The BEST Lemon Cupcakes start with a simple ONE-BOWL batter and end with a soaking of lemon simple syrup and a topping of fluffy Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting for luscious, lemony, perfectly moist treats!
My middle child has apparently inherited my love for any dessert by the name of lemon. So one of his all-time favorite desserts is Lemon Cupcakes!
But this isn't an ordinary Lemon Cupcake recipe. No sirree, Bob...these babies are THE BEST. Really. And despite a few separate steps, they're easy to make, too!
I based these Lemon Cupcakes on my straightforward One-Bowl Fluffy Vanilla Cupcakes, infusing that recipe with a bit of freshly-squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest to create a foundation of all-natural lemon flavor.
A few notes about the cupcake ingredients:
- All-purpose flour + cornstarch. Cornstarch inhibits gluten formation and results in a more tender cake crumb. This combo is in lieu of using cake flour. So if you keep cake flour on hand, you could use 3 cups of that instead.
- Sour cream. Use regular (not light) sour cream. I don't recommend omitting it, as it contributes moisture and richness to these cupcakes. In a pinch, however, the sour cream can be replaced with full fat Greek yogurt.
- Lemons. There are typically 2 to 3 tablespoons of juice in a medium lemon.
- This recipe calls for ½ cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice -- plus a couple tablespoons lemon zest -- between the lemon cupcakes, the lemon simple syrup, and the lemon cream cheese frosting. You'll also need an extra couple of lemons for the simple syrup, so I usually try to start with six decent sized lemons when making this recipe.
- If you end up needing additional lemon juice, you can always use bottled lemon juice in a pinch. Just make sure it's 100% real all-natural lemon juice whose only ingredient is, well, lemon juice. 😉
- I recommend zesting your lemons first. Once you have enough zest, you can cut the the lemons in half to squeeze their juice.
- Pure vanilla extract. Despite being Lemon Cupcakes, good-quality, real vanilla is going to give all of that citrus flavor a lovely undertone.
You'll also need a few ingredients for the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting...
...and a few additional (repeat) ingredients for the Lemon Simple Syrup.
How to Make the BEST Lemon Cupcakes
The batter for this Lemon Cupcake recipe is ONE-BOWL! How amazing is that? And while there are a couple of additional steps to make the simple syrup and frosting, those are easy-peasy, too.
Make the Cupcakes
To make the cupcakes, you'll want to start with room temperature ingredients. And then you're simply going to be mixing everything in the same bowl...it seriously is a piece of cake! Er, cupcake.
- Line a pan with cupcake liners and preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. You can repeat this step a few times (if you wish) for even fluffier cupcakes, but it's not necessary.
- To the sifted dry ingredients, add the butter, sour cream, milk, lemon juice, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Beat at medium speed for about 30 seconds, then scrape the bowl and beat for 15 more seconds.
- Scoop batter into prepared pan and bake until cupcakes are light golden and test done with a toothpick. Cool for a few minutes in the pans before transferring to a wire rack. TIP: Place wax paper or foil under the wire rack to keep your counter clean for the next step... 😉
Make the Lemon Simple Syrup
While the Lemon Cupcakes are baking, you're going to make your effortless lemon simple syrup. I borrowed this trick from my all-time favorite lemon layer cake (thanks, Martha).
- It's as easy as boiling sugar with water and then stirring in lemon juice. As an added bonus, thin slices of lemon simmer in the syrup as it cooks, resulting in glossy, candied lemon garnishes for the tops of the finished cupcakes.
- Once the cupcakes come out of the oven, use a toothpick to poke holes all over them and generously brush them with the lemon syrup, allowing it to soak down into the cupcakes so that they become (and stay) super moist and even more lemony.
Make the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
Finally, you're going to whip up a big batch of my favorite Classic Cream Cheese Frosting, except you're going to kick it up with still more lemon juice and lemon zest! This delectable Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting is the perfect complement to the fluffy, sweet-tart cupcakes. Imagine slathering lemon cheesecake on top of lemon cake...
- Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and the cream cheese then slowly blend in the powdered sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Beat until smooth and well-combined. The longer you whip this frosting, the lighter and fluffier it will become!
- And finally, after you frost these beauties, don't forget to top them with your pretty little candied lemon slices!
Yep, people will be fighting over these Lemon Cupcakes before they even taste them.
