These easy lemon vanilla cupcakes have a light and fluffy crumb with a bright punch of lemon flavor. Made from scratch and topped with creamy vanilla and lemon buttercream frosting!
There's something so delightful about this bright, homemade lemon cupcake recipe. It's perfect for spring and summer holidays (like Easter or Mother's Day) with a tart, lemony flavor that cuts through the sweetness for a perfectly balanced bite.
Like our popular butterscotch cake, this recipe is an excellent choice when you want a dessert that feels fresh and elegant but will still satisfy a wide range of taste buds. We'll start with a basic vanilla and lemon cupcakes recipe, and top things off with a rich, creamy lemon frosting that's sure to be a hit.
A few notes on ingredients
This lemon cupcake recipe is pretty straightforward, but we want to highlight a few things before we dive in:
- Use high quality vanilla extract. You'll definitely taste the vanilla here, so use a brand you really like! (Nielsen Massey vanillas are a bit of an investment but are consistently our favorite in recipe testing, hands down).
- Bring the egg to room temperature. If you have time, let the egg sit on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour before you mix your batter. A warmer egg will melt into the batter more smoothly and give you a taller, more even cupcake crumb (see this difference in action in our Cupcake Baking Tips post!)
- Yes, you need the lemon extract. If this isn't something you typically stock in the pantry, don't worry - a small bottle will get you through a few batches of these cupcakes (and you can also use it in our lemon poppyseed scones!) You can use any brand here; they're all pretty similar (we typically use McCormick Lemon Extract).
Pro tip: Use a kitchen scale
Measuring ingredients by volume (with cups) is notoriously unreliable; we always recommend using a kitchen scale to follow our gram (weight) measurements for best results. If you don't have a kitchen scale, measure your dry ingredients (especially flour, which is the most finicky) with the scoop-and-level method for best results.
How to make these cupcakes
Start by creaming softened butter together with some sugar, lemon extract, and vanilla extract. We like to use an electric mixer here; you can also use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Spend a few full minutes on this step: You want everything to be completely incorporated (with no lingering chunks of butter!) into a fluffy, soft mixture.
Note: If you use a stand mixer to make your batter, be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl often!
Then, stir an egg and some milk into the batter, followed by your dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and a bit of kosher salt). We recommend folding your dry ingredients in by hand with a spoon or spatula if you can: It reduces the risk of overmixing so your cupcakes are as light and fluffy as possible!
When the cupcake batter is ready, portion it out into cupcake liners in a cupcake pan. For best results, fill each liner about ⅔ of the way full. (We love using a large cookie scoop to portion cupcake batter: It ensures an even batter distribution between each cupcake liner, which helps the cupcakes bake more evenly).
Pop the cupcakes into a preheated oven and bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. When the cupcakes are done, transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely before you make the frosting.
Four tips for perfect cupcakes
- Use a cookie scoop to fill the cupcake liners. This ensures each liner has the same amount of batter, which helps the cupcakes cook more evenly. We like to use a large 3 Tablespoon cookie scoop to fill full-sized cupcake liners.
- No peeking! Opening the oven door during baking can disturb the hot air distribution inside the oven and alter the final texture of the cupcakes. Resist the urge to peek until the cupcakes are almost done baking! (See this tip in action in our series about baking perfect cupcakes).
- If you can, let the egg come to room temperature on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour before mixing your batter. This will help it melt more smoothly into the batter and give you a taller cupcake with a more even crumb.
- Use a kitchen scale! Measuring ingredients by weight (using the gram measurements in the recipe below) will give you perfect-every-time measurements and much more consistent results.
PS - We've spent years testing every variable we can think of when it comes to baking. For our best tips, be sure to read through 10 tips to bake the perfect cupcake!
About this vanilla lemon buttercream
We're working with a light and fluffy buttercream frosting here, which doubles down on the flavor of our cupcakes thanks to a bit of lemon extract and vanilla extract.
Start by creaming softened butter together with the lemon and vanilla extracts until it's smooth and fluffy, then slowly beat in powdered sugar (plus a pinch of salt!) and a bit of heavy cream. We used an electric hand mixer here, but you can also do this in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk or paddle attachment.
Depending on your personal preferences (and the temperature and humidity of your kitchen, which have a big effect on frosting) you may need to add a bit more of either powdered sugar or heavy cream to bring this frosting to a perfect consistency. Add ingredients slowly, and don't be afraid to tweak it a little until it looks right!
When the buttercream is smooth and fluffy, transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe it onto your cooled cupcakes. (You can also swirl the frosting on with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to save some time, just like we do for our pumpkin ale cupcakes and small batch chocolate cupcakes!)
Riffs and Substitutions
These cupcakes are easy to customize! A few of our favorite riffs:
- Use any frosting you like here. We love this creamy lemon buttercream, but these cupcakes are also good with a plain vanilla buttercream, cream cheese frosting, or a berry-infused frosting (like a raspberry frosting or strawberry buttercream!)
- Add a filling! Pipe a bit of homemade lemon curd into the center of each cupcake before frosting for an elegant twist.
- Dial the flavors up or down. These cupcakes have a lemon-forward flavor with deep vanilla undertones. If you'd like a lighter, less poignant lemon note, reduce the lemon extract here (you can even omit the lemon extract entirely if you'd like a plain vanilla cupcake!)
- Add your favorite toppings! Sprinkles, fresh berries, or lemon zest are all delicious on top of these cupcakes. (Check out our cupcake decorating guide for more of our favorite topping ideas!)
