Family Recipe

Quick and Easy Lemon Jell-O® Sourdough Cake

When life gives you lemons, make this moist, tangy cake.

Lemon Jell-O Sourdough Cake
Lemon Jell-O® Sourdough Cake. Photo by author.

When I was a little girl, I loved lemons. I’d eat them by themselves, in hot tea, in iced tea, and in pie. I couldn’t wait until summertime to wow the neighbor kids with my ability to not make a sour face when I sucked on a fat wedge.

Every summer, I went to my grandmother’s house. She made a delicious lemon cake that was topped with a super sour lemon glaze. I always asked for the edge pieces because they were the lemony-est.

Now, when I eat her lemon Jell-O® cake, I’m transported to the Fourth-of-July in her back yard. My uncle, cousin and I would hold a sparkler in one hand and a piece of cake in the other. Firecrackers banged and popped all over the neighborhood and tangy lemon exploded in our mouths.

When I was 34, my mother passed away, and I realized that I didn’t have her mother’s cake recipe. Luckily, before my dad passed in 2020, he handed me a box of recipes that my mother collected over the years. The lemon Jell-O® cake was in it. It felt like Christmas came in January all over again.

Since the pandemic, I have become obsessed with making sourdough and adapting recipes to use up the discard instead of wasting it. With a few tweaks to my grandmother’s recipe, this beloved family favorite is even better.

If you don’t have a sourdough starter, you can begin one here.

Lemon Jell-O® Sourdough Cake Ingredients

1 boxed super moist lemon cake mix
1 3-oz. box of lemon Jell-O® gelatin
Lemon zest, finely grated (from 3 large lemons, reserve 1 tsp. for glaze)
¾ c. Oil (any neutral flavor such as Canola, corn, or all-vegetable oil)
3 eggs (beaten)
1 c. (225 g.) sourdough starter discard
½ c. (4 oz.) freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 large lemons)
1 tsp. butter flavoring (optional)
1 tsp. lemon extract

Print this recipe.

Instructions for the Lemon Jell-O® Sourdough Cake

Preheat your oven to 325℉. Adjust your oven rack to the middle position in your oven. Spray a 9-inch x 13-inch cake pan with oil, or grease it with shortening and dust it with flour.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cake mix, Jell-O® and lemon zest. In a large measuring cup, beat together the eggs and oil until well combined. Stir in the lemon juice, butter flavoring and lemon extract. Finally, mix in the sourdough discard until fully incorporated.

Fold the wet mixture into your dry ingredients and mix until no dry pockets remain. If you prefer, you can put your dry ingredients into your stand mixer bowl and add the wet ingredients gradually while mixing. You may also use a hand mixer, but I find a whisk works just as well.

Pour your batter into your 9 x 13-inch prepared cake pan and smooth it out evenly. Place the pan on the middle rack of your preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan 180-degrees to promote even browning. Continue to bake 20 more minutes.

A toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake should come out clean, with no raw dough clinging to it. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire cooling rack.

Make the lemon glaze while the cake bakes.


1 c. (120 g.) powdered sugar
½ c. lemon juice
½ tsp. lemon zest


While the cake is baking, combine all the ingredients in a measuring cup and whisk thoroughly. The glaze will be thin and pour easily over the cake. While the cake is still piping hot, poke random holes all over the cake with a toothpick or meat fork. Drizzle the glaze over the entire surface of the cake before it cools.

To store left-overs, if there are any, tightly cover the pan with plastic wrap. There is no need to refrigerate it. If, however, you make it for yourself and no one else, cut the cake into serving-sized pieces and place them into a freezer bag. This cake freezes well and will be good for at least a month.

Why this Lemon Jell-O® Sourdough Cake Recipe works.

The sourdough discard enhances the tangy flavor of the lemons and adds a moist, springy texture to the batter. The glaze soaks into the crust of the cake, making the edges extra sour. Also, using the lemon cake mix makes this a super easy recipe.

