Lemon cupcakes made with sour cream and a tangy lemon cream cheese frosting. These are the BEST lemon cupcakes, ever! A cupcake for true lemon lovers only! Small batch lemon cupcakes recipe makes 4 cupcakes, but can be scaled up to serve more.

Lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting.

I first shared this recipe 11 years ago, and I’ve made it dozens of times since. The cupcakes are super zesty and bright; they are a lemon-lovers dream. The lemon cream cheese frosting is tangy, tart and delightful. And I don’t call things delightful very often, I assure you.

Lemon desserts were my grandmother’s favorite and now they have become mine. I prefer a lemon dessert over a chocolate dessert, any day. While I know that this is slightly scandalous for a girl who bakes dessert for a living, but I still make a mini chocolate cake often for you!

It’s not that I completely dislike chocolate, I just slightly prefer lemon. It may have something to do with this small batch lemon cream cheese frosting! I feel like I can only eat one slice of chocolate cake, but I could eat several lemon cupcakes, hah! I can’t resist a pan of lemon bars, but I can portion out chocolate cupcakes daily, no issues. Lemons just have a hold on me!

We all know cream cheese is the best frosting in the world, right? My strawberry cream cheese frosting is another foray into fruit-flavored cream cheese frostings, and if you love it, this lemon version can’t be missed. And similarly, you can double or triple this lemon cream cheese frosting and use it on other cakes and cupcakes, like my mini vanilla cake.

Single lemon cupcake with lemon cream cheese frosting on a plate.

Variations on lemon cupcakes:

I make these lemon cupcakes with Meyer lemons when they are in season, and they’re so delightful! Meyer lemons are a cross between a mandarin orange and regular lemon, so the flavor is nuanced and subtle. If you want to mimic the Meyer lemon flavor, substitute half orange zest and half regular lemon zest. You can also use this trick with my Meyer Lemon Scones for Two.

This recipe makes 4 perfect, soft, and fluffy lemon cupcakes, but you can double or triple the recipe to serve more. When you double any of my recipes, follow it exactly. If a recipe calls for an egg white, double it by using two egg whites, NOT the whole egg. I call for egg whites in my recipes for certain reasons, and adding a fatty egg yolk will change the results and possibly make the recipe fail.

I have a mini 6 inch lemon layer cake on this site if you’re looking for something larger than these cupcakes, but note that the recipe has a lemon whipped cream frosting instead of a cream cheese frosting. You can absolutely double this lemon cream cheese frosting recipe and use it on that cake. However, if you’re after petite gorgeous lemon cupcakes, we have arrived!

Ingredients:

Butter. For baking, I recommend using unsalted butter, and I chop it into small pieces and let it come to room temperature on the counter for a few hours before baking.

Granulated Sugar.

Egg White. We only need the egg white for this recipe, not the egg yolk. Save it for ice cream or my white chocolate chip cookies, and know that if you want to double or triple this recipe, still, only use the egg whites. No yolks in these fluffy cupcakes, do you promise me?

Almond Extract. We’re using the smallest amount of almond extract in these cupcakes to balance the flavors. Almond extract plus lemon zest makes these cupcakes have a similar taste to my wedding cake cupcakes. No, the cupcakes won’t taste like almond, but they will taste balanced and nuanced. If you want to use lemon extract instead, you can substitute it in the same quantity.

Sour Cream. Full-fat sour cream here, please. Sour cream has a fat content of around 20%, so please, don’t substitute fat-free yogurt or anything else. Use real deal sour cream, and you will be rewarded! Also let the sour cream sit out on the counter for 20 minutes before baking. This way, the cold sour cream doesn’t shock and seize your batter, which can make it look curdled or grainy.

All-Purpose Flour.

Baking Soda.

Salt.

Lemon. We need the lemon zest for the cupcakes, and the lemon juice for the frosting. I find it easier to zest the lemon whole, and then slice for juicing.

Cream Cheese.

Powdered Sugar.

How to make lemon cupcakes:

  1. Gather the ingredients for the cupcakes first: softened butter, sugar, egg white, almond extract, sour cream, flour, baking soda, salt and the zest from the lemon. Preheat the oven to 400-degrees Fahrenheit, and place 4 cupcake liners in a muffin pan. Ensure an oven rack is in the middle position in the oven.
    Ingredients for lemon cupcakes measured in white bowls.
  2. First, place the diced softened butter in a mixing bowl, and add the granulated sugar.
    Diced butter and granulated sugar in clear glass bowl.
  3. Beat together until fluffy, which is longer than you think it is. We really want the sugar crystals to cut into the butter and create air pockets. Properly creamed butter and sugar is what creates light and fluffy baked goods. Plus, once you add flour to a recipe, you can no longer beat it very much without activating the gluten and making the bread or cake tough.
    Butter and sugar, beaten together in clear bowl.
  4. Next, add the egg white, almond extract, lemon zest and sour cream.
    Lemon cupcake batter in bowl.
  5. Beat together all wet ingredients before adding any dry ingredients.
    Wet cupcake ingredients.
  6. Finally, sprinkle the flour, baking soda, and salt on top. Beat just to combine.
    Lemon cupcake batter in bowl with dish towel.
  7. Divide the batter between 4 cupcake liners in a muffin pan.
    Raw lemon cupcake batter in muffin pan, before baking.
  8. Bake the cupcakes for 15-17 minutes, testing with a toothpick for doneness. When they’re done, the toothpick should come out with only moist crumbs, not wet batter.
    Four lemon cupcakes in a muffin pan, after baking.
  9. Let the cupcakes cool completely before attempting to frost, or else the lemon cream cheese frosting might melt!
  10. Next, gather the ingredients for the lemon cream cheese frosting: softened cream cheese, softened butter, powdered sugar, and lemon juice.
    Ingredients for lemon cream cheese frosting.
  11. Beat everything together: the diced softened butter,  cream cheese, powdered sugar, and juice of half a lemon.
    Ingredients for lemon cream cheese frosting in bowl.
  12. When the mixture is super creamy, you’re ready to frost the cupcakes. You can use a butter knife, or scrape the frosting into a piping bag to make pretty swirls, it’s totally your choice.
    Lemon cream cheese frosting in clear bowl.
  13. I like to serve the cupcakes with a small lemon wedge on top so that visually, someone knows before they take a bite that they’re getting a lemon cupcake. Two lemon cupcakes with fresh lemon slices.

