Vegan Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

March 21, 2016
6 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Serves 12
Author Notes

These cupcakes are delightfully sweet, tender, and just a tiny bit tart, thanks to fresh lemon juice and zest. And yes, they are also totally vegan, but—and I mean this—no one will know. I used Earth Balance buttery sticks in both the batter and frosting—a good bet for an authentic, buttery flavor and a rich, spreadable topping. —Gena Hamshaw

What You'll Need
  • For the cupcakes
  • 1 1/4 cups almond or soy milk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (or a gluten free all purpose flour blend, such as King Arthur's gluten free multi-purpose flour)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) vegan margarine or shortening
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • For the lemon buttercream frosting
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) vegan margarine or shortening
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
  1. To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350°F and line a cupcake pan with paper liners.
  2. Whisk together the soy or almond milk and lemon in a small mixing bowl. Beat until the milk is frothy and set aside. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the vegan margarine or shortening and sugar on medium-low speed for about a minute. Add the vanilla and lemon zest and beat for one more minute. Add a third of the flour mixture and beat to incorporate fully, then add half of the milk and beat until smooth. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture, the remaining half of the milk, and then the final third of the flour mixture. Beat for another 15 to 30 seconds, or until the batter is smooth (a few little clumps are fine).
  4. Scoop the batter by the 1/3 cup into the liners. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean and the tops are solid. Transfer cupcakes to wire cooling racks and allow them to cool completely before frosting.
  5. To prepare the lemon buttercream frosting, transfer the vegan margarine or shortening to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream the vegan margarine or shortening, vanilla, and lemon zest on medium-low speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until very smooth. Add the lemon juice and mix to incorporate. Add the confectioners' sugar 1 cup at a time, and then beat on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the frosting is very thick and very smooth. Beat in the sea salt.
  6. Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with coconut, if desired. Serve.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • cutthecarrot
  • Elizabeth Law
    Elizabeth Law
  • Kenzie Savannah
    Kenzie Savannah
  • LouLou
  • Lyn Crouch
    Lyn Crouch

27 Reviews

Lmermod August 1, 2023
Love this recipe! I modified the recipe to make a single 9” cake as well as adding butter with dairy for both the cake and frosting. One of the best cakes I’ve made. Cake does turn out flat, but it’s dense and moist. Flavors are perfect.
cutthecarrot April 24, 2017
Made these a second time for an office event and they were spectacular. I see people complaining about flatness, which I experienced the first time through. The batter needs a bit more mixing than indicated in the recipe, a trick I learned working in a professional bakery -- not so much to toughen, but enough to create structure. I mix the Earth Balance and sugar longer than indicated and a bit longer in each flour/milk addition. The almond milk is supposed to curdle a bit, to mimic buttermilk. Lastly, I start the oven a tad hotter than indicated, as you want that heat boost for the baking powder, and avoid opening the door until they are almost done. This recipe doubles well.
MrsBeeton May 10, 2021
The first time around (before I read your tip), I did the same thing to produce more structure, and I also made sure I had everything at room temp. They were still a little flat--but really tasty, and the eaters thought they were fantastic. But your tip about the oven temp really did the trick the second time around, and now they look gorgeous and are lighter in texture, as well as tasting delicious. Thank you!
Yoshi February 12, 2017
I wish I had taken a minute to read the comments on this recipe before making it. I too had all of the cupcakes fall upon taking them out of the oven. I tasted one and it was really bad even though I had tasted the batter prior to baking them and it tasted fine. I've made a lot of vegan cakes and this is the first one that I've ever had turn out so badly, all the other ones have been great. I don't think I want to give these to my son for his birthday, totally disappointed.
Hannah S. February 12, 2017
Hi! A friend of mine is gluten free AND vegan... I'm still trying to do things gluten free and I noticed that you could use the gluten free all purpose blend of King Aurthur flour and I was wondering if I needed to add anything else to it or just use it as is...
Elizabeth L. August 21, 2016
I made these today. Despite following the recipe precisely, these were the worst cakes i have ever made. I used almond mlk ( all ingredients room temp) and the addition of lemon juice curdled it almost instantly. About half way through cooking process, despite not opening oven door at all, they suddenly sank. Once cooked, ready to eat, i found they were chewy, flavourless 'pikelet' thick, falling apart, bland pieces of 'cake' crumbs. Perhaps ingredients - eg vegan shortening, all purpose flour different here?
Vidya September 29, 2016
I actually find that almond milk + lemon juice never really works for me. It always curdles and makes a huge, inedible mess of whatever I'm making. I have a hunch (that could be wrong!) that it really depends on the brand of almond milk you're using and I don't think I have access to great ones. I'd try it again with soy and see how that goes
Elizabeth L. September 29, 2016
Could be the Almond Milk. I'll play around with it, as i think it's worth another try. So many variations in flours, shortening, milks so it's trial and error i think.
Vanessa July 18, 2016
I just made these for a baby shower. I like that I had all of the ingredients already and didn't need to go out and buy anything special. I used shortening for both the cupcake batter and the frosting. This is a good recipe to try, although I made a couple changes so I can't really rate the original.