Lemon zest is the finely grated yellow part of the lemon rind. It has concentrated lemon flavor that easily permeates entire dishes, even in small amounts. The use of lemon zest in this recipe boosts its sourness. And you use a bunch of it.

You want to grate only the yellow portion of the skin without the white part of the rind underneath it. The white part is bitter and will give the cake a chemical taste. Using a microplane grater like this one or this one makes the job easy. (Not affiliate links.)

A new legacy recipe for future generations.

This cake turned out so moistly delicious I began to imagine other versions. I would love to try making an Orange Dream Cake using orange Jell-O®, orange juice, orange zest, and orange extract.

I think it would be possible to use any fruit flavored Jell-O® and freshly squeezed juice. You’re only limited by your imagination.

My sourdough version of Grandmother’s legacy recipe is sure to become your family favorite, too. And you won’t waste sourdough discard either.

Bon Appetit!

If you liked this recipe, try my Sourdough Chocolate-Chip Cookies.

Don’t forget to claim your printable copy of this recipe.

Pat Davis, a retired teacher and editor of Simply Living and Living Simply, lives with her husband and neurotic cat, Neko. She loves to read, write, travel, bake, garden, sew, and craft.

Family Recipe

Easy Sourdough Chocolate-Chip Cookies and Happy Kids

A recipe for making joy filled memories.

My friend bakes with her granddaughters. Photo by Charlie Stroud. Used with permission.
My friend bakes with her granddaughters. Photo by Charlie Stroud. Used with permission.

When I was a kid, my mother handed me her giant cookbook ‘bible’ opened to a page where she had written down a “Thumbprint Cookie” recipe. I made this recipe many times because I enjoyed my success in measuring, mixing, and baking these cookies.

As a teen, I picked up the Nestle Toll House cookie recipe and easily made it, since I already knew how to read a recipe. The best kitchen memories I have is when I worked side-by-side with my grandma making cakes, pies, cookies and breads.

This easy sourdough chocolate chip cookie recipe uses up sourdough discard you might otherwise waste. If you make it with your children or grandchildren, they will learn important cooking skills while you make wonderful memories together.

If you don’t have a sourdough starter, you can begin one here.

Why this recipe works.

To make this recipe, you will need to use completely depleted sourdough discard. This means you do not want any activity or bubbling occurring, so take out the portion of the starter you need before you give it a regular feeding. Let it sit on the counter until all bubbling has stopped.

Because the discard is depleted, it will not cause lift in the cookies. Active yeast creates air pockets within dough, or lift. Depleted yeast does not, so your cookies will spread out and become crisp instead.

Sourdough discard is made up of water and flour, so you must use less flour than in a non-sourdough recipe. A lower baking temperature allows the moisture to dry out of the cookies without burning them. It creates a fluffy inside and crispy outside. The best part is the added flavor you get from the discard.

The extra moisture from the discard makes the batter less stiff, and easier to mix for small arms. You can let small children flatten the dough into disks to bake or roll it into a log for older children to carefully cut into slices with a knife.

Kids love making cookies, and they will love making these. If you have more than one child, assign each one a part of the mixing to complete. Then work together to cut, shape, and bake. There’s nothing better than eating a hot, chewy, chocolate chip cookie, fresh from the oven.

Ingredients for sourdough chocolate chip cookies

  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick or 122 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 Tbsp (½ C or 96 g.) of all-purpose shortening like Crisco
  • ½ cup (100 g.) granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup (133 g.) packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp (5 g.) pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup (225 g.) sourdough discard
  • 1 ½ cup (336 g.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup (112 g.) chopped pecans (optional)
  • 2 cups (284 g.) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp (5 g.) Kosher salt
  • ½ tsp (2 g.) baking soda
  • ¾ tsp (3 g.) baking powder

If you prefer, you can use all butter, or all shortening when making these cookies. In addition, if you want macadamia nuts, walnuts, peanuts, or any other kind you like, you can substitute them or use none at all.

Get a printable copy of this recipe here.

Mixing your sourdough chocolate chip cookies.

