Lemon Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting

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
  • 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

  • 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

140 Comments

  1. Made these this morning as minis. They are super light and yummy!! Thanks Sally 🙂 PS I halved the frosting recipe and it was still more than enough to frost 3 dozen minis (if anyone is thinking of doing the same)! Love this recipe!

  2. Thanks for another delicious recipe! I’ve never been disappointed with any of your recipes yet!

  3. Hi Sally, these look fantastic! I was wondering, do you think this recipe would be dense enough to use for a birthday cake with 4 layers and fondant on top? Thanks!

    1. Julia – yes, I do think that would work. The lemon cupcakes aren’t dense, but they aren’t falling apart soft either. I think it will be fine.

  4. I made these and they were amazing! I love that I didn’t have to skimp out on icing or batter 😉

  5. Emily Jackson says:

    Thanks for the recipe, these were super yummy! We have a lemon tree in our backyard and this was the first “lemon” treat I made 🙂

  6. Courtney Morris says:

    Sally,
    can I use lemon extract instead of the lemon zest and lemon juice?

    1. You sure could! Perhaps 1/2 teaspoon. I know that stuff is quite strong. Taste the batter and add more if need be.

  7. Hello, I made these lemon cupcakes with the frosting and they were by far the best baked good I ever made! I was too proud to bring these to Sunday dinner last week. They were perfect just as the recipe is and I’m looking for an excuse to make them again. Thanks for sharing this!

  8. Sally! I’ve made several of your recipes and every single one has been amazing. I made these cupcakes for Easter dessert (lemon is an Easter tradition in my house) and everyone simply raved. I’m making them again for my own birthday but going to try a blueberry buttercream for some color. 🙂 Thanks for all your amazing recipes!

  9. Another amazing recipe Sally! You are a genius!
    I use this as the base for my lemon meringue cupcakes. I fill them with lemon curd and add meringue on top and brûlée it with a kitchen torch! They are so good!

  10. Made these today and they turned out fabulous! Thank you for this amazing recipe.

  11. Have made bunches of your recipes and loved them all!
    Planning to make these for my husband’s birthday but thinking of substituting key limes instead. Any changes I’ll need to make?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Callie! What a great idea. Key limes are a little smaller, so maybe use 4. Zest + juice of 4.

  12. I made these for my godson’s birthday party, they came out perfectly moist and so lemony. I will definetly keep this recipe as my go-to. Thanks for sharing!

  13. These are the best cupcakes I’ve ever made! Wonderful lemon flavor, and the texture was so perfect and buttery. I put one blueberry down in the center before baking, then iced and added another fresh blueberry to the top. Thank you for the great recipe!

  14. Hi Sally! This is the best cupcake recipe I ever tasted! 

  15. These look great! I have been laser focused on lemon desserts this week so I was super excited to see these. Since it is the same recipe as your lemon blueberry cake, would it work to add blueberries to the cupcakes too? I always worry about the berries sinking when I make cupcakes.

    1. Absolutely- I add blueberries all the time. Stick to a little over 1 cup total.

  16. Hi! Awesome recipe! I’d like to try this. Just like to ask how to substitute milk for the heavy cream? What would be the exact amount? Thanks!

    1. Same amount!

  17. Though I used my own homemade lemon frosting, these are the BEST lemon cupcakes EVER! Have made them twice for 2 different large parties.  These moist, tender, lemony treats received rave reviews from everyone including people who swore they usually prefer chocolate cupcakes.  My cupcakes stayed fresh for days un-refrigerated.  In fact, I think the taste develops more by the 2nd day!  This will be the only lemon cupcake recipe I’ll ever use!

  18. is it ok to use salted butter?

    1. Sure can! Reduce the salt to 1/4 teaspoon.

  19. Hi Sally, Can I use Meyer lemons for this recipe?

    1. Yes, absolutely!

  20. Can I use this recipe to make mini cupcakes?!

    1. Absolutely! Bake for 11-13 minutes or until the centers are set.

  21. Made these yesterday and they were brilliant. So simple and they came out perfect! I have always had a fear of venturing out of my safe baking zone. If its not been tried and tested then I dont tend to go there. I had fun with these and will do them again! Thanks!!!

  22. Can I turn this into a layered cake by doubling it? Also, would you suggest the vanilla buttercream or cream cheese frosting for a cake?

    1. Hi Kat! Here is my lemon layer cake recipe, which is about double this lemon cupcake recipe.

  23. Can we replace the granulated sugar with castor sugar?

    1. Sure can! Same amount.

  24. Does this recipe freeze well? (Unfrosted of course)

    1. Sure does! Up to 3 months.

  25. Would it be ok to add a few blueberries to each cup cake or the batter?

    1. Absolutely!

  26. I made these for mothers day and they turned out incredible! The lemon flavour was just the perfect little punch to go with the buttercream frosting!

  27. Hello! Can whole wheat flour be used in place of all purpose? Will the cupcakes still taste okay?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Katie! I don’t recommend it- the cupcakes will be very dense. You could try half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour. I haven’t tried it this way so if you do, let me know how it goes!

  28. I made these for my family a few days ago and they did not last very long, they were so delicious! I loved the tarte lemon taste which constrasted well with the sweet store bought vanilla icing I used; it was a perfect flavour for spring time. I definitely will be making these again!

  29. Janessa Deschamps says:

    Can I double this recipe to make 24 cupcakes? Or is doubling not advised?

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

  30. Could I sub orange for the lemon? My son has been begging for orange cupcakes and finding a successful recipe is proving difficult!

    1. Hi Erika, While I haven’t tested it with this recipe I believe it should work. Let me know if you try it!

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