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Small Batch Lemon Cupcakes

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Bright as the sunshine small batch lemon cupcakes! This is an easy recipe for cupcakes that are pillowy soft, incredibly moist, bursting with lemon flavor, and speckled with lemon zest. Finish with zingy lemon buttercream frosting for a small batch of cupcakes ideal for any holiday or celebration!

Small batch lemon cupcakes on a table frosted with lemon buttercream with a bite out of one cupcake.

Everything To Love About These Bright, Lemon Cupcakes

There is something about biting into anything lemon that just brings a little smile to your face.  Like a lemon drop cookie, or mini lemon cake. Perhaps it is the lip-pucker of the lemon itself, but I like to think of it as a smile! 🙂  And this small batch of lemon cupcakes will have you grinning ear-to-ear.

The cupcakes themselves are the most pillowy soft cupcakes.  With a tight crumb and light texture, they nearly melt in your mouth.  Adapted from my small batch vanilla cupcakes recipe, these lemon cupcakes sing with the addition of fresh lemon juice and zest.

Then add refreshingly sweet lemon buttercream frosting to take these cupcakes to sunshine status immediately.  If you love lemon, you will love these cupcakes!

Steps To Make A Small Batch of Lemon Cupcakes

1. Gather Your Ingredients

The ingredient list for the lemon cupcakes is pretty straight-forward: flour, sugar, butter, baking powder and salt, milk, egg white, sour cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

Ingredeints for a small batch of lemon cupcakes in labeled mixing bowls on a table.

2. perfume the sugar with the lemon zest

The first thing we want to do is flavor the sugar with the lemon zest. To do this, we start with both in a mixing bowl, then massage the zest into the sugar with our fingertips. This will release all the oils and flavor from the lemon zest and produce a robust lemon flavor!

Then whisk in the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Lemon zest and sugar in a mixing bowl.

3. Add The Butter For REverse Creaming

We then add the butter cubes to the dry ingredients. This method of mixing is called reverse creaming. With this method, the butter coats the flour, limiting the formation of gluten. Which results in a softer, tighter crumb in the lemon cupcakes. This is the same method I use for my small vanilla cake recipe.

Butter cubes added to the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

With a hand mixer or stand mixer, mix the dry ingredients and butter until you have what resembles coarse sand. Little lumps of butter are ok.

Sandy texture of dry ingredients for the reverse creaming method in a mixing bowl.

4. Prepare Your Wet Ingredients

Now we prepare out milk, egg white, lemon juice, sour cream (to keep the cupcakes moist!), and vanilla. I like the egg white for this recipe because it keeps the cupcakes light and soft.

I have tested the cupcakes with an egg yolk instead, and they are equally delicious. The main difference is the crumb texture. The egg yolk will yield a spongier, looser crumb.

Wet ingredients for cupcakes in measuring bowls on a table.

I like to mix it all the liquid ingredients for these lemon cupcakes in a liquid measuring cup for one less bowl to clean – and it makes pouring it into the dry ingredients much easier. Whisk until well combined and smooth.

A liquid measuring cup with all the liquid ingredients mixed together.

5. Mix To a Creamy Batter

With the mixer on medium speed, drizzle the wet ingredients into the dry ingredient mixing bowl. Let the batter mix for a few seconds to get everything incorporated and you have a batter free of dry streaks.

Tasty cupcake batter in a mixing bowl.

6. Bake

Portion the lemon cupcake batter into your prepared cupcake liners. Bake the cupcakes for 18 t0 20 minutes. They will be springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean.

Lemon cupcake batter portioned into a cupcake pan ready to be baked.

6. Finish With Frosting

Once your cupcakes have cooled completely, it’s time to decorate them with frosting! Of course lemon frosting is delicious. But you can change up the flavor profile a bit and use strawberry buttercream for a strawberry lemonade taste. Or, keep it simple and use my butter free vanilla frosting. Whichever you choose, all will be delicious!

A pretty small batch of lemon cupcakes frosted and decorated with lemon wedges on a table.

FAQ – Small Batch Lemon Cupcakes

Can I double the recipe to make a larger batch of cucpakes?

I have not tested it, but it may work. Rather than use 2 egg whites, I recommend 1 whole egg.

Why not 1 whole egg?

Because this is a small batch cupcake recipe, the whole egg will add too much liquid, and the cupcake will turn out dense and gummy.

Can I use bottle lemon juice?

You can. Though I recommend a fresh lemon for the pure flavor and for the zest.

Will yogurt work instead of the sour cream?

