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Sunshine sweet homemade lemon cupcakes are soft and moist, bursting with lemon flavor, and topped with my favorite vanilla buttercream. You’ll love the refreshing zest of citrus flavor in each bite!

lemon cupcake topped with vanilla buttercream and a lemon slice

How can you not smile sinking your teeth into one of these? The happiest cupcake in the world! Today’s homemade lemon cupcakes are incredibly soft and bursting with lemon, just like my lemon cake. Not too much lemon that you’ll squint your eyes and pucker up your lips, but just enough to give each bite a refreshing zest of citrus flavor. I top them with my favorite vanilla frosting. Sweet vanilla and zesty lemon complement each other wonderfully, though cream cheese frosting would also be delicious!

If these cupcakes look familiar, they probably are– we double this recipe to make lemon blueberry cake, and we use the exact same base recipe for my lemon cupcakes with blackberry cream cheese frosting. The gorgeous purple frosting is naturally colored and flavored with blackberries– and is absolutely divine.

These Lemon Cupcakes Are

  • Sunshine sweet
  • Made with basic ingredients
  • Bursting with lemon flavor
  • A perfect balance of sweet and tart
  • Easy to make
  • Moist and buttery
  • Fun to decorate
  • Topped with vanilla buttercream
  • A great lemon muffin recipe, too

lemon cupcake with vanilla frosting cut in half showing the inside

Overview of Ingredients in Lemon Cupcakes

You need simple, everyday ingredients for today’s cupcakes. The ingredient list is similar to my lemon cake. Let’s review:

  • Flour: All-purpose flour is the base of these cupcakes.
  • Baking Powder: Baking powder helps the cupcakes rise.
  • Salt: A little salt adds flavor.
  • Butter: I favor using neutral oil in my cakes and cupcakes because it makes cakes exceptionally moist. However, when I’m looking for a buttery taste, I use butter. In one bite, all you’ll taste is sweet lemon + buttery vanilla flavor. Unbelievable!
  • Sugar: We use all granulated sugar in this cupcake recipe.
  • Eggs: 2 eggs add structure and richness.
  • Vanilla Extract: Pure vanilla extract adds flavor. Try homemade vanilla extract.
  • Milk: Milk adds moisture. I use whole milk, but any milk works.
  • Lemons: We need 2 lemons for the cupcake batter– the zest of two lemons & the juice of two lemons.

These would be so good filled with homemade lemon curd! See my chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes for how I fill cupcakes the easy way.

lemon cupcakes with vanilla buttercream

Frost With Vanilla Buttercream

When deciding what to frost these lemon cupcakes with, I turned to my trusty vanilla buttercream. It’s wonderfully soft and creamy, pipes beautifully (I used a Wilton 1M frosting tip for today’s cupcakes), and pairs perfectly with just about every flavor. I love how this sweet vanilla frosting complements the citrusy lemon cupcakes.

Sweet and tangy cream cheese frosting or a dollop of homemade whipped cream would also be wonderful choices. For even more lemon flavor, try my lemon buttercream. You could even top these with my favorite strawberry frosting, too! Pictured here:

unwrapped lemon cupcake with pink strawberry frosting on top

More Favorite Cupcake Recipes

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lemon cupcake topped with vanilla buttercream and a lemon slice

Homemade Lemon Cupcakes

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours (includes cooling)
  • Yield: 12 cupcakes 1x
  • Category: Cupcakes
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

These sunshine sweet homemade lemon cupcakes with vanilla frosting are incredibly soft and bursting with lemon flavor! 


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (188g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) whole milk*
  • 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons lemon zest*
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) fresh lemon juice*
  • topping: vanilla buttercream and additional lemon slices

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.
  2. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed in a large bowl until creamed, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add eggs and vanilla extract, then beat on medium-high speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Set aside.
  3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, start the mixer on low speed, then slowly add the milk, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Once combined, stop the mixer. Do not overmix this batter.
  4. Spoon batter evenly into 12 cupcake liners, filling them about 2/3 full. Bake for about 18-22 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean when they’re done. For around 30 mini cupcakes, bake for about 11-13 minutes, same oven temperature. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before frosting. I usually let them cool completely in the muffin pan.
  5. Frost cooled cupcakes with vanilla buttercream. If topping with lemon zest, do so right before serving. There may be leftover frosting depending how much you use on each cupcake.
  6. Leftover cupcakes keep well covered tightly in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: Cupcakes can be made ahead 1 day in advance, covered, and stored at room temperature. Frosting can also be made 1 day in advance, covered, and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. Vanilla buttercream can thicken and stiffen in the refrigerator overnight, so use an electric mixer on low speed to beat in an extra splash of milk. Decorate cupcakes before serving. Frosted or unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Milk: I highly recommend whole milk for a rich and moist tasting cupcake, but any milk (dairy or nondairy) works in a pinch.
  3. Lemons: You need about 2-3 medium lemons to yield this amount of zest and juice.
  4. Garnish: Instead of a lemon slice, decorate the cupcakes with sprinkles, white chocolate chips, or even crushed hard lemon candies.
  5. Try my lemon blueberry cake next. It is the same exact recipe, only doubled to make a layer cake.
  6. Be sure to check out my 10 tips for baking the BEST cupcakes before you begin!

Keywords: homemade lemon cupcakes, lemon cupcakes

lemon cupcake topped with vanilla buttercream and a lemon slice with a bite taken from it

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. I was looking for a lemon cake recipe that wasn’t as involved as the last one I made (which had lemon syrup and lemon glaze and took all afternoon). This recipe was just what I was looking for. It made 12 regular-size cupcakes and 4 minis. Since the regular cupcakes are supposed to go with me to celebrate my grandson’s birthday tomorrow, having 4 minis to “taste test” was just right! I found that it took the juice of 1 large lemon, but needed 2 large lemons for the zest. My aluminum cupcake pan took 22 minutes. I will use my dark cupcake pan next time, to see if they bake faster in that one. The minis took 11 minutes. I used my tried-and-true Betty Crocker buttercream frosting recipe. I did add lemon extract to both the cupcake batter and the frosting (about 1/2 tsp to each).

    1. Update on the cupcakes. They were delicious! I loved the texture — they were more dense than some of my other cake recipes and I really liked that. This recipe is a keeper!

  2. I often have trouble baking here at altitude but these worked perfectly! They rose beautifully and didn’t collapse at all like I sometimes experience. Only thing I did differently was bake at 375 instead of 350. Now to make your lemon buttercream! Thanks for such great recipes – love your site!

  3. these are delicious, but could i replace the juice and zest for orange, and then convert it to a 6 inch cake?

    1. Hi Emily! While we haven’t tested swapping lemons for oranges with this recipe I believe it should work. You can also use this batter to bake a 6 inch cake. Let us know if you try it!

  4. Can I skip lemon in the cupcake batter and instead fill it with lemon curd? I’m worried if I do a double lemon, it will be too lemony. Do I need to replace the lemon juice with something else?

    1. Hi Niharika, it shouldn’t be too lemony with the lemon cupcake + lemon curd, but if you’d prefer a cupcake without lemon flavoring, we’d recommend using our vanilla cupcakes recipe instead.