These Lemon Cupcakes are soft, fluffy, and so refreshing! Naturally lemon flavored (no pudding mixes or lemon extract in the cupcake bases!), the lemon flavor comes through bright and clear in these sweet cupcakes! We’re topping them off today with a lemon cream cheese frosting!
Another lemon recipe for you today! 🍋
Between all of the testing I’ve been doing for my lemon brownies, lemon curd, lemonade, and now these lemon cupcakes, it’s a miracle my grocery store has been able to keep up with the amount of lemons I’m going through.
Today’s recipe comes by request. I’ve had a lot of fans of my vanilla cake ask me how to make a lemon variation of that recipe, and while I’d love to have an easy fool-proof response to that question, I really don’t know the answer until I get in the kitchen and try it myself. So, into the kitchen I went, and I didn’t leave until I had a dozen perfect lemon cupcakes.
We’re topping these off with a lemon cream cheese frosting (which is a variation of my cream cheese frosting), which really puts gives us a great, tart, lemon flavor.
How to Get the Best Lemon Flavor in Your Lemon Cupcakes
When I started developing this lemon cupcake recipe, I knew that I did not want to use lemon extract. I have nothing against it (and even use it in my lemon brownies) but I know that not everyone keeps all different kinds of extracts stocked at all times, and I like to keep my recipes as pantry-staple-friendly as possible. We’re halfway there with this recipe (no extract in the cupcakes, but I do recommend it for the frosting).
It only took a few attempts before I found that slightly tart, sunny, lemon-y flavor I was looking for, no extract necessary.
To get there, we’re using lemon juice and fresh lemon zest. You’ll need two Tablespoons of lemon juice, which you’ll stir in with your buttermilk (or buttermilk substitute). This helps to brighten up that bright lemon flavor a bit, but what really packs a powerful punch is the lemon zest (pro-tip, make sure you zest your lemons before you juice them!).
We’re also using two Tablespoons of lemon zest. When zesting your lemon, it’s very important that you just use zest from the outer layer of the rind (the yellow part!). If you grind too deeply into your lemon, what you’re actually grating is the “pith” of the lemon. The pith is white and bitter and doesn’t have the same citrus flavor that the zest does. If you end up with two Tablespoons of pith rather than zest, your cupcakes will be bitter and not nearly as lemony as they ought to be.
When developing the lemon cream cheese frosting, I found that I wasn’t happy with the flavor derived from just using lemon juice and zest, so I do recommend using lemon extract there for a bolder lemon flavor, if you have it.
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Be sure to check out my Lemon Cupcake video at the bottom of the recipe! If you enjoy watching, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel where I’ve already uploaded over 150 recipe videos that you can watch for free!
Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter softened (56g)
- 1/4 cup canola oil¹ 60ml
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar 150g
- 2 Tablespoons lemon zest²
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten, room temperature preferred
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 185g may substitute cake flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup buttermilk 118ml
- 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C) and line a 12-count muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside.
- Place butter in a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer) and use an electric mixer (or stand mixer) to beat until creamy.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add oil, sugar, and lemon zest and beat again until creamy and thoroughly combined.
- Add eggs and vanilla extract and stir well until completely combined.
- In a separate, medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In a large measuring cup, briefly stir together buttermilk and lemon juice.
- Using a spoon or spatula, gradually stir about a third of the flour mixture into wet ingredients until just-combined (don’t use an electric mixer here or you’ll be more likely to overmix the batter, resulting in dense/dry cupcakes). Add about half of the buttermilk mixture into the batter and stir until just combined. Repeat adding flour and buttermilk in this way until ingredients are completely combined, but don’t mix more than you need to. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so all ingredients are combined.
- Evenly divide batter into prepared cupcake tin, filling each liner 2/3 of the way full. Transfer to 350F/175C oven and bake for 17-18 minutes or until the tops spring back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Allow to cool completely before topping with lemon cream cheese frosting.
LEMON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
- Combine butter and cream cheese in a large bowl and use an electric mixer (or stand mixer) to beat until well-combined.
- Add lemon zest, vanilla extract, lemon extract (if using), salt, and lemon juice and beat well.
- Gradually, with mixer on low speed, add powdered sugar until completely combined. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl to make sure ingredients are well incorporated.
- Once cupcakes have cooled, spread or pipe³ lemon cream cheese frosting over cupcakes. Enjoy!
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