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. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

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

  8. These are excellent!

  9. 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.
    LOVE LOVE LOVE

  10. 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

  11. I’m new to baking but LOVE your site. Is it normal for the mixture to look a bit curled after mixing the lemon and milk? My oven is awful (and is hopefully being replaced this week) but they came out short and brown on the sides but light on top. I don’t know what I did wrong or if it’s just my broken oven

    1. Hi Jackie, Were all of your ingredients room temperature? When ingredients are different temperatures they won’t mix well and the mixture could look curdled. Here are my best baking tips for cupcakes that I think you will find helpful!

  12. These cupcakes are so soft and fluffy and for once after sooooo many cupcake recipes I’ve tried these turned out PERFECT!! My picky brother LOVED them. Thanks Sally!! 😀

  13. SALLY,
    I loved your Lemon Cupcake recipe so much that I want to thank you for sharing it!!
    I have been trying different lemon cupcake/muffin recipes and hadn’t found one worth remaking. Yours is a definite do again!!
    Both my husband and I thought the lemon cupcake tasted just fine without the frosting. They were plenty sweet enough on their own.
    Thanks again.

  14. Lauren A Woodley says:

    Hey Sally I don’t have lemons I just have the lemon juice that comes in a bottle.. can I use that?

    1. Fresh is always best, but that definitely works too.

  15. so good!

  16. Very delicious! super fluffy and sweet! I was making 1 and a half batches but it made 24. (Not that that is a bad this because they are super good)

  17. Rhonda Patterson says:

    Great recipe! Came out great on the first try. I did add a little almond flavoring to the icing as well.

  18. Hi Sally, these are delicious, thanks for sharing! I’m just wondering, can we add some poppyseed into the recipe as is? Do we have to do anything different? And do we have to toast the poppyseed?

    1. Definitely. I would add a couple teaspoons of poppy seeds to the dry ingredients. No need to toast them prior to using.

  19. Can I use unbleached all purpose flour?

    1. Yes, definitely.

  20. These were really good. I left out the zest because they were for kids, and used the lower end (1/4 cup) for the juice in the cupcakes. I frosted them with your Lemon Buttercream. They were soft and fluffy, with a nice lemon flavor.

  21. This is my go-to cupcake recipe. In my family in the “Baker” but I’m not really a good baker I just have excellent recipes from Sally’s baking addiction… thank you for helping me keep up the facade.

  22. Easy and delicious. I used gluten-free all-purpose (plain) flour and a dairy-free butter substitute and they were STILL delicious! This has instantly become my go-to recipe. Thanks so much!

  23. Hi Sally,
    I have never made anything from scratch before. The Coronavirus has made money tight and cancelled graduation plans for the kids. I made these cupcakes instead of ordering a cake and my girls loved them! Thank you so much

  24. I make your recipes all the time and love them! I made a batch of these today for a refreshing dessert, love the lemon-y flavor! They puffed up perfectly and didn’t fall (I was sure I filled them too much). My husband and I thought the frosting was a bit on the too sweet side but the kids enjoyed it! What are some less sweet frostings that could go with these for next time or can I reduce the amount of sugar used in the frosting?

    1. Hi Anita, I’m so glad you all enjoyed the cupcakes. For a frosting that isn’t as sweet I think you would enjoy Swiss Meringue Buttercream!

  25. Hi Evelyn, Buttermilk should have been ok but will give these a tangier taste. For the best results I do recommend following the quantities in the recipe exactly. For help troubleshooting you can check out my post 10 Tips for Baking the BEST Cupcakes.

  26. Hi Sally made these last week and they were delicious, do you think I could swap the lemons for oranges for a different flavour?

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

  27. These were really great! Some lemon flavoured baked goods can be dry, but these were just perfect. I followed the recipe exactly.

  28. Hi Sally! I have a gluten intolerance, so when I made this, I subbed with gluten free flour. They were delicious! Thanks so much!

  29. I usually do not comment on recipes. I think this is a first for me. I like lemony dessert and this one is spot on! The texture was just perfect. I am french so it is hard to find the right words. Yummy!

  30. Preveena Nair says:

    Fluffy, light cupcakes with a lovely lemony flavour! Loved it!! Thank you Sally!

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