Based on the comments, I used some cake flour I had left over and some regular AP flour as I thought it might help with the flatness. Even so, the cupcakes were a bit dense. Also, because of the issues people mentioned, I filled them almost to the top. My yield was only 12, but they were normal-sized cupcakes.

I didn't use any coconut and reduced the vanilla in the frosting by half because I didn't want to overpower the lemon flavor. I also doubled the frosting recipe because it seemed so small. Doubling it produced just enough to frost the cupcakes with an icing tip.

Vegans and non-vegans alike enjoyed these. I would definitely make this recipe again and try to figure out how to make them more airy.
Kenzie S. April 27, 2016
These are delicious! I made them for my mom's birthday - she isn't vegan, but my brother & sister can't have dairy, so they were perfect! Everyone loved them.
Allison April 25, 2016
Hi. These look amazing and I am going to make them for secretaries day for my very picky secretary. I would like them to rise a little more. how much extra baking powder do you suggest?
Thanks in advance!
Erin G. April 13, 2016
I'd like to know how flour was measured / scooped since I normally weigh my flour. Thanks in advance!
LouLou April 11, 2016
Forget all the myths you might think when you think of Vegan baking - these cupcakes will bust that! Delicious! I think next time I will add more lemon zest though. And the frosting!! Oh my....that's just purely decadent.
Lyn C. April 8, 2016
These are yummy! Good crumb for cupcake, creamy tangy frosting. More frosting than needed.
Followed recipe but omitted coconut topping. Definitely not health food but a very nice treat. Amazed it worked so well. Thanks.
Lynne April 2, 2016
This is the best vegan cupcake recipe I've found! Every other recipe results in a crumbling cake that doesn't hold together well. I've tried using bananas and applesauce as binders (FYI: applesauce and coconut oil work perfectly for cookies). Does anyone have an idea why this recipe holds the ingredients together?
Aburton March 28, 2016
These were delicious, however, mine did not rise very much and ended up flat and small. Is this just bc I did not fill the tins enough? or something in the baking? Also - ideas for all the leftover icing??
Sharon W. March 28, 2016
The pictures of these cupcakes looked pretty flat, so I'm thinking maybe you needed to fill them a bit more. Baking is definitely more science than cooking in general; so when you tweak baking recipes, you futz with the chemistry. Lots of trial and error.
Gena H. March 28, 2016
Hi Aburton! Mine were fairly flat, too -- I intended for them to be that way for easy frosting :) You could try filling up the liners more to the brim and making fewer muffins to get a bigger rise, or add a little extra baking powder.
Sharon W. March 27, 2016
Can you use coconut oil in place of the vegan margarine or shortening?
Loren March 28, 2016
I used coconut oil. Fantastic. Also put a dollop of lemon curd in the center for those who do not keep vegan. Everyone requested recipe!
Gena H. March 28, 2016
Glad it worked so well, Loren! A lot of folks have asked about coconut oil.
Amy R. April 19, 2016
I just made these with orange in place of lemon, and they were super tasty. The coconut oil worked well for the cakes, but it was too warm here in Florida for the frosting to hold up with the coconut oil, although it still tasted good. :)
Ange February 10, 2019
I'd like to try it with refined coconut oil. Earth balance has a distinct fishy flavor for me, which overpowers any baked goods I've tried.
A. March 27, 2016
Isn't margarine & shortening loaded with unhealthy trans fats??
Sharon W. March 27, 2016
I believe they are using Earth Balance; however it was not stated in the recipe.
Gena H. March 28, 2016
I used Earth Balance -- which isn't hydrogenated.
Vanessa July 18, 2016
In all fairness, the recipe didn't promise to be a healthy one.