Can these lemon cupcakes cream cheese frosting be made ahead of time?

Yes, you can make the cupcakes one day ahead, and store them tightly sealed at room temperature on the counter. You may store them in the fridge overnight, but they must come back to room temperature before serving, since the cake has butter in it. Then, you can make the lemon cream cheese frosting a day ahead also, and store it in a bowl. It’s best to frost cupcakes just before serving, but they may be held in a cool, non-drafty area for up to 2 hours.

What kind of frosting for lemon cupcakes?

Lemon cream cheese frosting is the absolute best frosting for lemon cupcakes, in my not-so-humble opinion, but you may also use my chocolate buttercream frosting from my small batch chocolate cupcakes. If you haven’t tried the combo of lemon plus chocolate, you’re in for a treat! Plain vanilla buttercream frosting can be found on my birthday cake cupcakes recipe.

Tips for doubling this small batch lemon cupcakes recipe:

This recipe uses just the egg white, no egg yolk to make the cupcakes. I have a list of ways to use leftover egg yolks here. When you’re doubling this recipe, use two egg whites. When you’re tripling this recipe, use three egg whites. Do not use the whole egg under any circumstance. That’s just not how this recipe is written. Egg whites make light, fluffy cupcakes, and the addition of an egg yolk would add too much fat to the recipe.

Yield: 4 cupcakes

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting.

Small batch lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 6 tablespoons unbleached flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • zest of one lemon

For the frosting:

  • 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 400-degrees Fahrenheit, and place 4 cupcake liners in a muffin pan. Ensure an oven rack is in the middle position in the oven. Ingredients for lemon cupcakes measured in white bowls.

2. First, place the diced softened butter in a mixing bowl, and add the granulated sugar. Diced butter and granulated sugar in clear glass bowl.

3. Beat together until fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Butter and sugar, beaten together in clear bowl.

4. Next, add the egg white, almond extract, lemon zest and sour cream. Lemon cupcake batter in bowl.

5. Beat together all wet ingredients before adding any dry ingredients. Wet cupcake ingredients.

6. Finally, sprinkle the flour, baking soda, and salt on top. Beat just to combine. Lemon cupcake batter in bowl with dish towel.

7. Divide the batter between 4 cupcake liners in a muffin pan. Bake the cupcakes for 15-17 minutes, testing with a toothpick for doneness. When they’re done, the toothpick should come out with only moist crumbs, not wet batter. Let the cupcakes cool completely before attempting to frost, or else the lemon cream cheese frosting might melt! Four lemon cupcakes in a muffin pan, after baking.

8. Next, gather the ingredients for the lemon cream cheese frosting: softened cream cheese, softened butter, powdered sugar, and lemon juice. Ingredients for lemon cream cheese frosting.

9. Beat everything together: the diced softened butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and juice of half a lemon. Ingredients for lemon cream cheese frosting in bowl.

10. When the mixture is super creamy, you’re ready to frost the cupcakes. You can use a butter knife, or scrape the frosting into a piping bag to make pretty swirls, it’s totally your choice. Serve immediately, or see notes above about making ahead of time. Lemon cream cheese frosting in clear bowl.

Notes

Butter: I recommend using unsalted butter, and I chop it into small pieces and let it come to room temperature on the counter for a few hours before baking.

Egg White: We only need the egg white for this recipe, not the egg yolk. Save it for ice cream or my white chocolate chip cookies, and know that if you want to double or triple this recipe, still, only use the egg whites. No yolks in these fluffy cupcakes, do you promise me?

Almond Extract: We’re using the smallest amount of almond extract in these cupcakes to balance the flavors. Almond extract plus lemon zest makes these cupcakes have a similar taste to my wedding cake cupcakes. No, the cupcakes won’t taste like almond, but they will taste balanced and nuanced. If you want to use lemon extract instead, you can substitute it in the same quantity.

Sour Cream: Full-fat sour cream here, please. Sour cream has a fat content of around 20%, so please, don’t substitute fat-free yogurt or anything else. Use real deal sour cream, and you will be rewarded! Also let the sour cream sit out on the counter for 20 minutes before baking. This way, the cold sour cream doesn’t shock and seize your batter, which can make it look curdled or grainy.

Lemon:We need the lemon zest for the cupcakes, and the lemon juice for the frosting. I find it easier to zest the lemon whole, and then slice for juicing.

Recommended Products

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 420Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 71mgSodium: 357mgCarbohydrates: 45gFiber: 1gSugar: 32gProtein: 4g

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram