Lemons pair well with so many flavors, bringing a fresh, tart element to all kinds of treats. One way to add that sweet-and-sour flavor to your cakes is to top them with homemade lemon buttercream! This easy lemon buttercream recipe will brighten up a cake like no other.
The scent and taste of lemon is refreshing, clean, crisp and reminiscent of warmth and cheer. When sweetness is added to the naturally sour flavor, the combination is deliciously harmonious.
This lemon buttercream recipe uses both fresh lemon juice and lemon zest — which really packs a flavor punch.
The recipe requires both salted and unsalted butter to help balance the flavor. Alternatively, unsalted butter and a pinch of salt can be used. I’ve also included some pairing suggestions at the bottom. Now, let’s get started!
Lemon buttercream recipe
Makes enough to cover a two-tier 8″ cake or 2 dozen standard cupcakes.
- Zest of 2 large lemons (about 1 heaping tablespoon)
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
- 4½-5 cups sifted powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
Zest two large lemons using a microplane zester (if you don’t have one, try these methods). Make sure to only zest the yellow parts of the skin and not into the pith, which is the white, spongy and bitter part under the skin. The zest of two large lemons should equal about a tablespoon or a bit more. Let’s use all this lemony goodness.
Then, juice one of the lemons. Measure out 3 tablespoons of juice and set aside.
In a bowl of a stand mixer using a paddle attachment at medium speed, cream both butters and lemon zest. Beat until smooth and fluffy, for about 2 minutes, scraping sides as needed. Alternatively, you can use a hand mixer.
Sift the powdered sugar and add 2 cups of it into the bowl. Beat at low speed to prevent the sugar from being pushed out of the mixer. Then increase the speed to medium.
Add lemon juice and remaining 2½ cups of sugar. Beat for another 2 minutes. Add a tablespoon of heavy cream or use the extra ½ cup of sugar to get to the consistency of your liking. Use promptly.
Cake pairings for lemon buttercream
Lemon buttercream complements so many cake flavors. Here’s a short list of my favorites:
- Lemon Chiffon Cake. There’s no such thing as too much lemon in my book. What better flavor to pair than its own? Just add a dollop over the top of a slice.
- Vanilla Bean Cake. This is the classic pairing where the lemon buttercream is the star of the show.
- Fresh Strawberry Cake. Really any kind of berry cake tastes so great with this lemon buttercream. This strawberry cake in particular is light in flavor and pairs terrifically with the flavor of lemon.