These homemade lemon cupcakes are fluffy, moist and topped with lemon buttercream frosting. The citrus flavor comes from both lemon zest and fresh lemon juice and makes these cupcakes taste like sunshine. These are the perfect cupcakes for lemon lovers!
**This post was updated April 16, 2023 with new photos, recipe tips & a slightly updated recipe**
These lemon cupcakes are moist, fluffy and bursting with fresh lemon flavor. They’ve been one of my favorite cupcake recipes for a long time because they taste like sunshine and springtime – but can be made all year round. The lemon flavor is refreshing and slightly tangy to complement the butter and vanilla perfectly. They don’t taste sour- but instead have a delicious citrus flavor. The cupcake crumb is moist, fluffy, and perfectly soft. And to top it all off (literally and figuratively) – they’re frosted with lemon frosting. It’s creamy, fluffy and with a hint of lemon to balance out the sweetness.
Lemon Cupcake Recipe
This lemon cupcake recipe is based on a simple vanilla cupcake recipe, only we’re adding both lemon zest and lemon juice to get the perfect flavor. Like most cupcake recipes, we start off by creaming together the butter and sugar (plus lemon zest for this recipe). Then mix in the eggs 1 at a time. We alternate between mixing in additions of the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder & salt) and the wet ingredients (milk, sour cream & lemon juice).
Baking Tips & Tricks
- Ingredients should be room temperature before getting started. Take them out of the fridge 30 minutes prior. To warm up the eggs more quickly, place them in a bowl of lukewarm water.
- Zest the lemons before squeezing the juice – this makes the process much easier.
- Make sure to beat the butter and sugar until fluffy – this will take about 2-4 minutes and is called “creaming”. Creaming the butter and sugar makes cupcakes lighter and fluffier because it adds air to the batter.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt before adding them to the batter. Whisking them together first ensures that the baking powder is evenly distributed in the batter so that the cupcakes rise beautifully.
- We’re using both sour cream and milk for moisture. Sour cream makes cakes and cupcakes extra moist, but the addition of milk too ensures that they don’t get too heavy and weighed down.
- We alternate between adding the wet and dry ingredients into the batter. Doing this in stages helps the cupcake batter become even and consistent. This ensures that the cupcakes have a soft crumb without air tunnels or a lumpy consistency.
- I always recommend doing the last few additions with a metal whisk. This helps avoid overmixing. Overmixing causes air tunnels in the batter and can cause tough cupcakes.
- Bake 1 tray of cupcakes at a time on the middle rack of the oven. Baking on a top rack can burn the tops, whereas baking on the bottom rack and burn the bottoms of the cupcakes.
**Do not use lemon juice from a bottle! It is too sour for baking and will not produce the right flavor.
Lemon Frosting for Lemon Cupcakes
Then once the cupcakes are baked – they’re frosted with lemon buttercream. Simple, creamy lemon frosting – made with lemon juice for the perfect lemon flavor. You can play around the amount of juice depending on how tangy you like the flavor. I definitely prefer a pretty pronounced lemon flavor, so the feel free to adjust as necessary.
Note that the lemon frosting recipe is enough to frost each cupcake using a piping bag with a very generous amount of frosting. If you plan to frost your cupcakes using a knife or prefer less frosting, I recommend halving the recipe so that you do not have leftovers.
Want lemon blueberry cupcakes? Use the recipe below, and gently fold in ¾ cup fresh blueberries at before spooning the batter into your cupcake pan. Be sure to use the smallest blueberries possible so that they are less likely to fall to the bottom. The bake time will be similar.
Want lemon raspberry cupcakes? Try this recipe instead.
For more delicious lemon recipes, try these other desserts:
- 12-cavity muffin pan
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (188 grams)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter (112 grams) softened
- 1 cup white sugar (200 grams)
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup sour cream (60 ml) room temperature
- ¼ cup milk (50 ml) I prefer to use 2% or whole, room temperature
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (60 ml)
- 1 cup unsalted butter (226 grams) softened
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 4-5 cups powdered sugar (440-550 grams)
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (30-45 ml)
- 1 tablespoon whipping cream if needed
- Preheat the oven to 325F (170C) degrees and line a muffin pan with muffin papers. You will end up with 12-14 cupcakes for this recipe.
- In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
- In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest until fluffy (about 2-3 minutes).
- Add in the vanilla extract and beat in the eggs 1 at a time.
- Beat about ⅓ of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, followed by the sour cream. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- Beat in another ⅓ of the flour mixture, followed by the milk. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, along with the beaters.
- Beat in the rest of the flour mixture stopping as soon as it's incorporated, or whisk in using a wire whisk.
- Whisk in the lemon juice.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan, filling each liner about ¾ full. You should end up with about 12-14 cupcakes total. Do not fill the liners to the top or the cupcakes will overflow.
- Bake one tray at a time on the middle rack of your oven for 18-20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
- In a large bowl beat the butter until fluffy (about 3-4 minutes).
- With starting with the mixer on low speed, beat in 2 cups of powdered sugar and salt.
- Beat in the rest of the powdered sugar about ½ cup at a time, alternating with 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice until the desired consistency and sweetness/tartness level is reached. Optionally, substitute some of the lemon juice with whipping cream.
- Frost the cupcakes with a knife, or transfer the frosting to a piping bag and frost.
- Lemons: You will need about 2 medium lemons for the cupcakes and frosting combined, or 3 smaller lemons plus more for decorating. Zest the lemons first, then juice. Make sure you to remove the seeds. Do not use lemon juice from a bottle! It is too sour for baking.
- Room Temperature Ingredients: Make sure the butter, eggs, sour cream and milk are at room temperature before getting started.
- Sour Cream: I use full-fat. It can also be substituted with plain Greek yogurt.
- Lemon Frosting: This recipe makes enough to pipe each cupcake with a very generous amount of frosting. Half the recipe if you plan to frost each cupcake with a knife/thin layer.
- Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day, or in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- Make Ahead Tips: Cupcakes are best if enjoyed the same day that you make them. Cupcakes can be made 1 day in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Frost the day that you plan to eat them. Unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen, then thawed in the fridge. Bring them to room temperature before frosting.
- Nutrition: Details provided are an estimate only and based on 1 cupcake with frosting, assuming that all the frosting is used and the recipe yields 12 equal cupcakes.