Tips, Tricks, & Special Equipment
- I recommend baking this Lemon Cupcakes recipe in foil cupcake liners, as the lemon syrup will soak through ordinary paper liners. If you don't like the look of plain foil liners, you can also find decorative-looking "grease-proof" paper baking cups that are lined on the inside with foil.
- As mentioned before, it's important that all of your ingredients are at room temperature before you start making this recipe. I speed things up when necessary by cutting my butter into small pieces and spreading them out on a plate or cutting board (which softens the butter faster than if the stick was left whole), by very briefly microwaving ingredients like milk or sour cream to take off the chill, and by using a bowl of hot water to warm up the the whole eggs.
- Frost your Lemon Cupcakes using an offset spatula, a knife, or a piping bag. Or, as I did here, scoop the frosting into a gallon-sized plastic baggie, snip off the corner of the bag, and pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes in a spiral, starting from the outside perimeter and working towards the center. Piping the frosting as shown in these photos requires a lot more frosting than spreading it with a knife so, in that case, plan on making a double recipe of frosting.
Okay, enough about how simple and how scrumptious these treats are.
The big takeaway here?
If you adore lemon desserts as much as the middle child and I do, you must give these BEST Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting a whirl!
Perfect for Easter...perfect for spring...perfect for a lemon lover's birthday. Just...perfect.
More Luscious Lemon Desserts
The BEST Lemon Cupcakes + Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
FOR THE CUPCAKES:
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 4 eggs
- 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
FOR THE SIMPLE SYRUP:
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 small lemons, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
FOR THE FROSTING:
- ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 3 ½ to 4 cups powdered sugar, equivalent to about one (16-ounce) box
- 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- To prepare the cupcakes, adjust rack to center position of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line muffin pans with 24 cupcake liners (*see NOTES below).
- Set a large sifter or fine mesh sieve over the large bowl of an electric mixer. Measure flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder, and salt into sieve and firmly hit the palm of your hand against its side to sift all of the dry ingredients together into the bowl. (If desired, repeat this process a few more times for fluffier cupcakes.)
- To the sifted dry ingredients, add the softened butter, sour cream, milk, lemon juice, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Beat at medium speed for about 30 seconds or until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat for 15 more seconds.
- Evenly divide the batter between the 24 cupcake liners (I find it easiest to do this using a cookie scoop). Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until cupcakes are light golden and test done with a toothpick inserted in center (mine were perfect at exactly 20 minutes). Cool the cupcakes for a few minutes in the pans before transferring them to a wire rack set on top of wax paper or foil (to keep the counter clean for the next step).
- While the cupcakes are baking, prepare the Lemon Simple Syrup by combining the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once the mixture is boiling, add the lemon slices and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Use a slotted spoon to remove the lemon slices to a sheet of wax paper; allow to cool. Stir the ¼ cup lemon juice into the simple syrup and set aside.
- Once the cupcakes are done and have been transferred to the wire rack, use a toothpick to poke a bunch of holes all over the top of each cupcake. Use a pastry brush to slowly brush the top of each cupcake with lemon simple syrup, allowing it to soak down into each cupcake. Brush each cupcake once, and then repeat the process (brushing each cupcake again until all of the simple syrup has been used up. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely.
- One the cupcakes are cool, prepare the frosting. Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and the cream cheese. Slowly blend in the powdered sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla, then beat until smooth and well-combined. The longer you whip this frosting, the lighter and fluffier it will become. Frost the cupcakes using your desired method (*see Tips & Tricks below...depending on how you decide to frost your cupcakes, you may need to double the frosting recipe).
- Top each cupcake with a piece of candied lemon and white or sparkling sugar sprinkles, if desired. Refrigerate cupcakes until ready to serve, allowing them to come to room temperature a bit before serving.
- I recommend baking these cupcakes in foil cupcake liners, as the lemon syrup will soak through ordinary paper liners. If you don't like the look of plain foil liners, you can also find decorative-looking "grease-proof" paper baking cups that are lined on the inside with foil.
- Cornstarch makes the cupcakes fluffy and is added to the regular, all-purpose flour in lieu of using cake flour.
- If you'd like to use cake flour in this recipe instead, use 3 cups cake flour while omitting the all-purpose flour and cornstarch.
- When baking, I like to make sure that all of my ingredients are at room temperature. I speed things up when necessary by cutting my butter into small pieces and spreading them out on a plate or cutting board (which softens the butter faster than if the stick was left whole), by very briefly microwaving ingredients like milk or sour cream to take off the chill, and by using a bowl of hot water to warm up the the whole eggs.
