Lemon-Lime Cupcakes: kiss us with citrus

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

It’s a phrase we all remember from years past. Don’t get me wrong, lemonade is wonderful on a hot summer day, but I think the phrase could use a little updating.

I’ll start off with, “When life gives you lemons, make cupcakes!” Lemon juice is fine, but for super-spectacular lemon flavor, the zest (grated peel) is where it’s at.

In baking, lemon zest is a great way to add a big punch of flavor to cakes, cookies, icings and, yes, cupcakes. The only problem is, you end up with a lot of naked lemons sitting in the fridge, and often several Mickey Mouse bandages on your skinned knuckles.

I’ve promised I will always be honest with you about specialty items in our recipes. I’ll give you a substitution when I can, and I’ll always let you know if I think a recipe won’t work out if you don’t use an ingredient we call for.

For these cupcakes, I’m here to tell you that I think the lemon and lime powders called for are truly great products.

In baking with these powders, I find I get the same true citrus flavors – without the grated knuckles. And with just one bag’s worth, I get batch after batch of flavor without a single naked fruit wasting away in my kitchen.

Don’t worry, I’ve still given information on substitutions. But if you’re looking for an ingredient that really can give your baking that little something extra, consider these powders for your next baking adventure.

Let me show you how they work in these Lemon-Lime Cupcakes.

Begin by preheating the oven to 375°F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with baking papers, and spritz them lightly with cooking spray.

Place in your mixer bowl:

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lime zest (grated lime rind, green part only)

Beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes, until light in color.

*Our juice powders provide big flavor and store beautifully. If you don’t have them, you can use fresh zest instead: use an additional 1 tablespoon zest in place of the 2 tablespoons powder.

The mixture will look a lot like creamed butter and sugar at this point.

Blend in 1 tablespoon lime juice. Beat in 2 eggs,  one at a time. The mixture will lighten further.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend and 1 teaspoon baking powder.

Alternate adding the flour mixture with 1/2 cup room-temperature milk, beginning and ending with flour – flour, milk, flour, milk, flour. Mix on medium-high speed for an additional 30 seconds after the last of the flour has been added.

Scoop the batter into the prepared pan. Fill each cup about 2/3 full.

Using a muffin scoop is a huge help here.

Bake the cupcakes at 375°F for about 16 to 20 minutes. A cake tester or toothpick will come out clean when inserted into the center of a cupcake.

While the cupcakes are baking, prepare the glaze.

In a bowl combine:

3 tablespoons melted butter

1 tablespoon lemon juice powder *

1 tablespoon lime juice powder *

1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar

2 to 3 teaspoons water

*Lemon and lime juice powders give a big punch of flavor here. You can substitute 1/8 teaspoon lemon or lime oil if you don’t have the powders.

The glaze will be quite thick to work with at first, but take your time and stir well. You’re looking to make a glaze that flows like molasses. You can adjust with more liquid or sugar as needed to get the right consistency.

As you stir and adjust the consistency of the glaze, you can add a touch of yellow or green food coloring, if desired. To add just a bit of color, dip a toothpick in a jar of gel color and swipe it through the glaze. This way, you won’t end up adding too much color.

Beautiful! Nice and domed and lightly springy when touched. These particular cupcakes don’t brown up, so remember that when you check them as they bake.

After the cupcakes have cooled completely on a rack, dip them into the glaze. Let excess glaze drip off, then quickly…

Sprinkle with a little freshly grated zest, if you have some on hand.

Because my wrappers were mostly green, I used lemon zest to complete the lemon-lime look. Feel free to use what you have on hand, or leave the zest off if you wish.

Check out that smooooooth top, and cupcakes as far as the eye can see.

On any given day, I love a good chocolate cupcake, but there’s something about this sunny, bright citrus flavor that picks you up and makes you smile in the middle of the day. They’re perfect for a summer party, light and perky and pretty as can be.

So, let’s hear your take on all things citrus.

Do you use fresh zest? How do you treat your fruit in the raw, so to speak?

Got a favorite “Life gives you lemons” saying? We’d love to hear it.

Let’s share our tips and tricks!

Please bake, rate, and review our recipe for Lemon-Lime Cupcakes.

Print just the recipe

MaryJane Robbins

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...


  1. "Just One Donna"

    One look at these cupcakes and I had to make them. I’ve had lemon-lime on my mind lately, so reading this blog post was kismet. Of course I didn’t have any of your wonderful specialty items on hand, but they are on my King Arthur shopping list now. Oh, what to do? I went ahead and made the cupcakes using the zest and juice of the lemon and lime as the flavoring. They came out perfectly, so I encourage other readers to go ahead and give it a try. These are lovely cupcakes for this time of year. I especially like that they were made with vegetable oil and not butter. I find that makes for a nice moist cupcake.
    I detailed the substitutions in a blog post for those who are interested:
    Thanks again for another great recipe. I love Baking Banter!
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful blog entry and for supporting us. I love the citrus cream cheese frosting idea, I may give that one a try myself. ~Amy

