Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting — Soft, fluffy, moist, very lemony cupcakes from scratch! Easy one-bowl, no-mixer recipe for cupcakes that taste like they’re from a bakery!
Classic Lemon Cupcakes
I had so many lemons in my crisper drawer and needed to find a way to use lots of them up at once. Lemon cupcakes with lemon frosting was the answer.
Lemon seems to be one of those ingredients that when people like it, they really like it. They’re super into it and have recipes for lemon pound cakes, lemon muffins, lemon pies, and lemon bars. Name a lemon thing, and they love it.
However, my almost 7-year old loves lemons. She eats them like oranges. She calls it “her strange food addiction.” I don’t judge because I can eat balsamic reduction by itself, by the spoonful. I can also sit down to a half jar of homemade peanut butter by itself, by the spoonful. I wish the latter wasn’t quite so easy for me.
Since I knew she’d love them, I made soft, springy, moist lemon cupcakes with a tangy, zippy lemon cream cheese frosting.
One of my peeves with lemon recipes is when they’re not lemony enough. These lemon cupcakes are pretty darn lemony, but if you’re really a fiend, you can always add more zest to the batter. Taste it as written and see what you think, and if you’re in need to really pucker up, add more zest, to taste.
To make them, I very loosely adapted my Red Velvet Cupcakes recipe. It became very popular on Pinterest before Christmas and I’ve had hundreds of positive comments saying they’re the best (and easiest) red velvet cupcakes, so I knew I had a winning base if I could just tweak it to omit the cocoa and incorporate lemon.
The cupcakes are made in one bowl, no mixer, no creaming ingredients, and it’s a cupcake batter that’s more like a muffin batter. Whisk together wet ingredients, fold in the dry, pour into liners, and bake.
One issue with lemon cupcakes, and cupcakes in general, is that they’re prone to dryness. Dry calories aren’t worth my time. These easy lemon cupcakes are incredibly moist from the trifecta of moistening and tenderizing ingredients: oil, buttermilk, and Greek yogurt. I stopped at nothing to make sure they weren’t dry.
For baked goods that I want to soft, springy, and bouncy, like cakes, cupcakes, and muffins, I generally prefer using oil to butter because oil does a better job keeping things soft and moist.
My daughter was in lemon heaven.
What’s in These Lemon Cupcakes?
To make these ultra lemony cupcakes and the lemon cupcake frosting, you’ll need:
- Granulated sugar
- Canola oil
- Lemon juice and zest
- Greek yogurt
- Vanilla extract
- All-purpose flour
- Baking soda
- Cream cheese
- Confectioners’ sugar
How to Make Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Frosting
To make the lemon cupcakes, whisk together everything but the flour and baking soda. Then, gently whisk in the remaining dry ingredients just until combined.
Fill your muffin cups 3/4 full, then bake the cupcakes until domed, set, pale golden, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.
After the lemon cupcakes have been allowed to cool completely, make the lemon cupcake frosting. To make the lemon cream cheese frosting, whip together the cream cheese, lemon juice, and zest until smooth. Slowly add in the confectioners’ sugar until the frosting reaches your desired consistency.
Pipe or spoon on the frosting, then garnish with additional lemon zest and enjoy!
Can I Use a Buttermilk Substitute?
Yes! Buttermilk does a fabulous job of tenderizing and softening the texture and crumb of breads and cakes, and when in doubt, I always opt for buttermilk over plain milk or cream. However, if you’re the type of person who doesn’t tend to keep buttermilk on hand, you can make your own by adding about 2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup regular milk, letting it stand 10 minutes to curdle, and then use as indicated.
Or, you can buy a tub of Powdered Buttermilk and it’s shelf stable for years. It’s the perfect solution for that once-in-a-blue moon recipe that calls for buttermilk. Although, I’ve got tons of recipes to help you use it up.
Can I Freeze Lemon Cupcakes?
Yes, you can freeze the unfrosted, cooled cupcakes for up to 3 months. You can also prepare a batch of lemon cream cheese frosting and freeze it separately, or you can make a fresh batch of frosting when you’re ready to serve the frozen cupcakes.
Can I Make This Recipe Into a Cake?
I’ve only made this recipe as cupcakes, so I can’t say for certain if you can bake this as a cake. However, I’ve had some readers report success with doubling the ingredients and baking the batter as a layer cake!
