Right now I have a bit of an obsession with spring cupcakes. I adore cupcakes for spring celebrations, like Easter, Mother’s Day, bridal showers, birthdays, backyard barbecues, or any day that ends with the letter “Y”. These fresh lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting are perfect for any cupcake-worthy occasion. They are full of bright, sunny lemon flavor with the perfect balance of sweet and tart.
The recipe for these fresh lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting has been perfected through a lot of trial, error and testing – a lot of delicious trial, error and testing. If you know a few tricks, it’s pretty easy to make bakery-style cupcakes from a cake mix, so I wanted to make sure it would be worth your time to make fresh lemon cupcakes from scratch. These lemon cupcakes from scratch have a more natural lemon flavor and softer texture than you would get from a mix.
The lemon flavor in these cupcakes comes from three ingredients: lemon zest, lemon juice, and lemon bakery emulsion. I always try to add layers of flavor to a recipe for the best results. Bakery emulsion is an ingredient you might not have used before. Unlike extracts, bakery emulsions have an intense flavor that won’t disappear during the baking process. You can buy bakery emulsions on Amazon or where cake decorating supplies are sold.
In addition to lemon bakery emulsion, this recipe uses butter vanilla bakery emulsion. Butter vanilla bakery emulsion is the secret ingredient in our No-Fail Buttercream Frosting recipe, so I usually have some in the pantry. If you don’t want to use bakery emulsion, you can substitute lemon extract and vanilla extract.
The soft texture of these fresh lemon cupcakes comes from buttermilk and all-purpose flour. I tried milk, buttermilk, and sour cream in this recipe, but buttermilk yielded the best results. I also tried cake flour, all-purpose flour, and half cake with half all-purpose. All the recipes with cake flour turned out too crumbly, but all-purpose flour yielded light cupcakes that didn’t crumble.
When baking cupcakes, it’s best to start with room temperature ingredients. Allow an hour or two for your butter, buttermilk and eggs to come to room temperature. If you’re in a hurry you can skip this step, but it will affect the texture of the batter. I like to measure out all the ingredients first, so I have them ready to go:
Start your fresh lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting by zesting and juicing a large lemon. For me, the best way to zest a citrus fruit is with a microplane. You might want to watch this quick video to learn the best way to zest lemons using a microplane.
The most important thing to keep in mind when zesting citrus with a microplane is to be careful not to cut yourself, because microplane graters are sharp! Another important tip is that you don’t want to press the fruit into the microplane. This is because you only want the outer yellow layer of the lemon peel, not the inner white layer. The white layer tastes bitter, and that will ruin your cupcakes. Another good way to zest lemons is using a box grater.
After zesting and juicing your lemon, combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt) in a small bowl using a whisk. If you whisk together the dry ingredients before adding them to the batter, you will be sure not to have any unpleasant clumps of baking powder in your cupcakes.
Once you have all your ingredients assembled, you can start making the batter. Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and bakery emulsions or extracts, and beat until fluffy. If you don’t have a stand mixer, an electric hand mixer will work just fine.
Next, add 1/3 of the buttermilk, then 1/3 of the dry ingredients, and repeat this process three times, mixing well after each addition. During this process, I usually have to scrape the sides of the mixing bowl several times with a spatula to make sure all the ingredients are well incorporated.
The next step is filling the cupcake cups. I always find this process to be a little messy and/or tricky. I ended up filling the cups with a 2-tablespoon cookie scoop and a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop. Fill the cups 2/3 full. You don’t want to overfill them, because the cupcakes will puff up and potentially spill over the sides. This recipe makes 17 cupcakes, so you will need to bake them in two batches.
One thing I’ve found making a lot of cupcakes is that all cupcake papers are not created equal. I highly recommend Wilton brand cupcake papers, if those are available to you.
Can I take a second to rave about this pan? This USA Pan cupcake/muffin pan is literally the best one I’ve ever owned. It distributes heat perfectly, so the cupcakes bake all the way through without getting too dark on the outside. The nonstick coating is amazing. No one is paying me to say this – I just love this pan.
These cupcakes bake for about 22 minutes at 350 degrees. While your cupcakes are in the oven, or while they’re cooling, make the lemon cream cheese frosting. This lemon cream cheese frosting recipe is based on our No-Fail Buttercream Frosting recipe. One thing to keep in mind with this recipe is that it makes a large batch of frosting. You will have plenty of frosting to pipe onto the cupcakes, and probably some left over. If you want to use a little less frosting, you can easily cut the lemon cream cheese frosting recipe in half.
I decided to create two different looks for these fresh lemon cupcakes, one using an open star jumbo piping tip with candy pearl decorations, and another using a jumbo round piping tip with lemon slices and fresh mint leaves. If you want a video tutorial for how to pipe frosting onto cupcakes using the star tip or the round tip, this video is one of my favorites.
I hope you enjoy these fresh lemon cupcakes. If you make them, please leave a review to let me know how they turned out.
Make the cupcakes: Make the frosting: To substitute salted butter: For the cupcakes, use 1 stick salted butter and reduce table salt to 1/4 teaspoon. For the frosting, use 1 stick salted butter and omit table salt. The frosting recipe makes a generous amount of frosting, for piping with jumbo frosting tips. If you want to use a smaller amount of frosting, the recipe can be cut in half. As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
For the cupcakes:
For the frosting (see recipe notes):
Serving Size: 1 cupcake
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 380 Total Fat: 16g Saturated Fat: 10g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 5g Cholesterol: 65mg Sodium: 220mg Carbohydrates: 57g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 51g Protein: 3g
Make the cupcakes:
Make the frosting:
To substitute salted butter: For the cupcakes, use 1 stick salted butter and reduce table salt to 1/4 teaspoon. For the frosting, use 1 stick salted butter and omit table salt.
The frosting recipe makes a generous amount of frosting, for piping with jumbo frosting tips. If you want to use a smaller amount of frosting, the recipe can be cut in half.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.