  2. ncalgal

    Just wanted to mention, the cupcake pans in your photos look much-used and well-loved. I really appreciate that the pans aren’t brand new for the photo session, they look a lot like mine!
    You know, I worried about that photo. Yes, those are the pans we use in the kitchen. We have newer pans and older pans but they all get used. ~ MaryJane

  3. ncalgal

    Thanks for a wonderful recipe, can’t wait to try it!
    I usually zest enough limes, lemons and oranges, whenever I have them around, to keep a stash of citrus zest in the freezer to use throughout the year. Limes, tangerines and sometimes smaller lemons can be zested using a food processor for the majority of the work. I have a 14-cup food processor, so the hopper and grating areas are relatively large and will allow enough room for the fruit to spin and tumble a bit to get the zest off of most of the entire surface.
    I put the fine grating disk on my food processor, then drop the (small) whole lemon into the hopper, lock on the top and hold up/lock up the pusher so its not resting on the fruit.
    Use 1-second manual pulses to spin the lemon against the grating disk, it revolves and gets off most of the zest, only takes two or three pulses. Be careful to stop pulsing before the white layer under the peel is removed.
    I do the entire batch of lemons before scraping out the processor bowl into a freezer container, then remove the small bits of zest remaining on the ends of the naked lemons with a plane grater.
    To avoid the ‘naked fruit sitting around’ problem, I go ahead and squeeze out the juice, remove seeds and freeze into ice cube trays, then transfer to ziptop freezer bags.
    All in all, it only takes me a few minutes to completely process a bag of limes or small lemons, and usually no skinned fingers!
    I love the idea of having citrus powders on hand, am going to order some!
    That’s amazing! I just got a new food processor for Mother’s Day, so once I get the fine grating disk I’m going to give this a try. My daugher and her friends have been into raspberry lemonade this summer, so no naked fruit this season. Thanks so much for sharing this cool tip. ~ MaryJane

  4. MsNila

    The picture of the cupcakes is gorgeous!! One BIG question; how do you keep the cupcake paper so clean? I have stopped paying for the fancy papers since they only wind up looking greasy. Please, please impart your secret!! Thanks much!
    Hi there,
    One big thing I’ve learned in making so many cupcakes is to use really good quality cupcake papers. Look for ones that are labeled “heavy” or “greaseproof”. It’s amazing the difference that it makes in the outcome. Hope this helps. ~ MaryJane

  5. donnexia

    I have the lemon bakery emulsion…how much of that would I use? Same as the amount for lemon oil?
    Yes, I would use the same amount if you are using the emulsion. I hope you enjoy the recipe. ~Amy

  6. cpikas

    I’ve wrapped naked lemons in plastic wrap but you really do need to use them quickly. Otherwise, I’ve also squeezed them and frozen the juice or offered it to my husband for his tea. Using the microplane zester I never grind my knuckles anymore.
    I love the idea of dipping the cupcakes that way – looks much easier and quicker – I’ll have to try it.
    I have lemon extract but not lemon oil – use less? use more?
    Oil is stronger than extracts, so you would use a bit more. Adjust it to your flavor preference, and have fun with it! 😉 ~Jessica@KAF

  7. Dartssnake

    One thing to remember, if you like using fresh citrus zest: most fruits are transported with a nearly invisible coating of wax. So, in order to get the freshest, most unadulterated zest, it may be advisable to dunk your chosen fruit in boiling water for a few seconds to remove the wax, cool, then zest away…you may be surprised at the magnified potency of your zest. You can often see the film form on the top of the water, as the wax dissolves…

  8. jtdavies

    I’m too much of an engineer sometimes. The toothpick test seems a little arbitrary to me. When I bake bread I know that it’s done by measuring the internal temperature and if it’s over 200 degrees the bread is done.

    Have you ever done that with a cupcake?
    Depending on the type of cake, usually the internal temperature should be anywhere from 200-205. Cupcakes are so easily over-baked, so it’s good to test them using the spring-back test, like when testing to see if a muffin is done. Press your finger on the center top of the cupcake, it should spring back lightly when finished baking. ~Amy

  9. Cyn

    It’s me again, on my economy kick! 😉 This recipe sounds luscious. But, I’m more likely to use a fresh lemon and fresh lime (esp. because the recipe requires lime juice anyway) and grate both zests for the cupcakes and the glaze. You can’t beat that fresh taste of the juice, zest, and oils. When lemons and limes aren’t in season and/or expensive, I’d then most likely forego this recipe in lieu of more seasonal approaches. But, I do appreciate the fact that KAF is a business first and foremost. You have to sell products, and one of the best ways is to showcase how the product can be used in a recipe. Thanks for keeping us updated!

    BTW, I adapted the July 19th posting (the cake and cookie transfers) to do rosettes on a birthday cake for my mother. It was a hit and thanks for the tutorial on piping the rosettes!

  10. KateKate

    awesome! i have a bag of lemons at home screaming to be made into something tasty…

    i do have a question – why the butter in the glaze? I usually just make it with the juice of whatever i zested and powdered sugar.
    Hi hi KateKate,
    The butter keeps the glaze on the soft side, and makes it a little richer tasting, a little smoother. You can use your own glaze version, that’s perfectly fine. ~ MaryJane


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