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.