Perfect Lemon Cupcakes

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These lemon cupcakes are bursting with lemon flavor! They are moist, light, and made with fresh lemons rather than extracts and flavorings.

Lemon cupcakes in front of a cupcake tin

I make these the same way that I make my tried-and-true vanilla cupcakes; that cupcake recipe is one that works every single time and is used in bakeries around the world. To turn it into a lemony cupcake, I load the batter up with lemon zest and give the cupcakes a big swirl of lemon buttercream frosting.

Several cupcakes frosted with lemon buttercream frosting

How to Make Lemon Cupcakes

Decorating Lemon Cupcakes

To make lemon cupcakes, start by mixing your dry ingredients (including lemon zest) with the butter. The result should be a sandy texture, not super smooth.

Adding sugar to a mixer

Next, mix in a combination of the the sour cream, oil, and eggs. You want to make sure to mix just until combined so that you don’t overwork the gluten and end up with gummy cupcakes.

Lemon cupcake batter

Finally, add milk to the batter to thin it out. 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. 

Lemon cupcakes ready to go into the oven

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.

They 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.

Tip: If you are going to put sprinkles on them, don’t refrigerate them with the sprinkles already on them. The sprinkles have a tendency to melt in the refrigerator and bleed color onto the frosting.


Myles and Stef frosting lemon cupcakes

If lemon buttercream frosting isn’t your thing, try frosting with lemon cream cheese frosting or use marshmallow frosting to turn them into lemon meringue cupcakes!

Several cupcakes frosted with lemon buttercream frosting

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Lemon Cupcakes
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3.75 from 12 votes

Lemon Cupcakes

Light and lemony cupcakes with a lemon buttercream frosting.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 14 minutes
Total Time 29 minutes
Servings 16 cupcakes
Calories 370kcal
Author Stefani


Cupcake Ingredients

  • 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

Frosting Ingredients

  • 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


Cupcake Instructions

  • 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. The cupcakes should appear white with specks of vanilla bean. 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.

Frosting Instructions

  • 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 your whole batch of vanilla cupcakes. Read my FAQ on filling cupcake liners to learn how to do a test cupcake and why it's useful.


Calories: 370kcal | Carbohydrates: 46g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 62mg | Sodium: 163mg | Potassium: 83mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 35g | Vitamin A: 520IU | Vitamin C: 1.9mg | Calcium: 44mg | Iron: 0.3mg
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Perfect Lemon Cupcakes