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


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


Comments are closed.

  1. 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!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed these for Mother’s Day!

  2. These cupcakes with the recommended vanilla buttercream frosting are delicious. Follow the recipe ingredients and instructions and I think you will be pleased. I will be making these again soon.

    1. Thank you so much, Doreen!

  3. KaBellaCupcakery2016 says:

    Do you know how many cups of batter this recipe makes? I am trying to make a 3 layer 6inch cake and each layer needs about 2 cups per cake tin?

    1. Recipes yielding 12-16 cupcakes fit perfectly in 3 6inch cake pans. This recipe will be perfect.

  4. 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!

  5. These cupcakes taste amazing. I even bought a lemon zester to make them. I’m so glad I tried it.

  6. Can i make this gluten free flour?

    1. Hi Dani! I have little experience baking with GF flours, so I’m afraid I’m not much help here. Let me know if you try anything!

      1. So here’s my feedback, i used Bobs Red Mill gluten-free all purpose flour 1 to 1, is a gluten-free all purpose flour that replaces the flour in the cupcakes for the exact same amount, it does take a litte longer to bake though but it comes out just as great as the regular ones! I made this for a baking sale at work and everyone LOVED IT! Thank you!

  7. 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!

    1. I’m so happy your family enjoyed these cupcakes!

  8. Hi Sally! I made both these cupcakes and your lemon layer cake (in a 9 x 13 pan) yesterday, and though the layer cake post says that these two recipes should taste identical, I did not find this to be true. I thought the cupcakes had a much stronger lemon flavor, perhaps on the line of being too much. Now, since I use organic lemons, which tend to be on the smaller side, I went with the measured amount of zest called for in the recipe (1-1/2 TBSP) rather than just zesting two lemons…I believe I used close to five small lemons to get that amount of zest. I used somewhere between 1/4 cup and 1/3 c lemon juice, as your recipe notes suggested. Do you think perhaps the lemon zest was too packed in the spoon, thereby adding too much? I never know how packed zest should be when measuring! On the other hand, I used the measured amounts of zest and juice suggested in the lemon layer cake recipe but felt that the cake could have use a bit more lemon flavor. Any idea where I might have gone wrong? I’m just wondering because I did not find those two recipes to taste the same. Thank you!

    1. Hi Rachel! Perhaps the zest was packed too tightly? Regardless, which flavor do you prefer? Because if you’re looking for a lemon flavor somewhere in between the two recipes, adjust the zest as needed. (I wouldn’t adjust the lemon juice as added/reduced liquid can affect the texture.) Feel free to reduce the amount in the cupcakes and increase the amount in the layer cake. So sorry you had trouble with the flavor!

      1. Thank you for the input! I will be making the cupcakes again later this week for a party, so I will just reduce the zest a bit. I mean, both recipes were still delicious, of course, but I’ll adjust the zest accordingly next time–one can never really go wrong with your recipes!

  9. Hello from India!
    I made this recipe when I had guests visiting us. It is a quick and easy recipe that one can make with the readily available ingredients at home. The outcome was a nice textured moist cake with a lemony twist. For lack of time, i poured the batter to a loaf pan and skipped frosting. It tasted good. Frosting would literally be icing on the cake, will try it that next time. Thank you Sally!

  10. Hey Sally,
    I made these cupcakes and they were delicious. So moist and fluffy. Thank you!! Greetings from Germany

    1. Hi Eda! I’m so happy you enjoyed these cupcakes! Thanks for your positive feedback 🙂

  11. Sally can these be made with oil in place of the butter? I made your chocolate cupcakes and they were the best ive ever had. Was so impressed with how moist they were so wondering if it would work for the lemon ones?

    1. Hi Jo! I don’t recommend replacing butter with oil. That creaming step is crucial! I’m thrilled you enjoyed my chocolate cupcake recipe 🙂

      1. No problem! I shall do it as it says 🙂
        Cant wait to try them!

  12. Brittany was says:

    Hi Sally! I’m hoping to make this for my sons birthday party, in a sheet cake form. Would a jelly roll pan work? Also, would adding half shortening half butter to the frosting make it slightly less prone to melting for an outside party? I want to make the cake a light blue with blue berries in inside.

    1. Hi Brittany! Use this lemon blueberry cake batter for a sheet cake. You can use half shortening in the frosting. 🙂

  13. Made this into 6-inch lemon layer cake …..SO AMAZING and totally converted all my “lemon cake haters” into “lemon cake FANS FOREVER”!!!

  14. Hi Sally! When substituting butter for oil, how much does this recipe call for?

    1. Hi, I don’t recommend replacing butter with oil. That creaming step is crucial!

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. Hi Sally!

    Thank you for all the yummy recipes. Does this recipe yell a 2 or 3 layer 6in cake? and what would the timing be?

    Thanks in advance 🙂

    1. Hi Teresa! This recipe will yield a 3 layer 6 inch cake– follow the baking directions for my 6 inch vanilla cake.

  18. This recipe is amazing!! I just tried it and the flavor is just perfect!! I only had one problem: when I try to take them out, the surface cracks, I’m not sure if I over mixed the batter or if my oven’s temperature is too hihg… Is there any way to fix them?

