Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
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 later 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 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 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.
The same can be said for buttermilk. It 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. 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 year(s). 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.
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.
Because 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.
My daughter was in lemon heaven.
Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
These soft, springy, moist lemon cupcakes with a tangy, zippy lemon cream cheese frosting are full of robust lemon flavor. 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. They’re very moist from the trifecta of moistening and tenderizing ingredients: oil, buttermilk, and Greek yogurt. They’re quite lemony as written, but for true lemon fiends, add more zest, to taste, to the batter. The frosting is the perfect tangy, sweet-with-a-little-sour complement to the bouncey, tender, lemony cupcakes. I used light cream cheese, which makes for thinner frosting. Use full-fat if you intend to pipe it. Don’t overbake because cupcakes will dry out in a hurry.
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 or vegetable 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 (I used Trader Joe’s soft spreadable light; don’t use light cream cheese if you want thick frosting that you can pipe)
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.
- Cucpakes – 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.
- Lemon Cream Cheese 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. You may have a small amount of frosting left over. It will keep airtight in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
- Optionally, garnish each cupcake with a pinch of lemon zest. 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.
Cupcake base loosely adapted from Red Velvet Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
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Are you a lemon lover?