Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes

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Last week was my friend Rachel’s birthday. She lives in Chicago, so although I didn’t get to celebrate on the day with her, I made her some of these lemon vanilla cupcakes last weekend when she was in town. I didn’t get them frosted before she left (whoops) but since she’s not a frosting fan anyway (weirdo) it all worked out. Of course, as soon as I had a spare moment I piped some buttercream on top – a cupcake without frosting is basically just a muffin, right?

There will be SO MUCH cake in my life this week. I was finally forced to take these cupcakes to work today to stop myself from eating them all at once, and tonight I bake cake #2 for a co-worker’s son’s birthday. Then Friday is Kyle’s 24th, which means even MORE cake! Oy.

So, yeah. SO. MUCH. CAKE.

Not that I’m complaining. Obviously. Cake is the best. And I love getting to bake for people’s birthdays, because it’s always a good excuse to try out a new cake or cupcake recipe (AND to have a dedicated group of taste-testers that will help you eat it all!)

Long story short: if anyone else is in the mood for cake this week, tell me now. I’m on a roll.


Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes
YIELD: 18-24 cupcakes
For the Cupcakes:
  • ½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ cup buttermilk (see how I make my own buttermilk in this recipe)
For the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:
  • ¼ c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp. milk
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (give or take, depending on what kind of consistency you want. I like my frosting pretty thick because it holds up well when it’s piped or it’s warm outside)
For the Cupcakes:
  1. In a stand mixer, cream together butter, vanilla, lemon juice, lemon zest, and sugar.
  2. Add the egg and the egg white one at a time to the mixer while it runs on low speed.
  3. In a small bowl, sift together the flour and salt.
  4. In a glass measuring cup, make your buttermilk. (In this case, I used 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar + milk until the mixture measured ½ cup.)
  5. Add the baking soda to the buttermilk (trust me) and stir. The baking soda will react with the vinegar and your mixture will swell up a bit and take on a foamy consistency. This is what you want!
  6. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture (starting and ending with flour so as not to deflate the batter) to the batter, mixing after each addition until all the flour and buttermilk have been incorporated into the batter.
  7. Pour batter into cupcake pans and bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Let cool and top with your choice of frosting. I used Vanilla Buttercream! (Recipe below).
For the Vanilla Buttercream:
  1. In a medium bowl, cream together butter, vanilla, and ¼ cup of the powdered sugar. (This is easy to do by hand but also works great in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment).
  2. Add 1 Tbsp. of the milk and another ½ cup of the powdered sugar and mix well.
  3. Add remaining milk and stir.
  4. Add remaining powdered sugar as needed until your frosting has achieved your desired consistency. (I usually use all 2 cups, sometimes more.)
  5. Frost your cupcakes and dig in!


Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes


    • Jessie says

      I always make my own so that I can control the acid content – store-bought buttermilk can vary a little bit so I find I’m more comfortable with doing it myself. You can certainly try store-bought, though – I don’t think it would alter the finished product too much. Hope that helps!

    • Jessie says

      I tend to use whatever milk I have on hand – usually skim or 1% milk, but use whatever you like! If the frosting is too thin, add a little more powdered sugar (or add a splash more milk if you’d like to thin it out).

  1. Donna says

    Hi Jessie,

    I love the cupcake, but the frosting was too sweet for me. I notice that a lot of butter cream frostings recipe calls for at least 3, and yours calls for 2, and it’s still too sweet for me. I tried only 1 cup of powdered sugar, which was the perfect sweetness, but it wasn’t thick enough to pope. Is there a way around this? I hate scraping off frostings. I want t o eat the whole thing. Maybe I’m not meant to love cupcakes, but they are so pretty. Help!?!?

    Thanks a lot,

    • Jessie says

      Thanks for letting me know how they turned out! If you want to cut the sweetness a bit, I’m a fan of beating some whipping/heavy cream into the frosting (kind of like making whipped cream) – if you beat it long enough, it will still have a good piping consistency but won’t taste as sweet. Some people also like to use additional butter, but I usually find that makes the frosting a bit too rich for me, so I tend to go with the whipping cream option. Hope that helps!

  2. Jamie says

    I’d love to make these cupcakes, but live in a high-altitude state. Unfornately, high-altitude is not your friend when baking. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks so much!

    • Jessie says

      I’m not very familiar with high-altitude baking, but this looks like a pretty good reference guide – it should be helpful!

  3. Kendra says

    Hi Jess,

    I followed your directions exactly, but for some reason I only had enough batter for 12 cupcakes, and even then, the batter didn’t even rise above the liner. I was wondering what I did wrong/could do to fix this?

