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Originally published in 2013 (and loved ever since!), these 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. We also used this as a starting point and experimented with different citrus flavors in our 6 inch citrus cake.

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.

Want to add berries? Use my recipe for lemon blueberry cupcakes.

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 (pictured below), or drizzle with raspberry sauce.

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


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


  • 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


  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.


  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!

    1. Thank you for the positive feedback, Debbie, and enjoy your cupcakes!

  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.

    1. Hi Madison, we haven’t tested that substitution, but please let us know how it goes if you do!

  5. Hi! I’ve made this recipe before and they were delicious. I was wondering if I could make them with grapefruit instead of lemon. Or would it be better to make your grapefruit greek yogurt cake into muffins and top with frosting? Thanks!

    1. Hi Audrey, we haven’t tested this recipe with grapefruit but don’t see why it wouldn’t work! The greek yogurt cake texture would be a little dense for cupcakes. Let us know how the cupcakes go if you give them a try!

  6. I’m trying to find a recipe for a lemon cupcake for my mom’s birthday dessert (after my lemon pound cake went wrong) and was wondering if I can take out the lemon zest in this recipe? Would I have to add more lemon juice to substitute? Let me know! Thanks!

    1. Hi Hannah! If you leave out the zest, the cupcakes will lack some of their lemon flavor. We don’t recommend adding more lemon juice because it will throw off the consistency of the cupcake batter. You could always add a tiny bit (1/4 – 1/2 tsp) of lemon extract if you have it. Let us know what you try!

    1. Hi Mary, for best taste and texture, we recommend making two separate batches of batter instead of doubling.

  7. I love the flavor. I followed the directions per recipe and baked for 24 minutes as they weren’t done at 22. The tops were firmer like a cookie but the inside was soft. Any ideas why?

    1. Hi Dawn, Any chance you are using convection/fan heat in your oven? We always recommend conventional settings for baking (not convection/fan). The flow of air from convection heat can cause baked goods to rise and bake unevenly and it also pulls moisture out of the oven (leading to brown exteriors and under-baked interiors, which is why I ask). If you do use convection/fan settings for baking, lower your temperature by 25 degrees F and keep in mind that things may still take less time to bake.

  8. The conversion from Fahrenheit to degrees is wrong – it should be 180 degrees, not 117. Otherwise a great and simple recipe that I enjoyed making with my toddler

  9. Hi Sally, I was wondering if I could replace the lemon with lime or orange! I use this recipe a bunch and I haven’t been able to find a perfect orange or lime recipe! Thanks in advance!

    For example 1/3 lime juice instead of lemon & 2 TBSP of lime zest


    1/3 cup orange juice instead of lemon & 2 tbsp of orange zest

    1. Hi Morgan, we can’t see why not! Or you might like these margarita cupcakes, too — see recipe notes there for a non-alcoholic sweet lime version.

  10. I’m 12 and only recently started baking. I love your website, and I accidentally put the dry ingredients first before the eggs and vannila extract..are my cupcakes gonna be OK?
    Thanks for the awesome website!

    1. Hi Chloe, it’s really best to combine all the wet ingredients before adding the dry. You may have to mix the batter more to get the ingredients to combine correctly which would lead to a dense cupcake.

  11. Hi Sally. Thank you for letting us know that these can be turned into 3 layer 6inch cakes, which is what i would like to make. But I wanted to know if i half the recipe can i make it into just one 6 inch cake? We are a family of 2 and one layer is plenty. Thank you for all the wonderful recipes that bring sweetness into our homes. X

    1. Hi Nargess! Half the batter would likely be a bit too much for just one pan. You could either 1/3 the recipe, or make 1/2 a batch, fill your pan 2/3 way full, and use any leftover batter for a few cupcakes. Enjoy!

  12. Hello! I’m looking forward to trying this recipe for my son’s 2nd birthday! I always love every one of your cake recipes. Do you have a conversion of how these can be made as a cake rather than cupcakes? Pan size and how long? Thank you!!

  13. I’m 12 years old and love baking! I make these for my family and they’re always a big hit! Even for those who normally don’t like lemon! I love your website and am going to try and make your maple bacon doughnuts soon!

