Perfect Lemon Cupcakes
These lemon cupcakes are bursting with flavor! They are moist, light, and made with fresh lemons rather than extracts and flavorings.
I use my tried-and-true vanilla cupcakes as a starting point for this recipe. I load the batter up with lemon zest and give the cupcakes a big swirl of lemon buttercream frosting to really get the bright lemon flavor to shine through.
There are a few ingredients that set these cupcakes apart:
- Lemon zest
- Lemon zest is essential for giving these cupcakes the right flavor profile. Do not substitute the zest with lemon juice!
- Both butter and oil
- Cupcakes that are made with only only oil lack the flavor that butter provides; using only butter, they can end up being too dense and not moist enough. The combination ends up giving a perfect flavor and texture. Use a neutral vegetable oil so you don’t overpower the lemon flavor.
- Sour cream
- Sour cream adds a little extra fat to the recipe and a slight tang. Yogurt works perfectly as a substitute for sour cream.
- Cake Flour
- Using cake flour instead of all-purpose flour produces a lighter crumb.
How It’s Made
Preheat your oven to 350 F before beginning.
Start by mixing your dry ingredients (including lemon zest) with the butter. The result should be a sandy texture, not super smooth.
In a separate bowl, mix the sour cream, oil, vanilla extract, and eggs.
Next, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones.
You want to make sure to mix just until combined so that you don’t overwork the gluten and end up with gummy cupcakes.
Finally, add milk to the batter to thin it out and mix until just combined. Thinning out the batter is important for light and airy cupcakes. If you prefer dense cupcakes, use less milk.
Fill the cupcake liners halfway full. If you overfill the liners, the cupcakes may not dome correctly. If you have any doubt as to whether you’ve filled them correctly, I recommend that you bake a test cupcake.
As soon as the cupcakes come out of the oven, remove them from the cupcake tins. If they sit in the tins, they will continue to cook.
Once they are cool, frost with lemon buttercream frosting.
Expert Tips and FAQs
Lemon buttercream frosting is my first choice – it pairs perfectly. Raspberry frosting and strawberry cream cheese frosting also go really well. If you want to stick with lemon, I also recommend lemon cream cheese frosting or marshmallow frosting to turn them into a version of my lemon meringue cupcakes!
Frosted cupcakes can be kept at room temperature for three days, refrigerated for up to a week (bring to room temperature before serving), or frozen in an airtight container for up to three months. If you’re adding sprinkles, make sure you put them on after returning the cupcakes to room temperature – they have a tendency to melt into the frosting in the refrigerator and discolor it.
- Raspberry lemonade cookies
- Lemon olive oil cake
- Margarita cupcakes (These are like grown-up lemon cupcakes.)
- Lemon loaf cake
- Lemon crumb muffins
- Key lime cupcakes
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 3/4 cups cake flour not self-rising
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest zest from about 2 lemons
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 1/3 cup full-fat sour cream
- 1/4 cup canola oil you can also use vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract use pure, not imitation
- 2/3 cup whole milk room temperature
- 1 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 3 cups powdered sugar add more until it reaches your preferred consistency
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest zest of about 2 lemons
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together sugar, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt. and lemon zest.
- Add butter and mix on medium-low speed for three minutes. Because there is so little butter, you'll end up with a very fine crumb texture.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, oil, and vanilla extract until smooth.
- Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined.
- Slowly add milk and mix on low speed until just combined. The batter will be liquid. (Don't worry, you didn't do anything wrong. It's supposed to be that way.)
- Fill cupcake liners just over 1/2 full.
- Bake for 14 minutes and then test to see if they are done. They are done when a toothpick comes out without wet batter stuck to it. They should not turn a golden brown. If they are not done, test again in two minutes. If they are still not done, test again in another two minutes.
- When the cupcakes are done, remove them immediately from the tins and leave them on a cooling rack (or just on your counter if you don’t own a cooling rack) to cool.
- Beat butter on high speed with an electric mixer for about three minutes until light and airy.
- Mix in powdered sugar a little bit at a time.
- Add lemon zest and salt and continue to beat for another minute. If desired, add more powdered sugar to make the buttercream frosting stiffer.
- Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes.
- Be careful not to over-mix the batter.
- Use room temperature ingredients – everything will mix together more smoothly that way.
- Because everyone’s oven is just a bit different and your liners may be a slightly different size than mine, I highly recommend that you bake a test cupcake before baking a whole batch of these cupcakes. Read my FAQ on filling cupcake liners to learn how to do a test cupcake and why it’s useful.
Join my mailing list - and receive a free eBook!