Small Batch Lemon Cupcakes

Sometimes, you just need a few cupcakes, like for Father’s Day! I got my dad this ridiculous, super cute print of a quote that he has been talking about all the time lately and I’m making him TWO kinds of cupcakes – these lemon ones and a batch with vanilla cakes and chocolate frosting. He’s going to love them!

Because I’m making two kinds, I’m making a small batch of each. I’m so excited to decorate them and see what he thinks! They’re so fun and this recipe is also so flexible which you know I love.

The Recipe

For these cupcakes, my goal was to make moist, fluffy, super flavorful cupcakes that would have a nice lemon zing. There are a few key elements that got me there:

  • Buttermilk – this helps make sure they’re super moist, which is a key characteristic of a great cupcake. You could use whole milk instead, but they won’t be quite as moist and fluffy
  • Lemon juice and zest – using both makes for lots of lemon flavor in the final cupcakes! I initially tried this with limoncello, but, because of the low boiling temp of alcohol, all the flavor basically escaped and left me with vanilla cupcakes. See the Variations section for ways to still incorporate it!

However, the cake part is only half of the cupcakes – you still need a great frosting! For mine, I’ve chosen to go with an Italian meringue buttercream instead of a traditional American buttercream. It’s a bit more effort, but totally worth it, I think. American buttercream can be super rich adn buttery while Italian meringue buttercream is lighter and a bit marshmallow-y, so you can really put a bunch on without the whole cupcake becoming too rich. It sounds like a lot of effort, but there are a few tips that will help you be super successful:

  • have everything in place before starting – this recipe goes pretty quick once things get going, so having everything measured out and within reach mean you won’t overcook the sugar syrup or overwhip the frosting
  • be patient – be sure to wait until the sugar syrup gets up to the right temperature, and once you start whipping make sure you give it looooots of time. it’ll take some time, but that’s just the process. If it isn’t coming together, just keep going and it will, I promise!
  • butter temperature is pretty important – if your butter is too cold, it won’t incorporate well. if it’s too warm, the buttercream might split. you know it’s the right temperature if you can poke it with your finger and leave an indent but the butter doesn’t completely squish if you do. if your butter is too warm and your buttercream splits, don’t worry! just pop it in the fridge for 10 minutes and keep whipping, you’ll be just fine


These are so, so flexible! Let’s look at some ideas:

  • switch up the citrus in the cakes! try using limes or oranges for a different flavor
  • go vanilla – substitute the citrus juice in the cupcakes for additional buttermilk and leave out the zest and you’ve got beautiful, soft vanilla cupcakes
  • add some spices – if you want to add some spices to the cakes, go for it! start with small amounts and taste as you go – you can always add more, but you can’t take it away
  • throw in a filling – you could add a tasty filling into the middle of the cupcakes! a lemon curd, or really any kind of curd, would be amazing and add lots of extra flavor
  • add flavoring to the icing – add 4oz of melted and cooled chocolate to the finished vanilla frosting and you’ve got chocolate frosting! you could also add a fruity extract if you wanted to go in that direction instead

Looking for other cake ideas? I’ve got you covered there too:

So many different versions that you could go with! Let me know what you end up trying, I’d love to hear what you come up with 🙂

Small Batch Lemon Cupcakes
Yield: 6 cupcakes

Small Batch Lemon Cupcakes

Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

These bright, zingy lemon cupcakes are topped with a beautiful Italian meringue buttercream that is the perfect touch for these treats! You may want to make a double batch, these will get eating up quick!


for the cupcakes

  • 75 g (1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp) flour
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 43 g (3 Tbsp) buttermilk
  • juice from 1 large lemon
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 57 g (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 75 g (3/4 cup) sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 egg

for the Italian meringue frosting

  • 100 g (1/2 cup) sugar, divided
  • 59mL (1/2 cup) water
  • 2 egg whites, room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 113 g (1 stick) unsalted butter, cool room temp
  • 1 tsp vanilla


Make the Lemon Cupcakes

  1. prep: preheat the oven to 350*. place cupcake liners in 6 cups of the muffin tin, set aside.
  2. combine the dry ingredients: in a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. set aside
  3. combine the wet ingredients: in a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, lemon juice, and vanilla. set aside
  4. cream the butter and sugar: in the bowl of a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment to cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest and until very light and fluffy
  5. finish the batter: add the egg to the butter and sugar and mix to combine. Alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients, starting and ending with the dry ingredients (ie. add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then 1/2 of the wet ingredients, then 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then the remaining wet ingredients, and then the remaining dry ingredient)
  6. bake: distribute the batter among the prepared muffin tins and bake in the preheated oven for 16-18 minutes or until they spring back when poked

Make the Italian Meringue Buttercream

  1. Prep: place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and 2 Tbsp of the sugar in a small bowl nearby.
  2. start the sugar syrup: in a small pot, combine the remaining sugar and the water over high heat. cover until it comes to a boil, then remove the lid and continue to boil until it comes up to 220*
  3. start the meringue: when the sugar syrup gets to 220*, let it continue cooking up to 240*-245* while you start whipping the egg whites on high. once frothy, very slowly add the sugar you set aside. continue whipping until you reach stiff peaks
  4. finish the meringue: once the sugar syrup reaches 240*-245*, with the mixer still running, slowly and carefully pour the syrup down the side of the mixing bowl into the egg whites. avoid pouring it onto the whisk so that you don't get pieces of sugar in your frosting. continue whisking on high for 8-10 minutes until it's tripled in volume and the bowl is no longer to warm to the touch
  5. add the butter: slowly add the butter in small pieces to the meringue. it will deflate and look like it's split, but keep going! once all the butter is in, keep whisking for 5-7 minutes until it all comes together and looks smooth. If it still looks split, place the mixing bowl into the fridge for 5-10 minutes, then whip again, it should come together
  6. finish the buttercream: add the vanilla and whip for another 3 minutes. you're done!


  1. Use a knife or a piping bag to ice the cupcakes with a generous amount of frosting. Enjoy!


See the notes in the post above for ideas on variations!

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