cornstarch, add the egg yolks, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Beat well, adding a small amount of the boiling water to thin the mixture.
  • Pour the sugar and egg mixture into the boiling water. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has thickened.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter. Stir until the butter has melted and is incorporated into the mixture.
  • Allow the frosting to cool before spreading on cooled cake layers (on top and inside only).

Notes

  • The nutrition values are for the lemon cheese only. The cake layers are not included.
  • The recipe makes enough to prepare one two-layer cake.
  • Use your favorite two-layer white cake recipe to make the layers for the finished cake. The leftover egg whites from the lemon cheese are perfect for this!
  • See the “How to Separate Eggs” section in the post of detailed instructions.

Nutrition Information

Serving 1 | Calories 92kcal | Carbohydrates 14g | Protein 1g | Fat 4g | Saturated Fat 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat 0.3g | Monounsaturated Fat 1g | Trans Fat 0.1g | Cholesterol 56mg | Sodium 27mg | Potassium 6mg | Fiber 0.01g | Sugar 13g | Vitamin A 154IU | Calcium 8mg | Iron 0.1mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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5 from 1 vote

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2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    the best coconut cake I ever tasted had a lemon-flavored filling. Haven’t been able to find such a recipe but this sounds so good, I might have to try it! Also, thanks for the tips for cracklings!!