  19. Would this work with a 1-to-1 gluten free flour?

    1. Hi Ariana! I haven’t tried these cupcakes with gluten free flour- I do know many readers have had success with 1:1 GF flours. If you do try it, let me know how it goes!

  20. I made these cupcakes into a three layer 6″ cake. I am making a two tier cake and this is going to be the top tier. I tried the cake batter and it tasted delicious but the layers are currently in the freezer until I make my first two tier cake for my friend! I know she will love it!

  21. These cupcakes came out perfect! I’ve tried other Lemon cupcake recipes before, none worked like this one. Absolutely amazing!!

  22. Hello Sally.
    I was wondering about the use of non-dairy milk. My body really won’t tolerate milk in anything and my daughter is dying to learn to bake. I’d like to be able to eat the fruits of her labors.

    1. You should be able to use any non-dairy milk in the cupcake recipe. Vanilla buttercream frosting is more difficult to replicate since both the texture and flavor comes from the butter.

  23. Hello Sally………I have recently found your website and am so impressed! These lemon cupcakes were awesome! I used cream cheese frosting and so delicious! I would trust any recipes from this site now as everything I have made has surpassed my expectations! Thank you so much!

  24. Absolutely delicious! Perfect heft and taste. Bakery quality. Will definitely make again!

  25. Hello!
    I’ve tried this recipe today. It ended up giving out 14 cupcakes.
    I baked them in 2 rounds of 6 and one round of 2 as I wanted to follow the oven placement advice.
    I also have a thermometer so the heat was at 350F all throughout the baking process.
    The first batch I did the toothpick test at 20mins. Toothpick didn’t come out clean so put them back in for 2 more minutes. Took them out, toothpick was still a little bit wet. Didnt put them back in. Why? Great question. Left them out to cool. After a few minutes, I noticed they started sinking in the middle. Once completely cooled, they were really sunk in.
    Second batch, did the toothpick test at 22mins. Was still a bit wet, so out them back for 3 more minutes. Took them out. Toothpick test still brings out some moisture. Is that the expected result ? Didn’t want to put them back in as they started really browning on the top. They sunk in a bit, but not as much as the first batch.
    Third batch (of 2), baked for 25mins straight. They werent nearly as browned as the second batch, which baked for a total time of 25mins.
    I checked the thermometer multiple times per batches and it was consistently at 350F. Any idea why I’m getting such different results per batch? Why they sank in the middle ? Why it feels like they are under baked?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Camelia! I’m happy to help. My answer could be a little lengthy here, so I’m going to point you toward my entire post dedicated to 10 Tips for Baking the BEST Cupcakes. I encourage you to make sure that the butter is at the proper room temperature (cool, not overly softened) and that you don’t over-fill those cupcake liners. I know you’ll find a lot of useful information there that can help for your next batch of cupcakes (any flavor!).

      1. Thank you, Sally, for the quick reply!
        I found them sweet enough, if not overly sweet, on their own for my taste but I think they look a little boring with the frosting or anything on top… I was going to go for a vanilla buttercream frosting but I think that will make them too sweet for my taste. Any advice on how I could decorate/accompany them without adding too much sweetness. I have blueberries at home if that can help.
        Thank you!

    2. Dion Deitz @mycowgirlcupcakes says:

      Good morning! I run a small cake business from home and have found that most of the time, sinking after baking means that maybe there was too much air in the batter which is whipped in when we mix it. I’ve found that if you mix the batter and then let it sit for 20 minutes or so (I cover the bowl with a towel), then give it one good stir the air will be gone and you will get a good rise on your cupcake. Good luck!

  26. These are excellent!

  27. Made these tonight to compliment my chicken piccatta dinner. WOW!! These cupcakes turned out amazing. I made them with cream cheese lemon frosting. The right amount of tang and no overly sweet.

  28. I made these cake cakes at the weekend and I love them. I had to use buttermilk instead as I had ran out of full fat but made no difference and I topped with blueberry buttercream.
    I also made a batch of strawberry by swapping out the lemon for pureed strawberry and a batch of almond and cinnamon doing the same swap. All were delicious and I think this is my new go to recipe now.
    Thanks for sharing

  29. Kamila Gentili says:

    Hello sally!
    i want to ask about baking powder. if i cut the baking powder and replace it with baking soda, is it okay? or should i stick to the recipe?

    1. I recommend sticking with the written recipe.

    2. Alexis Walker says:

      Hi Kamila,

      I found myself half way into this recipe last night with no baking powder. I found an article on Bon Appetite (linking below) that suggested using 1/4 tsp of baking soda per 1tsp of baking powder (making it 1/2 tsp for this recipe). Very interesting article. My cakes turned out perfectly using that conversion.


  30. So delicious! says:

    THESE ARE SO DELICIOUS! So much lemon goodness. Moist and smooth. Be sure not to over the cook, my third batch had a thin crispy top (:

    1. Hi I made them and it was yummy.

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I’m Sally, a cookbook author, photographer, and blogger. My goal is to give you the confidence and knowledge to cook and bake from scratch while providing quality recipes and plenty of pictures. Grab a cookie, take a seat, and have fun exploring! more about Sally