No. You really can't. And believe me: We TRIED. *sighs in recipe developer* You have to use a LOT of fresh lemon juice to get the same lemon flavor you get with just a bit of lemon extract, and the acid from that much lemon juice alters the cupcake texture in a way that just doesn't work as well. We tested about a dozen variations of this recipe with various quantities of lemon juice, but the final version here - which uses lemon extract instead - is just better. Trust us on this one.
Yes! You can make mini lemon cupcakes with a mini muffin tin if you like (you'll get about 30). This recipe also makes enough batter for two 6-inch cake rounds.
Store cupcakes (frosted or unfrosted!) in an airtight container on the counter for up to 4 days, although they're best eaten within a day or two (past that, and they start to dry out a little bit). You can also freeze these cupcakes: They'll last up to 2 months in an airtight container in the freezer. When you're ready to eat them, just let them defrost for a few hours on the counter. (We personally prefer to freeze cupcakes unfrosted, but you can go either way!)
Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cooling Time (Inactive): 1 hour
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
- Yield: 12-15 large cupcakes 1x
- Category: Cupcakes
- Cuisine: American
- Diet: Vegetarian
These easy lemon vanilla cupcakes are topped with a fluffy lemon buttercream.
For the cupcakes:
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature (113 grams)
- 180 grams sugar (¾ cup)
- 10 grams vanilla extract (1 Tablespoon)
- 10 grams lemon extract (1 Tablespoon)
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 180 grams milk (¾ cup), at room temperature
- 240 grams flour (about 2 cups when measured by scooping and leveling)
- 3 grams kosher salt (1 teaspoon)
- 7 grams baking powder (1 ½ teaspoons)
For the frosting:
- 4 Tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature (56 grams)
- ½ teaspoon lemon extract
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 365 grams powdered sugar (about 3 cups)
- 115 grams heavy cream (½ cup)
- Pinch of kosher salt
For the cupcakes:
- Heat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Line a cupcake tin with paper cupcake liners.
- Use a hand mixer to cream butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon extract together in a large mixing bowl (you can also use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment). Spend a few full minutes on this step: You want the mixture to be well incorporated (there should be no obvious chunks of butter), with a light and fluffy texture.
- Beat egg and milk into batter until they're just combined.
- Use a large spoon or spatula to gently fold flour, kosher salt, and baking powder into batter until everything is just combined.
- Divide batter into cupcake liners, filling each liner about ⅔ of the way full (we like to use a large cookie scoop for this). Bake at 325° F for 20-25 minutes until a cake tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
- Remove cupcakes to a wire rack and let cool completely before you make the frosting.
For the frosting:
- Use a hand mixer to cream butter, lemon extract, and vanilla extract together in a large mixing bowl (you can also use a stand mixer).
- Add powdered sugar and a pinch of salt, then stream in heavy cream a little at a time, beating well between each addition, until you have a smooth, stiff, fluffy frosting.
- Transfer frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe onto cooled cupcakes (you can also spread the frosting over the cupcakes with a spoon or offset spatula).
Please use a kitchen scale! Measuring ingredients - especially flour - by volume (with cups) is notoriously unreliable; for best results, use a kitchen scale to measure by weight and follow the gram measurements above. We use and recommend Escali scales.
Equipment. We recommend using an electric hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to properly cream the butter in this recipe. If you don't have an electric mixer, you can use a whisk to beat all wet ingredients together by hand (this will take a few minutes and some elbow grease - you want to make sure everything is well incorporated, especially the butter!) We like to use a 3 Tablespoon cookie scoop to portion cupcake batter into liners before baking. Use a piping bag fitted with a large star tip to frost these cupcakes, or swirl the frosting onto each cupcake with a spoon.
Additions and Substitutions. Reduce the lemon and/or vanilla extracts in this recipe for less pronounced flavor. Add your favorite toppings (sprinkles, lemon zest, chopped nuts, etc). Use any frosting you like here: Plain vanilla buttercream, cream cheese frosting, and strawberry or raspberry buttercreams are all good. For more frosting and decorating suggestions, visit our all-about-frosting post or check out our favorite cupcake decorating ideas.
Storing cupcakes. Store cupcakes (frosted or unfrosted) in an airtight container on the counter for up to 4 days. Freeze cupcakes in an airtight container for up to 2 months. For more information, check out our post on storing and freezing cupcakes.
- Serving Size: 1 cupcake
- Calories: 398
- Sugar: 46 g
- Sodium: 115 mg
- Fat: 15.6 g
- Carbohydrates: 62.1 g
- Protein: 3.5 g
- Cholesterol: 57.1 mg
Keywords: cake, cupcakes, dessert
These cupcakes are amazing. Love the lemon flavor in both the actual cupcake and the frosting!
Team Life As A Strawberry
We're SO happy you loved these cupcakes!
Hi this is a delicious recipe! I made the frosting today to practice frosting the cupcakes. I will be serving these in 2 weeks. I’m planning on freezing the cupcakes in frosted and frosting them thon day of the party. Will the frosting last in the fridge for these 2 weeks?
Hi Ellie, I'm so sorry to hear that! It's impossible for me to know without being in the kitchen with you, but I'd start by troubleshooting with my Cupcakes 101 series and see if that helps!
Yes, 1 cup. 2% refers to the fat content of the milk. Hope that helps!
is it really ok without baking soda because i also bake a vanilla cupcake last night and it was hard, i thought it was because i didnot add baking soda
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!
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).
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!
Whoops, to clarify, I meant 3 cups of powdered sugar. Also, not pope, but pipe.
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 🙂
Yup - one whole egg plus one egg white!
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!
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.
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!
A stick of butter is 1/4 pound (110 grams). Hope that helps!