These are the BEST lemon cupcakes and for so many reasons! They’re extra moist, bursting with zest lemon flavor, and topped with a rich mascarpone buttercream and homemade lemon curd.
What makes these the BEST lemon cupcakes?
Cupcakes should be sweet and moist, and lemon cupcakes are no exception. This recipe combines this signature richness with the bright zest fresh lemons, almost like a delicious vanilla cupcake with added lemon flavor! The secret is in two key ingredients:
- Lemon Zest – Before mixing, lemon zest is rubbed into the sugar by hand. The granules of the sugar release the oils within the zest, enhancing the lemon flavor.
- Sour Cream – This cupcake batter is thick, which is why the cupcakes are so good! Sour cream is what thickens the batter and adds richness to the overall cake.
Once baked, these lemon cupcakes are topped with a little something special – mascarpone buttercream. Mascarpone is not as tangy as cream cheese but still just as rich, preventing the frosting from competing with the zesty lemon cupcakes. To take things a step further, homemade lemon curd is swirled on top of each cupcake. It adds an extra bite of bright lemon flavor to take these cupcakes over the top!
Tips for making lemon cupcake batter
This cupcake recipe is very easy to make but to ensure they turn out perfectly moist and sweet, here are some of my top cupcake baking tips:
- Properly measure the flour – I say this in every post, and for good reason. It’s the number one reason why most recipes fail. If there’s too much flour, the cake will turn out dry and dense. If you can, measure the flour with a food scale. Otherwise, to ensure you use the exact amount needed, gently spoon the flour into your measuring cup and level if off with a flat edge. If you scoop directly into the flour container, it packs it down into the cup which could leave you with 1/4 cup or more of added flour.
- Aerate the butter and sugar – The base of any good cake recipe starts with butter and sugar. By using room temperature butter, its softness ensures a smooth batter. It also allows the sugar to aerate the butter. This is done so by mixing the two ingredients together on high speed for a period of time. When this happens, the sugar granules whip tiny air pockets all throughout the batter which you’ll notice just by looking at it. Both the color and texture lighting – turning it into a fluffy base that provides an extra lift to these cupcakes.
- Room temperature ingredients – All chilled ingredients must be brought up to room temperature. If the ingredients are cold, the batter will the cold. If the batter is cold, it will take longer for the oven heat to penetrate each cake. Room temperature ingredients are also easier to mix in, which is important in my next tip.
- Don’t over mix – RIGHT when the batter comes together, stop mixing. Over mixing will lead to a cupcake that’s caved in the center with a tough texture.
- Don’t over fill – Only fill each cupcake about half full with batter. Over filling can also leave to a caved in center.
Mascarpone vs. Cream Cheese Frosting
Compared to cream cheese, mascarpone is much richer due to its higher fat content but cream cheese tends to be a bit more acidic. This is why cream cheese work so well in cheesecake, because the acidity helps to balance out the sweetness of the cake. For these cupcakes, the mascarpone doesn’t overpower in flavor. It helps to create a lighter and creamier buttercream but with a smooth flavor. It’s the perfect carrier for that lemon flavor as it has very little to compete with.
Because if its high fat content (and water content) mascarpone is softer and creamier at room temperature. This is why it’s important that the mascarpone is chilled before making the frosting – which is the exact opposite of cream cheese.
If you can’t get a hold of mascarpone cheese, or just prefer to stick with cream cheese, you can easily substitute the two. Will the flavor over power the cupcakes too much? Absolutely not. I just find that mascarpone cheese is a better compliment, but cream cheese is by no means a bad guy here. Just make sure it’s at room temperature before mixing into the frosting, otherwise the frosting will turn out a bit lumpy.
How to decorate lemon cupcakes
You can choose to pipe the frosting on top using a piping bag and a large tip, or you can create these homemade bakery-style swirls shown here. For the swirls, dollop a few spoonfuls of frosting on top of the center of cupcake.
Dip the tip of either a small offset spatula or spoon into the lemon curd, grabbing about 1 teaspoon worth. Then dig the very tip of your utensil into the center of the frosting mound as you rotate the cupcake in your other hand and move the spatula out towards the edges of the cupcake.
If you aren’t happen with the amount of lemon curd, scoop more on the tip of your utensil and retrace your steps.
Can you fill the cupcakes with the curd?
Absolutely! Although a few minor tweaks must happen:
- For swirling on top, leave the butter out of the lemon curd recipe. But if you want to FILL the cupcakes with the curd, follow my lemon curd recipe exactly which can be found in my recipe for lemon bar butter cookies.
- Allow the cupcakes to cool completely. Then, use a cupcake corer or small paring knife to cut a hole in the center of the cupcake. Only cut about halfway down. Then scoop or pipe the curd into the cupcake cores and top with frosting.
Can these be made gluten free?
I haven’t tested it, but I would suggest swapping the flour with a good gluten free baking flour blend. This one is my go-to. Just be careful when measuring the flour as it’s a bit more dense than regular flour. I recommend weighing the flour rather than measuring by cups, just to ensure accuracy.
How long do these cupcakes keep?
They don’t last long because of how fast they’re eaten up! But for storage, they’ll keep in the refrigerator for about 5 days. Just keep the cupcakes chilled whenever you can because the frosting does soften quite fast.
For more lemon dessert recipes, check out my:
- Lemon Blueberry Muffins
- Lemon Bar Butter Cookies
- Lemon Cream Cheese Coffee Cake
- Gluten Free Lemon Poppy Seed Bread
- Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
Make sure to tag me @butternutbakery on Instagram and leave a review below if you make these lemon cupcakes. To pin this recipe and save it for later, you can use the button on the recipe card, the buttons above or below this post, or on any of the photos above. Happy baking!Print