Lemon Cupcake Recipe

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These homemade moist lemon cupcakes are topped with a creamy lemon buttermilk frosting leaving just the right amount of tangy lemon flavor on your tongue. This lemon cupcake recipe can be paired with fruit toppings or filling for the perfect summer time cupcake. 


An unwrapped cupcake sitting on a wire rack with a big swirl of lemon frosting and a lemon garnish on top

I always surprise myself with the lemon desserts. It isn’t my usual go-to dessert but after one bite, I’m hooked.

It took me awhile to find my groove with homemade cupcakes but once I had my base vanilla cake recipe done, it’s been so fun to change out the flavors to make variations on the recipe.

That’s exactly how these lemon cupcakes came to be.

A close up of an unwrapped lemon cupcake with a big swirl of frosting on top and a slice of lemon sitting on top of the frosting

This homemade moist lemon cupcake recipe is spongy and dense but fluffy. These are topped with a creamy lemon buttermilk frosting leaving just the right amount of tangy lemon flavor on your tongue.

For these cupcakes, the flavor is coming from three places. Lemon extract, lemon zest and lemon juice. Plus, instead of using regular milk, the recipe uses buttermilk which adds to the tang in the flavor.

Now if you don’t have lemon extract, that’s okay, you can use vanilla extract. However, you definitely want to make sure you have a good zester, it makes all the difference.

A gorgeous lemon cupcake sitting on a wire rack with a sliced of lemon for garnish on top.

The cupcake recipe is quite simple because it’s an oil-based recipe and therefore you don’t have to spend time waiting for the butter to soften or creaming it together with the sugar.

You can combine the sugar with some of the wet ingredients and then combine the dry ingredients and mix them together and your cupcakes are ready for the oven 10 minutes later.

Then it’s time for the frosting. Almost all my frosting recipes start off with a variation of my perfect vanilla frosting and this lemon buttermilk frosting is no different.

A cupcake is sitting on it's open wrapper with a big bite taken out of it, showing the air bubbles inside the cupcake and the creamy frosting on top.

I absolutely love this frosting, I’m thinking I need to make more buttermilk frosting in the future. I usually use heavy whipping cream in my frosting so this time I just substituted some of the heavy cream with buttermilk.

Just as you did with the cupcake, I also used lemon zest and lemon extract in the frosting and I also used a touch of vanilla extract to cut some of the sour flavor.

This frosting is such a nice balance with the lemon cupcakes. You could even top these with some fresh fruit.

A group of pretty lemon cupcakes sitting on a wire cooling rack surrounded by sliced of lemon. The cupcakes have a big swirl of frosting on top with a sliced lemon for garnish

How to make lemon cupcakes

  • You’ll need 4-5 lemons for this recipe, because we’re zesting lemons for the cupcake and the frosting. After zesting, we’re also going to juice a couple of the lemons for the cupcake batter.
  • Start by combining the granulated sugar with the eggs, oil, lemon zest and extract.
  • Once that has been mixed, add the sour cream and mix until well combined.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients.
  • Next alternate adding the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients (lemon juice and buttermilk) and beat until everything is well combined. I always recommend giving the bowl a good scrape down.
  • Fill your cupcake liners 2/3 full. And if you’re not sure what the means, check out my tips for baking cupcakes.
  • Bake these for 14-16 minutes give or take a minute or two. Then set aside your cupcakes to cool.

A gorgeous lemon cupcake with a big swirl of lemon frosting on top and a thinly sliced lemon sitting on top of the frosting

Do I have to use sour cream for this recipe? 

The sour cream is used to help keep these nice and moist. If you don’t have sour cream, I recommend using a nonfat Greek yogurt. I’ve also heard mayonnaise can be a good substitute, but I’ve never tried it.

I also use light sour cream because it’s not quite as heavy. However, if you only have regular sour cream, that’s okay to use too.

Can I use milk instead of buttermilk?

Yes, you can use regular milk instead of buttermilk. I always have Nonfat milk in my fridge, but any milk will work.

If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make it by combining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar with 1 scant cup of milk. Meaning you add the lemon juice first and then fill your measuring cup with the milk until it reaches 1 cup.

A close up shot of a lemon cupcake with a big swirl of buttermilk lemon frosting on top and a thinly sliced lemon for garnish

I don’t have lemon extract, what else can I use?

You can use vanilla extract, you might consider adding another teaspoon of lemon zest instead.

I don’t have a zester, what else can I use?

If you have a fine grater that works, you just don’t get quite as good of a zest.


This homemade lemon cupcake recipe can be paired with a fresh fruit topping and if you really love lemon, consider adding a lemon curd filling.

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18 Responses
  1. Nichole Crumpton

    I Made these ahead of time for a friends Birthday Tea Party. They are moist and delicious, of course I always have to try before I serve! LOL The only thing I changed is the icing, its not as lemony as I like, so I added the juice of 1 lemon (1 tbsp.) and lowered the buttermilk and cream to 1/2 each. I also added
    1 tsp. of salt, not a fan of sweet icing. Grated some extra zest and a lemon wedge (to be placed closer to tea time tomorrow). Will post pic tomorrow,.sorry I couldn’t wait to post a review!

      1. Asome

        Hi, I want to try this but don’t have light sour cream can I substitute for regular sour cream or anything else?

        1. Beyond Frosting

          The answer to this question is listed in the blog post. If you don’t have sour cream, I recommend using a nonfat Greek yogurt. Regular sour cream would also work. I recommend reading through the blog post for more tips on making this recipe!

  2. Kirsten

    Hello! I’m planning to make these soon and I’m just wondering – would using baking soda work since the lemon juice is acidic? Thank you for your help!

  3. Colleen

    Super yummy recipe! Followed the recipe and came out delicious! We’ll definitely make this recipe again. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    1. Beyond Frosting

      Hi Jennifer, sounds like you needed to beat it for longer if it was still too thick and hard to pipe. Since it starts with cold butter, you really need to beat the butter down in the beginning and then again as you’re adding the powdered sugar.

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