Step 1

Cream together the softened butter and shortening in a bowl. Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar. Whisk vigorously for one minute and let rest for 10 minutes. Repeat the whisking and resting four times in total. This dissolves the sugar completely, allowing you to use less.

Step 2

In a small bowl or measuring cup, beat the eggs slightly with a fork before adding the vanilla and sourdough discard. Mix thoroughly. Add this mixture to your butter and sugar mixture, stirring gently until smooth. Add in the chocolate chips and pecans.

Step 3

In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Whisk together to combine. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and fold together until it forms a ball. Be careful not to overmix, as this will make the cookies tough.

Step 4

Roll the dough into logs that are a about 1½-inch to 2-inches in diameter. If necessary, divide into two or more lengths. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. This allows the dough to become firm and easier to handle.

Note: If you have very small children who should not use a knife, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. You will scoop out balls of dough that they can flatten into appropriately sized disks for baking.

Baking your sourdough chocolate chip cookies.

Position two of your oven racks in the two most center positions of your oven. Preheat your oven to 325℉. This temperature is slightly lower than most cookie recipes, but allows you to cook them longer.

While your oven is preheating, line your cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove your chilled dough from the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap.

If you made your dough into logs, slice ½-inch slices and lay them 1-inch apart on the parchment lined cookie sheet. If you didn’t form logs, scoop out 2-inch balls of dough and flatten them into ½-inch disks that are about 2-inches in diameter.

You can bake two cookie sheets at a time. When your oven is preheated, place one cookie sheet on your upper middle rack and the other on the lower one. How long they bake depends on your preferred results. For a slightly chewier cookie, bake for 6–8 minutes. A crisper, cake-like cookie bakes 8–10 minutes.

To promote even browning, halfway through your bake (usually 4 to 5 minutes) switch the position of each baking sheet. Move the top sheet to the bottom rack and the bottom sheet to the top one. Also, rotate each cookie sheet 180 degrees so that the front of each sheet is at the back of the oven.

The cookie may appear undercooked, even at the maximum time. If you cook them until they appear done, they will be overbaked. However, the cookies will continue to ‘cook’ for a few minutes while they cool.

If you find that your oven does not cook them to your desired brownness at this temperature, increase it to 350℉ and pay close attention to their doneness levels. Slide the parchment paper from the cookie sheet onto a wire cooling rack and cool completely before storing the cookies.

Variations on my sourdough chocolate chip cookies.

Peppermint Sourdough Chocolate Chip Cookies

A few years ago, my husband found a recipe for mint chocolate chip cookies that added mint extract to the dough. Before baking them you sprinkle crushed candy canes over the top. When I couldn’t find mint extract anywhere, I resorted to putting crushed candy canes in the dough.

I did the same thing to my sourdough chocolate chip cookies. A box of 12 candy canes gave me six to crush for the dough. Then I crushed the other six and put the bits into a small bowl. As I sliced each cookie, I pressed one side into the crushed candy and placed that side up on the cookie sheet, then baked as usual.

Sourdough Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Instead of using shortening in the dough, try using 8 tablespoons (½ cup) of smooth peanut butter. Then substitute chopped peanuts for the nuts. You can put half into the dough and dip each disk of dough into a bowl of chopped peanuts before baking it.

Sourdough Butterscotch Macadamia Nut Cookies

Instead of semi-sweet chocolate chips, substitute 1 ½ cups of butterscotch morsels and 1 cup chopped macadamia nuts for the pecans.

Sourdough Fudge Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

Whisk 2 tablespoons of baker’s chocolate powder (unsweetened) to the flour mixture. Substitute an equal amount of mint chocolate chips for the semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Go make memories!

No matter how you make these, your family will love them and you will make wonderful memories with all the children in your life. The warm memories last a lifetime.

Bon Appetit!

If you loved this recipe, try making my sourdough coconut oatmeal cookies.

Click here to get a printable copy of this recipe.

Pat Davis, a retired teacher and editor of Simply Living and Living Simply, lives with her husband and neurotic cat, Neko. She loves to read, write, travel, bake, garden, sew, and craft.