Lemon Buttercream Frosting

cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting topped with blueberries and lemon slices on a blue plate

How was your weekend? Kevin’s birthday is this week, so we celebrated on Saturday. It was one of those effortlessly beautiful weekends where you just want to stay outside. Completely the opposite of every other weekend so far this summer where you feel like you’re holed up in a sauna. Practically Z-E-R-O humidity, so we took full advantage and spent most of the time out of the house. But I also did some “nesting” which doesn’t really feel like nesting? Baby laundry, organized baby toiletries, some bath stuff, etc. Does nesting feel like nesting? Was that even nesting…?

I also worked in the kitchen with a new piping tip– the leaf tip. Wilton #352. Trying to work on my piping skills. Now that I have a solid background of basic designs using these 6 tips, my goal is to learn making more intricate frosting designs!

(Note: I used Wilton 8B for today’s frosting!)

overhead image of lemon buttercream frosting piped onto cupcakes and topped with lemon slices

But let’s talk frosting. I’m trying to build out the frosting section on Sally’s Baking Addiction with some of my basic frosting faves and a few fun ones like creamy strawberry and rainbow chip frosting (holy heck, that one!). My latest success is lemon buttercream frosting. This is a tricky one to master because lemon juice + zest can produce a curdled-looking buttercream, quite the opposite of anyone’s agenda. Have you ever tasted curdled fros… I can’t even finish that question. Gives me the heebie-jeebies.

To overcome that curdled situation, you have to make sure you have enough confectioners’ sugar to battle the additional liquid. And, most notably, you want to stick to fresh lemon instead of artificial lemon flavoring. Lemon extract is wonderful and all, but it doesn’t even compare to fresh lemons in both the aroma and flavor categories.

lemon buttercream frosting in a glass bowl

But here’s the common dilemma! Adding extra confectioners’ sugar is an easy solution and all, but you can add *too* much. Overly sweet and artificial frosting follows, which is everything you were hoping against.

We want REAL lemon flavor. And:

  • Tangy + creamy, sweet but not overly so.
  • Easy to pipe, fresh, and silky.
  • NOT curdled.

Tall orders when it comes to lemon buttercream, but I cracked that code. The secret is in the balance of confectioners’ sugar to liquid. With the precise recipe below, you’ll enter lemon frosting nirvana where you have the texture and consistency of vanilla buttercream, with fresh lemon flavor.

Besides adding enough confectioners’ sugar, my secret is the ratio of lemon juice to heavy cream. I used to skip the heavy cream completely and only use lemon juice as the liquid. Hence the curdling situation. Cream ensures a CREAMY and THICK (hey, who woulda thunk?) consistency. I don’t suggest subbing it out!

cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting swirled on top

overhead image of lemon buttercream frosting piped onto cupcakes and topped with lemon slices

The pictured cupcakes are my lemon cupcakes. If lemon is your soul sista, this frosting and the lemon cupcakes are a combo you’ve gotta try. And, again, I used Wilton 8B for today’s frosting! Love that one, definitely a fave.

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cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting topped with blueberries and lemon slices on a blue plate

Lemon Buttercream Frosting

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 2.5 cups
  • Category: Frosting
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Lemon buttercream frosting is tangy, sweet, and creamy. It tastes delicious on everything and is so easy to make!


Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks; 230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 and 1/2 cups (540g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 and 1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • pinch salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy – about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, heavy cream, and zest with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 full minutes. Taste and add salt as needed. Add up to 1/2 cup more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin or another Tablespoon of cream if frosting is too thick.
  2. Cover tightly and store for up to 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer. After freezing or refrigerating, thaw in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature then beat the frosting for a few seconds so it’s creamy again. You may need to add a little milk or heavy cream if it’s still too stiff.

Notes

  1. Quantity: This recipe is enough to frost 12-16 cupcakes or one 9×13 quarter sheet cake.

overhead image of lemon buttercream frosting piped onto cupcakes and topped with lemon slices and blueberries

220 Comments

  1. Stacy Weaver says:

    This frosting has a terrible after taste

  2. Tastes good but I wanted more lemon flavor actually. I omitted the heavy cream and added more lemon juice but it’s still not quite there for me. And don’t mind to have something to jazz it up. I thought to add some saffron, maybe next time.

