Lemon Buttermilk Cupcakes

It’s getting warm here in Colorado.  I’ll spend the early morning out in the garden, pulling the %#@& grass that loves to infiltrate my flower beds.  While I was working this morning, I was thinking about what I wanted to make for an upcoming barbeque party.  I settled on lemon . . . something.  Lemon seems cool and refreshing, and I had a feeling the party could wind up feeling a little toasty.

After searching, I settled on Lemon Buttermilk Cupcakes.

I came across the use of lemon with buttermilk a number of times, which seemed a bit strange at first.  Both are fairly acidic, but the added fat of buttermilk balances with the sugar very well, creating a cake with a creamy texture, but leaving a genuine citrus tang on the tongue.  To balance this even further, I coupled my cupcakes with a lemon cream-cheese frosting, but you could easily pair them with a lemon buttercream, too.

I found some decent recipes online (as you are doing right now.)  But very rarely do I find one that doesn’t need to be adjusted for fat/sugar balance, moisture and leavening.  Virtually all cake recipes out there are overleavened, and here in Colorado, that’s a huge problem.  I run all my recipes through my balancing spreadsheet and make the adjustments to correct for improper ratios.

The Correct Ratios Make the Perfect Cake

What are the correct ratios for a cake recipe?  Here’s what I use (from Bakewise, by Shirley O. Corriher):

  • Weight of Sugar = or > Weight of Flour (Ideal is 25% for white, 80% for chocolate)
  • Weight of Eggs > Weight of Fat (Ideal is 10%)
  • Weight of Liquid = or > Weight of Sugar

To get all the proportions right, I use an Excel spreadsheet to feed in the recipe info as it stands, and then I adjust based on my own experience and taste preferences.  For example, in this recipe the liquid weight was too low for my high-altitude version, so I adjusted it using leftover lemon juice.

Send me your recipe and I’ll adjust it for you

I’ve already got the spreadsheet put together, so if you have a problematic cake recipe that just isn’t working for you, send me a message here. I can easily feed it in and give you a suggested version for you to try next time.

One last thing before the recipe –

How to Zest a Lemon

This recipe calls for the “zest” of two lemons.  I really hope you don’t discard it just because of that, because zesting a lemon is easy!  And nothing replaces the taste of lemon zest in a lemon cake recipe.

Here’s a video on how to zest a lemon:

Lemon Buttermilk Cupcakes – Below 3,500 feet (See Below for High-Altitude)

Ingredients for the Cake

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 5 Lg egg whites
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • Zest from 2 lemons
  • 8 Tbl butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 tsp natural vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp natural lemon extract


  1. Set up 24 cupcake liners in cupcake tins
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F
  3. In a large bowl (not the mixing bowl), whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg whites and buttermilk
  5. In a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and lemon zest and whisk together until combined.
  6. Add the butter and beat until light – about 4 or even 5 minutes (this takes a while)
  7. Add the extracts and combine
  8. Starting with the flour mixture, add about 1/3 and mix until blended.  Add about 1/2 the buttermilk/egg mixture and blend smooth.  Add dry and wet ingredients in this way, alternating and ending with flour mixture.
  9. When the batter is well-blended, fill your cupcake liners about 2/3 with batter.  (I use an ice-cream scoop).
  10. Back in your preheated oven on the center rack for 18 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a center cupcake comes out clean.  The cupcakes will not brown, so don’t overbake!
  11. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, the remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting


  • 4 oz. unsalted butter (1 stick, softened)
  • 8 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp natural vanilla extract
  • lemon juice (from the lemons you zested above)


  1. Cream together the butter and cream cheese
  2. Add the vanilla and beat until blended
  3. Add about 1/2 the sugar and drape a light tea towel or cheesecloth over your mixer.  Blend in the sugar on the lowest setting for a few seconds, remove the towel and blend until incorporated.  Repeat.
  4. The frosting will be pretty stiff at this point.  Add 1 tsp of lemon juice at a time and blend until you get the spreading consistency you prefer.  I used 3 tsp of lemon juice.

Lemon Buttermilk Cupcakes – High Altitude

  • 2 1/4 cups + 2 Tbl cake flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 5 Lg egg whites
  • 1 2/3 cups less 1.5 Tbl sugar
  • Zest from 2 lemons
  • 2 Tbl Lemon juice
  • 8 Tbl butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 tsp natural vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp natural lemon extract


Same directions as above, except use a 370 F oven, and add the 2 Tbl lemon juice at the same time as the extracts.  Bake time may be a little bit less, depending on your cupcake liner size, but mine took right at 18 minutes.