I would recommend Greek yogurt if you swap. Greek yogurt has a higher fat content to keep the lemon cupcakes soft and moist.

How should I store the cupcakes?

Cover and store unfrosted cupcakes at room temperature for 3 to 5 days. Beyond that, and they will start to dry out. Frosted cupcakes can store at room temp for 2 days – after that, cover and refrigerate them because of the frosting.

Pretty frosted lemon cupcake on a mini cupcake stand garnished with a lemon wedge.

Recipe

Small batch lemon cupcakes on a table frosted with lemon buttercream with a bite out of one cupcake.
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Small Batch Lemon Cupcakes

Yield: 4 Cupcakes
Bright as the sunshine small batch lemon cupcakes! This is an easy recipe for cupcakes that are pillowy soft, incredibly moist, bursting with lemon flavor, and speckled with lemon zest. The small batch of cupcakes are ideal for any holiday or celebration!
Prep10 minutes
Cook20 minutes
Total35 minutes

Equipment

Ingredients
 

Cupcakes

  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons milk, room temperature (any kind)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon full fat sour cream, room temperature
  • 1 large egg white, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Cupcakes

  • Preheat the oven to 350F degrees and adjust the oven rack to the middle position.  Line a cupcake pan with 4 cupcake liners.
  • In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the sugar and lemon zest. Using your fingers, massage the lemon zest into the sugar to release all the oils and permeate the sugar with flavor.
    5 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the sugar. Give a quick mix to combine. Note – If using a stand mixer, I recommend the 3-quart mixing bowl (link above) for the small batch batter. Otherwise, you can use a hand held mixer and medium mixing bowl.
    ½ cup all-purpose flour, ⅓ teaspoon baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Add the butter cubes to the dry ingredients. Mix on medium-high speed until the butter is broken up and the mix resembles coarse sand.
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into cubes
  • In a liquid measuring cup, add the milk, lemon juice, sour cream, egg white, and vanilla. Whisk to combine.
    2 tablespoons milk, room temperature, 1 tablespoon full fat sour cream, room temperature, 1 large egg white, room temperature, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Turn the mixer on low speed. Slowly drizzle the wet ingredients into the dry until incorporated and smooth. It is ok if the batter is a little lumpy.
  • Pour equal amounts of batter into the prepared cupcake liners. TipUse a small cookie scoop to help with portioning and less mess!
  • Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean. Cool the cupcakes in the pan set on a wire cooling rack for 5 minutes. Then transfer the cupcakes to the wire rack to cool completely.
  • Frost the cooled cupcakes with any frosting of choice (lemon buttercream is delicious!) The cupcakes can be covered and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days. Beyond that, I recommend refrigerating them if they are frosted.
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RECIPE NOTES

  • Serving Size – This is a small batch recipe and only tested as such.  If you choose to double the recipe, use 1 whole egg vs. 2 egg whites.
  • Stand Mixer – You can use your stand mixer with standard bowl and attachments.  However, because this is a small batch batter, it will mix more evenly when you use a 3-quart mixing bowl.
  • 1/3 Teaspoon – Amazon sells odd-size measuring spoons – which are a must for any small batch baker!
  • Egg – I have also tested this recipe with a single egg yolk.  I find the egg white (this recipe) yields a softer and tighter cupcake crumb.  While the egg yolk version yields a more airy and spongy cupcake crumb.  Both delicious.  It’s a matter of cake crumb preference.
  • Reverse Creaming Method – You will notice we mix the butter and sugar with the other dry ingredients first.  This method of mixing limits gluten development and yields fluffy and airy cupcakes.
  • Storing – Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored covered at room temperature for up to 3 days and frosted cupcakes for 2 days.  I recommend refrigerating frosted cupcakes after day 2 because of the frosting.
  • Freezing – The baked, unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen for up to 3 months.  Wrap individually in plastic wrap and place in a freezer bag.  Thaw in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature to serve.
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Erin Cernich

NUTRITION ESTIMATES

Calories: 184kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 18mg | Sodium: 200mg | Potassium: 53mg | Fiber: 0.5g | Sugar: 16g | Vitamin A: 206IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 38mg | Iron: 1mg
Nutrition information is calculated by a third-party and should only be considered an estimate and not a guarantee.
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about the author ...

I'm Erin and I'm all about desserts - and a little bit of butter!

I've tested, written, and photographed hundreds of recipes on my website. Here you'll find the tastiest small batch gluten free and traditional desserts - all homemade, all simple, and all for you! Click here to learn more about me!

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