  14. Curious about why you don’t recommend baking at a higher temp for first five minutes of bake time for this recipe.
    Can’t wait to try these! Have loved every
    one of your recipes that I’ve tried!

    1. Hi Amy, we like to use the initial high burst of heat for our muffin recipes, when we’re looking to get that nice, tall domed top signature to bakery-style muffins. For cupcakes, we don’t want a high dome as it would make it difficult to decorate. Hope this helps!

  15. I have made this recipe twice now and it has failed both times- I’m an experienced baker and I’m not sure what is going wrong. In adding the wet to the dry, the batter immediately bubbles and by the time they start to bake, they overspread, and have big holes in the center and the texture is way off.

  16. I made this yesterday and loved it! It came out moist, not dry, but really dense. Was that how it was suppose to be?

    The batter was also on the thicker side. As a result when it baked it didn’t have a nice dome but was lumpy. Any ideas on what may have caused that?

    But the flavor was there! Thank you!

    1. Hi Ren, we’re happy to help troubleshoot. These are certainly moist cupcakes, but if you found them to be dense, it’s possible they were simply over mixed. This was likely the cause for the flatter, lumpy baked cake. This most on how to prevent dry and dense cakes may be helpful to review. Thanks so much for giving these a try!

  17. Thank you! I plan to make it again this week!

    Due to time, I may have to make the cupcake batter ahead of time and freeze it in the freezer. Since this recipe has baking powder, do you think freezing it would cause some type of affect on the cupcake at the end?

    Also I want to add blueberries into the cupcake, would I need to increase th3 amount of baking powder?

    1. Hi Ren, we don’t recommend freezing cupcake batter. Once the wet and dry ingredients are mixed together, the leaveners are activated and its best to bake the batter right away. The batter will not bake up the same once thawed. You can, however, freeze baked cupcakes. If you’d like a lemon blueberry version, we recommend trying these lemon blueberry cupcakes!

  18. By freezing the baked cupcakes, how would the overall taste and texture change compared to not freezing it?

    Thank you so much for all the advise!

    1. Hi Ren! When frozen properly, cupcakes and cakes really hold up well. We do it all the time! But it’s definitely up to your personal preference.

  19. I have made these a few times….and they are perfect! I do have one question though. I have buttermilk in the fridge. Can I use that for the whole milk or would that be too sour?

    1. Hi Sheila, Buttermilk is ok but will give these a tangier taste.

  20. I can’t wait to try your lemon blueberry cupcake recipe now. I plan to use frozen blueberries, should those be thawed before tossing into some flour? Thanks!

    1. Hi Ren, do not thaw the blueberries before tossing in flour. Enjoy!

  21. The cupcakes came out really good, and they were really moist!

    There were a few things I wanted to ask about…
    1) my cupcakes came out flat at the top, is that normal?
    2) what’s the difference between adding all the eggs in and mixing vs one at a time and mix in between each?
    3) what’s the difference between adding all the dry ingredients in followed by milk vs alternating between dry and milk?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Ren! Glad you enjoyed them. Flat tops are totally normal, as long as the texture inside is light and fluffy. Adding eggs one at a time and alternating wet and dry ingredients are both ways to help batter come together more smoothly, without over-mixing. Some recipes need these methods, and others don’t always need it. It’s best to follow the written recipe for best results!

  22. hi, i was going to make a lemon cake for father’s day tomorrow. i was wondering if i just put the batter in a 6 inch round cake pan would it turn out right?

    1. Hi Addy! The batter from this cupcake recipe should work well as a three layer 6 inch cake. You can read more about using cupcake recipes for 6 inch cakes in this post!

  23. Hi Sally!

    Have you tried these with cake flour, or would you recommend not doing that?

    1. Hi Chelsea, we fear cake flour would be a bit too light for this recipe. We’d recommend sticking with all-purpose flour for best results.

  24. I used this recipe but made it dairy free by using 1/2 cup coconut oil instead of butter and then I used unsweetened vanilla oat milk instead of the whole milk. The cupcakes turned out AMAZING and so fluffy!!! I totally recommend doing this if you can’t eat dairy.

  25. Made these for my husband’s birthday and used the lemon buttercream frosting. Fabulous. And, the cupcakes really didn’t need frosting they are good all by themselves. I will definitely be making these again.

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