  3. OMG! This was soo good. I added a TBSP more lemon because I had it left over and it was smooth and creamy. Will definitely make this again. Thanks

  4. Paired a version of this with Sally’s Lemon Layer Cake and it was delicious. I love icing, but I find homemade stuff generally way too sweet. I actually cut the amount of confectioners sugar in half and increased the lemon zest (I think I doubled it, but wasn’t measuring exactly so not sure). There was a lovely zing of lemon and the texture was still very creamy. Agree with Sally’s point – the heavy cream was necessary for keeping it smooth! Lovely!

  5. This was amazing! I added just a little more fresh lemon juice. Thank you for a great recipe!

  6. Hi Sally,

    I live in a hot humid country which is the Philippines to be exact if I will add an equal amount of shortening to this lemon buttercream recipe and add the lemon juice & zest afterward will the entire buttercream be curdled? & its very hard to find heavy cream here can I also use full cream milk or any milk to suggest?

    Thanks!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Christine, You can use half butter and half shortening for a buttercream frosting that is more stable in the heat. You can use a different milk or cream in a pinch! Enjoy!

  7. This is so delicious! Thank you for a great recipe! My granddaughter and I are making a lemon birthday cake with your delicious frosting right now.

  8. Love the recipe! Easy and simple to make! I did add more lemon juice and lemon zest to get the lemon flavor desired…Personally, I love it but for people like my husband and my family might be too sweet for them…already made the frosting any tips on what I can add to take away some of the sweetness flavor?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Cristina! A pinch of salt can help even out the flavor profile, but there’s not much else you can do to reduce sweetness. Hope it’s a hit!

  9. I have a question. I have learned tons from your recipes, but will adding the cream and lemon juice at the same time not make it curdle? I’m learning, thank you!

    1. shruti sindhi says:

      Hey Ashley! I just made this frosting with milk and it turned out wonderful! I didn’t have time to get cream ….I was also worried but it worked out great and no curdling!

  10. heidi pacetti says:

    May 7, 2021
    Just made this frosting for a lemon cake and followed the recipe exactly. Delicious! My husband said it was the best I have ever made. (43 years of marriage!)

  11. I added 1 tsp vanilla extract, subbed half-and-half for the heavy cream as it is what I had on hand, and used the zest (Microplaned) and 2.5 of the 3 tbsp yield of juice of two medium backyard Eureka lemons. Also added 1 packet of McCormick plant-based yellow food covering, about 1 tsp.

    Flavor was perfect – light, lemony but not overpowering. Color was a gorgeous light yellow. Consistency was light and foamy, which was beautiful but caused the frosting to have substantially less coverage than I am used to in buttercream – this recipe barely covered a 2-layer 9 inch round box cake, and I wished I had more left as it took some creative scraping to finish the sides. Still it didn’t curdle, the zest wasn’t visible, fam loved it and I’d make it again!

  12. Garima Goyal says:

    Can I substitute heavy cream with milk in this recipe? Does it change the piping consistency?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Garima, the frosting will be slightly less fluffy with milk but will work in a pinch!

  13. Susan Littlefield says:

    Absolutely the best homemade lemon buttercream I have ever made. I used a home-grown Eureka lemon and went a little heavier in the zest. My family loved it. I did make an extra half of a recipe to cover 2 10” round cake layers. I added sliced fresh strawberries in the middle layer and it was amazing!

  14. I made the frosting exactly as instructed for a batch of cupcakes … HUGE success! Everyone loved it and asked for the recipe. My only “problem” is that it yielded much more than I needed, and now I have 2 cups of frosting left over. Can I freeze it for later use?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Joanne, absolutely! Cover tightly and store for up to 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer. After freezing or refrigerating, thaw in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature then beat the frosting for a few seconds so it’s creamy again. You may need to add a little milk or heavy cream if it’s still too stiff.

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