Tips for Making Lemon Cupcakes
The batter makes enough for about 14 cupcakes, but because I have a small oven, I can only fit one 12-cup muffin pan in my oven at a time. The remedy is to either sample the batter (raw eggs don’t bother me), discard the batter (criminal), or bake a mini loaf in a mini loaf pan that fits on the same oven rack as the muffin pan.
I use my mini pans all the time for a 13th or 14th cupcake, extra muffin batter, or for mini cakes. Four mini pans for $10 bucks is such a steal.
I used light cream cheese in the frosting which always creates softer frosting, and in conjunction with the lemon juice, the frosting is on the thinner and runnier side. It’s perfect here and you can just spoon it on with the hassle or fuss of piping, but if you want to pipe it, don’t use light cream cheese.
It’s the perfect tangy, sweet-with-a-little-sour complement to the soft, fluffy, moist, lemony cupcakes.
Pin This Recipe
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup buttermilk (or Powdered Buttermilk, use 2 1/2 tablespoons + 2/3 cup water)
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed if possible)
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest (or more to taste if you’re really into lemon)
- 2 rounded tablespoons Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (2 cups minus 2 tablespoons)
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- pinch salt, optional and to taste
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened*
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed if possible)
- about 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, or as necessary for desired consistency
- 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon zest, optional for garnishing
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line a Non-Stick 12-Cup Regular Muffin Pan with paper liners; set aside. You will likely have batter for a 13th or 14th cupcake, and I baked it in a cooking-sprayed mini loaf pan because my oven is small and that pan setup fits; discard extra batter if that’s easier.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the first 8 ingredients, through vanilla, until smooth.
- Add the flour, baking soda, optional salt, and whisk until just combined; don’t overmix.
- Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, place about 2 heaping tablespoons of batter per cupcake into each of the 12 cavities so they’re solidly 3/4-full. I poured the excess batter into the mini loaf pan.
- Bake cupcakes for about 18 to 19 minutes (I baked the mini loaf for 23 minutes), or until domed, set, pale golden, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter; don’t overbake.
- Allow cupcakes to cool in pan for about 15 minutes before removing.
- While cupcakes cool, make the frosting.
- Combine first 3 ingredients in a large mixing bowl, add about 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, and whisk to combine or beat with an electric mixer until smooth.
- Continue adding sugar until desired frosting consistency is reached. Because I used light cream cheese, the frosting stayed on the runnier side. If you want frosting thick enough to pipe, do not use light cream cheese. If you like your frosting really piled on thick and high, make a double batch.
- With a spoon, add 2 to 3 tablespoons frosting to the top of each cupcake and smooth with the back of the spoon if necessary. My frosting just ran naturally (from the light cream cheese). Optionally transfer frosting to a piping bag and frost the cooled cupcakes. I like the Wilton 1M tip for cupcakes.
- Optionally, garnish each cupcake with a pinch of lemon zest.
Make the Cupcakes:
Make the Lemon Frosting:
- *I used Trader Joe’s soft spreadable light cream cheese; don’t use light cream cheese if you want thick frosting that you can pipe.
- You may have a small amount of frosting left over. It will keep airtight in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
- Storing cupcakes: Cupcakes will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 3 days. I personally am comfortable storing cream cheese-frosted items at room temp, but if you prefer to store in the fridge, that’s fine, but note the fridge will dry cupcakes out much more quickly.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 195Total Fat: 10gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 18mgSodium: 120mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 0gSugar: 25gProtein: 1g
More Lemon Desserts:
Softbatch Glazed Lemon Cream Cheese Cookies — These super soft, very lemony cookies are topped with a lemon glaze that adds to the pucker-up power.
Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Lemon Glaze — An easy buttermilk cake with big lemon flavor!! Soft, fluffy, and foolproof if you like puckering up!!
The Best Lemon Loaf (Better-Than-Starbucks Copycat) — It took years, but I finally recreated it!! Easy, no mixer, no cake mix, dangerously good, and SPOT ON!! You’re going to love this lemon pound cake recipe!
Lightened Up Blueberry Lemon Pound Cake — The blueberry-lemon combo is always a win, and so is pound cake that won’t break your caloric piggybank. This Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake is a keeper!
Soft and Chewy Lemon Cookies — The cookies pack a powerful lemon punch, they’re soft and dense rather than cakey, and they’re thick enough to sink your teeth into.
Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake with Lemon Glaze — Almost more berries than cake in this soft, fluffy lemon blueberry bundt cake! The lemon glaze is plate-licking delish!!
Lemon Lemonies — Like lemon brownies, but made with lemon and white chocolate! Dense, chewy, not cakey and packed with big, bold lemon flavor!