- Frost your cupcakes using an offset spatula, a knife, or a piping bag. Or, as I did here, scoop the frosting into a gallon-sized plastic baggie, snip off the corner of the bag, and pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes in a spiral, starting from the outside perimeter and working towards the center. Piping the frosting as shown in these photos requires a lot more frosting than spreading it with a knife, so in that case, plan on making a double recipe of frosting.
Originally published March 24, 2016, and updated on February 24, 2021, and April 13, 2022.
I made these for a baby shower and they were a hit! I made a blueberry syrup instead of the lemon syrup with plain cream cheese frosting (which I got the recipe from your site too), per the mother's request, and they tasted great!!! Thanks so much for the delicious recipes!!
Do these have to be refrigerated and how many days can I make them ahead to still be fresh I need them for Sunday I was thinking making them on Friday
Hi Rhonda! These cupcakes should be refrigerated, and they should be fine if you make them on Friday to serve on Sunday. Just let them come to room temperature for a bit before serving. Hope you enjoy! 🙂
I found (along with the guests I was serving) that injecting the cupcakes with simple syrup resulted in a dense overly sweet cupcake. They are a delicious fluffy cupcake without it. I would highly recommend a before and after comparison.
Do you know if it makes a difference if you use cupcake baking cups instead of tradition cupcake pan? I want to use some cute cupcake cups but don't want dry cupcakes.
Hi Kim! I haven't made these cupcakes in anything other than a normal cupcake pan. But as long as your cupcake baking cups are the same capacity as the cups found in a cupcake pan, I don't see why they wouldn't work just fine!
I haven't made these yet but am wondering if I can make them the day before and store them in the fridge? I don't want them to dry out. Thanks!
They'll definitely stay moist in the fridge overnight. 🙂
Can't thank you enough for this recipe! I used it when we first went into quarantine in spring 2020 to make a special birthday cake for my daughter. I use the batter exactly as you instruct and make a two layer cake, skipping the simple syrup (b/c I'm lazy and I think the cake is moist enough as it is). I layer blueberries between the two tiers and cover with a lemon buttercream icing (b/c daughter doesn't like cream cheese). It was such a hit that she has asked for it every birthday since. This is the third year now that I'm carrying on this tradition. Thanks again!
These cupcakes were amazing! Super moist plus the perfect amount of lemon and sweetness.
Made these for Easter. They were so, so good! Light and fluffy and such great lemon flavor. Plus, I'm a sucker for cream cheese frosting!
These were a hit, moist and delicious!
These are pretty dry. Followed the recipe completely. Any comments saying they're moist must be bots or something. Flavor is decent, but it's more like a muffin than a cupcake.
Hi Fallon! I'm sorry these didn't turn out for you, but ha, no bots! These cupcakes really do turn out moist for most people who make this recipe, as the majority of the comments can attest. 🙂 If yours turned out dry, my best guess is that they were overbaked.
Made these for 4th of July and they were a hit!!!!! Thank you so much for this recipe!
Would filing them with lemon curd be overkill?
Personally, I think it would be yummy! They'd definitely be extra lemony. 🙂
I love this cupcake! It is so good! They are so moist and fluffy! I ca even eat them plain! These are the best cupcakes ever!
I made these cupcakes and had to toss them in the trash. In all my 40 years of baking I have never had to do that. The ratio of flour and baking powder is totally wrong. The recipe called for 1/2 cup of unsalted butter, but in the parentheses they called for 2 sticks. As far the cornstarch I has no clue how that added to this recipe. And actually it made the cupcakes gluey and I had to increase the cooking time and then the tops got over brown and they still were under cooked. So if you decide to try this recipe I wish you luck.
Hi Lori. I'm sorry to hear that this recipe didn't work out for you. The ratio of flour and baking powder is correct, and the recipe actually calls for 1 cup butter (2 sticks). So if you only used 1/2 cup, that would explain why your cupcakes didn't turn out. As far as the cornstarch, I explained in the post under "Ingredients" as well as in the "Notes" section of the recipe, but it is commonly substituted for a portion of flour to make cake flour. Hope that helps. 🙂
You totally misread the recipe!
These are delicious!! For some reason they didn’t rise like normal cupcakes so I turned the rest of the batter into a sheet cake. Thanks for the recipe!
I made these for my birthday yesterday, and they were absolutely delicious! One of my favorite cupcake recipes by far.
So glad to hear that. Happy belated birthday! 🙂