    • Jessie says

      Sorry for the confusion! It’s hard to tell without being in the kitchen with you, but we may have different sized cupcake pans/liners, or your batter may not have risen properly, or I may have just counted wrong! I generally get almost two full 12-cupcake pans out of this recipe, but I’ll double check next time I make it to be sure :)

  4. Grace says

    Hi what is one egg and one egg white?? Is it one whole egg (yolk and white) plus an additional egg white?

  5. Java says

    Can we leave the lemon out ? If so , will that make cupcakes too sweet ? Should we reduce the amount of sugar in the cupcake then ?

    • Jessie says

      You could leave out the lemon if you like, but if you’re just looking for a plain vanilla cupcake I’d recommend trying a recipe that’s specifically for lemon-free vanilla cupcakes. I generally recommend not messing too much with baking recipes, because small differences in ingredients can turn into a large difference for the finished product. If you do decide to try this recipe and omit the lemon, I’d recommend just following the rest of the directions as written. Hope that helps!

  6. kumisha says

    Hi Jess!
    Would like to ask what do u mean by 1/2 cup butter (for frostings recipe), because back here in Malaysia, we measure by grams ounces etc.. not cup. Could u give me the measurement in grams (gm) for 1 cup butter? Thx!

    • Jessie says

      1/2 butter weighs 113 grams. Hope that helps! Google is very helpful if you ever need to convert measurements – they have a handy conversion tool that pops up when you enter a query.

  7. joanne says

    Hi. Can I use plain flour on this recipe?what’s the different between all purpose flour and plain flour?thanks

  8. Anne says

    What is the weight of a stick of butter? It’s difficult to know as in the UK all our ingredients are measured in pounds & ounces or kilos & gramms.

  9. Keyn says

    Hi jessie! Why doesn’t you recipe include baking powder? I saw many recipe that has it.. And what does baking powder do in cupcakes anway? ^_^

  10. Missy says

    Hello! I’m planning on making some cupcakes for my niece’s welcome party in a week and stumbled across this page for the lemon cupcakes along with your other one for chocolate cupcakes. I was wondering, how many cupcakes do these recipes make? I didn’t notice it anywhere and didn’t know if it was a standard 12 or 24 (I’ve never made homemade cupcakes before!) Thanks!

  11. Rabia says

    Can we leave cupcakes after frosting for a day or so? i hope the frosting will not loose it shape in a day?

    • Jessie says

      The frosting should be fine as long as it’s in a relatively cool area – a too-warm room can cause the frosting to lose a bit of shape. If it’s too warm outside to leave cupcakes on the counter for a few days, I like to pop them in the fridge and then bring them back to room temperature when I’m ready to serve. If I’m frosting cupcakes a day in advance, I also like to wait until I’m ready to serve/eat them before I add any toppings or decorations (like fruit, sprinkles, etc.) – that way, you avoid the toppings sinking into the frosting too much or any colors running together, and cupcakes still look new and fresh (even if you made them in advance)!

  12. Sandi says

    I made these as plain vanilla cupcakes, and made my own buttermilk by using lemon juice mixed in milk instead since I didn’t have any vinegar…let me just say, these are the best smelling vanilla cupcakes I’ve ever made! I have yet to try them but I can’t wait. I’ve never been so tempted to taste the batter when making vanilla cupcakes until I made these! They came out perfectly also. Thanks!

    • Jessie says

      It will! Just let it warm up a bit on the counter before you pipe it so that it won’t be too tough to work with. You could save it for up to a week before use.

  13. Sinny says

    I have never baked cupcakes before and wanted to try one. Could you please tell me what type of sugar should i use in this recipe. Is this granulated sugar or powder one.

    • says

      If you’re taking the cake out of the pan and frosting the top and sides of it, I’d say make extra frosting just to be safe. This amount is usually enough for me if I make a 6″ round, but I also don’t like a whole lot of frosting on my cakes. If you want, you can always start with one batch of the frosting, and if it looks like not quite enough just add more milk and powdered sugar a little at a time until you have an amount you’re happy with! Otherwise, just double the frosting recipe and keep any leftovers in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer (this actually freezes really well – just let it come back to room temperature and give it a good stir before you use it again!) for a couple of months. Hope that helps!

    • says

      Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear that. Generally when I have baking problems it results from one of a few things: I have old baking powder/soda, I used a butter substitute without adjusting other ingredients, I opened the oven too many times while they were baking (that gust of cold air can make cakes in a hot oven deflate a bit, which is no fun) or I left my mixer running too long and overbeat the batter. It’s hard to say without being in the kitchen whether one of those was the issue – in the meantime, I’ll double check my recipe again and make sure I didn’t miss any mistakes on my end! Thanks for letting me know about this!


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