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Lemon Cupcakes

I’m a huge fan of lemon desserts, always have been and always will be.  Lemon cupcakes often disappoint when you get them from the market (not something I do, but I have tasted them on occasion--one must compare), but if you make them at home and add a bit of extra indulgence, you can make sublime cupcakes that far surpass those which are mass produced.  

I recently made a batch of some that included lemon curd, along with an easy lemon buttercream to crown each treat.  An ode to that marvelous cake I’ve shown you before, these sweet miniature versions are so much fun to make.  The hardest thing to do, perhaps, is the lemon curd, but if you give yourself some time to get it just right, it too is not a task that is unattainable.  I love making the curd a day in advance and having it cold & ready in the refrigerator. 

The cupcake batter is a straightforward version of the 1-2-3-4 cake and is divided among 24 cupcake liners.  Two dozen beautiful cupcakes that are then filled with curd and topped with the simplest of buttercreams will satisfy the craving of those die-hard lemon dessert fans.  Make these for a Mother’s Day lunch, a weekend gathering or a casual get-together with friends.   

Let me show you how!

Lemon Cupcake Batter Ingredients
  • 2 sticks or 16 tablespoons {226 g.} unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups {400 g.} granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon {15 ml.} finely grated lemon zest
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups {320 g.} cake flour, spooned & leveled
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons {12.5 ml.} baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon {2.5 ml.} fine sea salt
  • 1 cup {240 ml.} milk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons {10 ml.} pure vanilla extract

Yield: 24 standard size cupcakes
Equipment: Two standard size muffin tins with 12 wells in each pan, 24 cupcake liners.

Note: If your cupcake pans are nonstick, there is no reason to butter the tops of the pans.  If your cupcake pans are light aluminum, they must be prepared because the cupcakes may crown and stick to the rims of each well.  I line each well with a cupcake liner and then spray the tops with a nonstick cooking spray.

Center the oven racks
Preheat to 350° F (177°C)

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until the butter is nice & creamy.  Gradually add the granulated sugar and the lemon zest in a steady stream & continue beating for a good 4-5 minutes.  You want to incorporate as much air as possible to make the cupcakes light, so cream the butter & sugar until it is very light & fluffy.  Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl & paddle at least once or twice during this process.
  2. On medium speed, add the eggs one at a time and beat well, until each egg is fully emulsified in the batter (it shouldn’t look curdled).  Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl & paddle at least once.
  3. In a medium bowl, sift the cake flour, baking powder & fine sea salt; whisk to combine well.  Combine the vanilla extract with the milk.  On low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients with the milk/vanilla.  The dry ingredients will be added in 3 additions and the milk/vanilla in 2 additions; start and end with the dry ingredients.  Beat just until combined and no specks of flour are left.
  4. Stop the machine and give the batter a couple of turns with a large spatula, making sure to reach all the way to the bottom of the bowl.
  5. With a 2 1/4” ice cream scoop, evenly divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins lined with cupcake liners.  Fill each cavity 3/4 full of batter.

Bake the cupcakes for approximately 18-22 minutes.  

Dark, nonstick pans will bake the cupcakes much faster than light aluminum pans.  Each cupcake should feel springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the middle should come out free of crumbs.  

Let the cupcakes cool in the pans for 5 minutes and then remove them onto racks to cool completely

Lemon Curd Ingredients
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar {265 g.}
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 3/4 cups {180 ml.} freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons {85 g.} unsalted butter, room temperature

Yield: approximately 2 cups lemon curd

  1. In a saucier or saucepan, add the egg yolks, whole eggs, granulated sugar, lemon zest and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
  2. Using a whisk, mix the ingredients until well combined.  Set the pan on your stovetop over medium, medium-low heat.  Stir your ingredients with a clean, wooden spoon or heatproof spatula (I reserve a wooden spoon just for this purpose so that I don’t transfer other flavors to my curds).  Pay close attention and don’t walk away from this task.
  3. Lemon curd will gradually thicken in 5-10 minutes or so.  It’s important to watch for visual clues, because the curd can go from a watery substance to scrambled eggs if you don’t stir the entire time.  

