How to Make Lemon Buttercream

Updated on September 26, 2017
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Jan has been cooking and writing about food for over twenty years and has cooked on multiple television stations, including Food Network.

Lemon Buttercream Frosting

Rich, creamy, and popping with bright lemony flavor, this is the perfect finish for cakes, cupcakes or cookies. Or if you're one of my kids, right off a spoon while I'm busy.
Rich, creamy, and popping with bright lemony flavor, this is the perfect finish for cakes, cupcakes or cookies. Or if you're one of my kids, right off a spoon while I'm busy.

We love lemon at our house—almost as much (gasp!) as chocolate. My daughter especially is a lemon lover, and I designed this frosting to go with one of her favorite special treats: lemon layer cake. We quickly discovered it's pretty phenomenal on other things too—such as the perfect filling for lemon sugar cookies.

It should go without saying that fresh lemons are key to this. Since you are using the lemon rind, it may be best to splurge a bit on organic lemons, or at the least, lemons that have not been treated with pesticides or chemicals. In any case, wash your lemons thoroughly before starting to zest them.

This is the perfect finish for the lemon layer cake—although you could use it on a simple white cake as well. The fresh lemon juice and lemon zest are essential to the flavor here, so go ahead and zest those lemons—you’ll probably need two or three depending on the size.

In general, a large lemon will yield a tablespoon of lemon zest and a tablespoon of lemon juice. This can, however, varies tremendously as fruit is by nature inconsistent in size. Grab three lemons to be on the safe side.

This recipe makes a generous batch since I developed it for the lemon cake, which has four layers, and takes a crumb coat. So if you have a smaller cake, feel free to cut the recipe in half. Or just make an extra batch of treats! I don't know that I've ever heard anyone say they wanted fewer happy treats in their life, so there you go.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest, lightly packed
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions

  1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter, salt, and lemon zest until the butter is light and fluffy. Don't skimp on this step. Taking the time to incorporate as much air as possible into the butter makes a beautifully creamy finished frosting. *
  2. Working in batches, alternately add the powdered sugar and lemon juice, making sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl as you work.
  3. If your frosting isn't the consistency you want, it's easy to fix. If you think it's too loose, simply add more powdered sugar, about a half a cup at a time, until it firms up to your liking. If your frosting is too thick, loosen it up with a few drops of lemon juice at a time. For either method, just use the mixer to continue whipping it in until it's exactly what you want.

*Make sure your butter is truly room temperature - it should give some resistance to the pressure of a fingertip, but not so much that it's truly soft. And if it's beginning to melt, you need to stick it back in the fridge to firm up.

Check Out The Quick Tutorial!

Lemon Zest is Easy - Check Out How!

Loads of Lemon Flavor

Loads of lemon zest beaten with butter until it's light and fluffy is the secret to the incredibly bright flavor of this homemade frosting recipe. The recipe calls for 3 tablespoons, which is roughly 3 lemons, but you can measure to be precise.
Loads of lemon zest beaten with butter until it's light and fluffy is the secret to the incredibly bright flavor of this homemade frosting recipe. The recipe calls for 3 tablespoons, which is roughly 3 lemons, but you can measure to be precise.

Beat Until Light and Fluffy

The butter and lemon zest are beaten with a mixer until light and fluffy. This gives the finished frosting it's beautiful consistency, so a little patience here works wonders. Keep beating the butter and lemon zest until it lightens in color.
The butter and lemon zest are beaten with a mixer until light and fluffy. This gives the finished frosting it's beautiful consistency, so a little patience here works wonders. Keep beating the butter and lemon zest until it lightens in color.

Work in Batches

Adding the powdered sugar in about one cup batches, and alternately it with the lemon juice, makes the process much easier. As an aside, it also makes it less messy! Scrape down the bowl as you work.
Adding the powdered sugar in about one cup batches, and alternately it with the lemon juice, makes the process much easier. As an aside, it also makes it less messy! Scrape down the bowl as you work.

Lemon Layer Cake

I orginally developed this frosting for this Lemon Layer Cake as a treat for my daughter. We've discovered we love it on all kinds of things as well! I love how pretty the bits of zest are in the finished frosting - it really shows!
I orginally developed this frosting for this Lemon Layer Cake as a treat for my daughter. We've discovered we love it on all kinds of things as well! I love how pretty the bits of zest are in the finished frosting - it really shows!

Lemon Sandwich Cookies

You can also use this Lemon Buttercream as the perfect filling for these Lemon Sandwich Cookies. It's perfect for cupcakes as well. There's actually no wrong way to use it!
You can also use this Lemon Buttercream as the perfect filling for these Lemon Sandwich Cookies. It's perfect for cupcakes as well. There's actually no wrong way to use it!

© 2017 Jan Charles

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    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 3 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      Hi Jan, that looks so light and fluffy, I want some right now. I will be making this on my next cake and I pinned it.

      Blessings to you.