These are my favorite lemon cupcakes. They are moist, have the perfect balance between sweetness and tanginess, and are bursting with lemon flavor.
Yep, you’ve guessed right. I officially have a thing for lemon, and it is beyond my control. My palette has changed rather drastically in the last couple of years, and while I used to not like cupcakes nor lemon that much, today my life feels empty without them. Lemon has actually become one of my favorite flavors, and it can do miracles to a plain cake. Plus, in cupcakes especially, it helps cut down on the sweetness quite a bit, so if you’re not a fan of classic sweet buttercream, you might still love these cupcakes. You just have to!
These cupcakes are moist, delicate, and full of lemon flavor. Both the cupcakes and the frosting have lemon, and together they have just the right balance of flavor.
The frosting is a simple classic buttercream, made mostly of butter and sugar. Luckily, these cupcakes are worth every single calorie. Otherwise, there would be no excuse for me eating 3 of them in a row.
What if I don’t like classic buttercream?
Well, first of all, that’s weird, but you do have 2 other options:
For both options, you should add either lemon curd (homemade or store-bought) or lemon juice and zest to the frosting until you reach the desired taste. For enough frosting to frost 12 cupcakes, I like to add about 2 teaspoons of zest and 1 tablespoon juice, or a few tablespoons of lemon curd. You can add as much as you like, of course, but just make sure that, if you’re using cream cheese frosting, to only add a little bit of juice at a time. Otherwise, you risk it becoming too thin. If that happens, simply add more powdered sugar.
You’ll notice that I toss the lemon zest together with the sugar. That’s my little trick for bringing out lemon flavor in baked goods. Doing this causes the lemon zest to release its natural oils, which will absorb quickly into the sugar, helping to distribute the flavor throughout the batter. Just be sure that, when grating the zest, you only grate the yellow part and not the bitter white pith beneath it.
If you want to make these cupcakes even more delicious and lemon-y than they already are, you can add lemon curd filling to the center of each one. It’s so good that I can’t even find the right words to describe it. Homemade lemon curd can be prepared ahead of time and frozen for a couple of months. I always make a double batch, freeze it, and thaw as much as I need to use for filling cakes, pavlovas, doughnuts, and more.
Honestly, I could talk about these cupcakes forever, but I better let you go make them for yourself to understand what I mean.
- 1⅓ cups (185g/6.5 oz.) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (200g/7 oz.) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest*
- ½ cup (1 stick/113g) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (90 ml) whole milk
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ cup (1 stick/113g) unsalted butter, softened
- 1½ – 2½ cups (180g-280g) powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream or whole milk
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- Optional: Homemade or store-bought lemon curd, for filling cupcakes
- Note: This amount of frosting is always enough for me to frost exactly 12 cupcakes, and has a good balance between cake and frosting. You can see in the photos how much I use for each cupcake. If you want more frosting, multiply the recipe by 1.5.
- For the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In another small bowl, toss together sugar and lemon zest until combined.
- Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and lemon-sugar mixture on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. On medium speed, beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and beat until combined. With the mixer on low speed, add half of the dry ingredients and beat just until combined. Add milk and lemon juice and beat until combined. Add the other half of the dry ingredients and beat slowly until just combined. Do not overmix – the less you mix, the lighter the cupcakes will be.
- Divide batter evenly between the cups, filling them about ¾ full. Bake for 15-20 minutes (or 8-10 minutes for mini cupcakes), until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs. Allow cupcakes to sit for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
- Unfrosted cupcakes can be kept tightly covered at room temperature for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw, still covered, on the counter or overnight in the fridge.
- For the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until smooth, creamy, and the consistency is similar to mayonnaise, about 2 minutes. Add ¾ cup (90g) sugar and beat well until smooth. Add cream, lemon juice, and lemon zest and beat until combined and smooth. Add another ¾ cup sugar and beat until completely smooth and fluffy. Beat in more sugar as needed, until desired consistency (thick enough to pipe). Frost cupcakes once they’ve cooled.
- If you wish to add lemon curd filling: Once the cupcakes have cooled, cut a ½-inch (1.5cm) hole in the center of each cupcake using a spoon or melon baller. Spoon about a teaspoon of lemon curd into the hole, then frost the cupcakes.
- *You’ll need a total of 2-3 lemons for this recipe.