  1. As soon as you notice the curd thicken considerably, check to see if it coats the back of the spoon or spatula in a thick film.  If it does, it’s ready to come off the heat.
  2. Have a fine mesh strainer set over a heatproof bowl or other vessel and strain the lemon curd through it.  Stir and press it through.  You’ll notice all of the lemon zest and perhaps some egg whites left in the strainer; discard this.  Make sure to scrape off the curd from the bottom of the strainer.
  3. Add the reserved butter a few tablespoons at a time, stirring until it melts. 
  4. Once the butter has melted, cool the curd by either setting it into an ice water bath or by putting it into the refrigerator.  I much prefer to put my bowl of curd over an ice water bath to cool it quickly (I stir this until there is no more heat left).  If you’re going to place it straight into the refrigerator, put a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming.  
  5. The curd can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, again, with a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming.  Make sure the entire bowl is covered well.

NOTE: the lemon curd has to be thoroughly chilled before constructing the cupcakes.

Easy Lemon Buttercream
  • 2 sticks or 16 tablespoons {226 g.} unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 cups or 2 lbs. {907 g.} confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons {90 ml.} milk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon {5 ml.} pure vanilla extract (if not using lemon extract, double the vanilla)
  • 1 teaspoon {5 ml.} pure lemon extract (optional)
  • 1/2 cup {120 ml.} cold Lemon Curd (recipe above)

Yield: enough for 24 cupcakes or a 9” layer cake.

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until lightened, 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Stop the mixer.
  2. Add all of the confectioners’ sugar, fine sea salt, milk, vanilla extract and lemon extract.  Start the mixer on low speed until everything begins to come together and then gradually increase the speed to medium until the buttercream gets light & creamy, about 3-4 minutes.  Stop and scrape down the bowl & paddle at least once.
  3. Add the 1/2 cup lemon curd and beat until well combined.

Constructing the Cupcakes

With a sharp paring knife, cut a cone shape from the center of each cupcake and remove it.  These will be the wells that will hold the lemon curd.

Place the 1 1/2 cups lemon curd into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4” plain piping tip.

This is 24 tablespoons of lemon curd, so pipe 1 tablespoon into each cupcake.  No one gets cheated here.

If you’re working in a warm kitchen, place the cupcakes onto a rimmed baking sheet and pop them into the refrigerator until the lemon curd is chilled.

To frost the cupcakes, place the buttercream into a large pastry bag fitted with a large open-star tip and pipe a generous spiral of buttercream, making sure to cover the exposed lemon curd.

The cupcakes can be served at once or if you want to hold them for several hours or longer, put them back onto the baking sheet and chill them until the buttercream hardens.  Once the buttercream is cold & stiff, wrap the baking sheets in plastic wrap to keep the cupcakes fresh.

Since the cupcakes contain lemon curd, don’t let them sit out for more than a few hours.

These cupcakes were packaged up for a special client.  Delicious!

I hope you make these cupcakes for your next celebration. 



  1. Those look divine!
    Thank you for posting the recipe conversion into grams (for us Brits!). I will be making these for my husbands birthday as he loves lemon. I envy how neat and orderly everything is- when I bake no matter how hard I try the kitchen is always chaos x

  2. I love lemon-everything too! Your cupcakes look spectacular and, I image they taste even better!

  3. Anonymous, I was asked awhile back to do metrics for my recipes and I thought, why not?? I'm glad you find them useful, because that's always been my intent.

    It's a struggle sometimes, believe me, just trying to get good photography amidst the chaos. I know what that's like!

    Enjoy the cupcakes!!

  4. Janet, those cupcakes taste wonderful!! The combination of lemon curd and lemon cake is always a winner with me. Mmmmm!


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