Creamy, dreamy, light, and fluffy vegan lemon buttercream frosting for cakes, cupcakes, macarons, and more.
This homemade buttercream recipe is easy to make and uses no lemon extract, just 100% fresh lemon juice and zest to get the best and freshest flavour. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know so you can make the freshest tasting dairy-free lemon icing you'll ever have!
If you love lemons and lemon-flavoured desserts, then you NEED to have a recipe for vegan lemon icing in your collection!
The flavour is bright, fresh, vibrant and ideal for complementing your favourite lemon desserts like cakes, cupcakes, and so much more.
It's a great topping for Spring, Easter, or Mother's day desserts, but don't reserve it just for those occasions, it's lovely to use any time of year.
If you're looking for more vegan buttercream recipes (also known as "American buttercream!"), you'll need to check out my others:
- Vegan Vanilla Frosting
- Vegan Mint Frosting
- Vegan Chocolate Frosting
- Vegan Peanut Butter Frosting
- Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting
Now let's get into everything you need to know so YOU can make this recipe, too!
Ingredients You'll Need
All you need is SIX simple ingredients and you'll be 10 minutes away from the most delicious lemon frosting you've ever had!
- Vegan Powdered Sugar – Not all sugar is vegan, some are processed using animal bone char, so to be sure that yours is, buy a brand that’s organic (organic sugar is not processed using bone char). There are also some brands that are not organic, but vegan, which can be confusing, so see below for some brand recommendations. The powdered sugar cannot be replaced with liquid sweeteners or any granulated sugars and I have not tried any alternative sugars.
- Vanilla Extract – A little vanilla is needed to give this buttercream the perfect flavour.
- Lemon Juice - For the BEST flavour possible, use freshly squeezed lemon juice and not bottled lemon juice.
- Lemon Zest - The same lemon you are going to use to squeeze the juice from, zest that lemon using a zester or a fine grater (and zest BEFORE you juice the lemon!). Don't skip this ingredient, it adds an extra "pop" of flavour to the buttercream and enhances the flavour even more.
- Salt – This is needed to balance the sweetness. If you are using salted butter, you can leave this ingredient out.
- Unsalted Vegan Butter – You’ll need to use the sticks, not the type that you get in containers / tubs, they’ll make your frosting too soft which will affect the final consistency. See below for brand recommendations.
IMPORTANT: Always make sure that your butter is slightly softened before starting, NOT melted or TOO soft. To make sure your butter is at the ideal softness, lightly press your finger into it. If it leaves a shallow indent, your butter is at the perfect temperature. If your finger sinks into the butter with barely any effort, your butter is too soft. Refrigerate it until it has firmed up and then test it again.
How to Make It
(Note: I’ve outlined the step-by-step on how to make this recipe here, but find the full recipe, ingredients, and directions at the end of this post.)
NOTE: For the best texture and consistency, a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer is best to make your buttercream. If you don't have either, you can still make it by hand, just use a wooden spoon, and keep in mind that you'll need to beat it longer to get the proper texture and consistency.
If your powdered sugar has any large lumps in it, sift it before starting.
Start by whipping the butter and salt for a few minutes until the butter is soft and creamy.
Next, add half of the powdered sugar and mix at low speed.
When everything has been combined, add the second half of the powdered sugar. Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the vanilla, lemon juice, lemon zest, and mix again for a few minutes until it has reached the consistency you like.
Mixing for longer will give you a fluffy frosting because the more it's mixed, the more air you'll be adding to it. If you mix for a small amount of time, the frosting will be less fluffy.
The finished frosting has a very subtle yellow tone to it but if you want to make it darker, I suggest doing it in one of the following ways:
Ground Turmeric - This is the natural way to give your frosting a slight yellow colour but you must be careful to not use too much so the flavour of the turmeric doesn't come through. Start with ⅛th of a teaspoon and if that isn't yellow enough for you, add another ⅛th teaspoon for a total of ¼ teaspoon.
Food Colour Gel - This will give you the boldest and brightest colour. Two brands to check out are AmeriColor and Chefmaster. They're both vegan AND gluten-free.
With gels, the colours are more vibrant, so you’ll use less than if you were using water-based food colour to achieve the same result. Using gels instead of water-based food colour will also prevent your buttercream from thinning out.
Whichever option you choose, add it at the end after all ingredients have been mixed into the buttercream.
While mixing, if you notice that your frosting has split (it looks lumpy and a little separated) either your butter was too warm, your butter was too cold, or you measured your lemon juice incorrectly and added too much.
- To fix buttercream made with butter that was too warm: Put the bowl into the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes so everything can cool down. Remove it from the refrigerator and start mixing it again.
- To fix buttercream made with butter that was too cold: Let the bowl sit at room temperature to warm it up a little before moving forward.
- To fix buttercream that has too much lemon juice: Add more powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, until it firms back up and no longer looks separated.
If you prefer a thinner or thicker buttercream, those things are easy to fix, too:
- To fix buttercream that is too thick: Add more lemon juice, a little at a time until you get the consistency you want.
- To fix buttercream that is too thin: Add more powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, until it reaches the thickness you want.
What to Put It On
One of the best ways to use it is as a vegan lemon cake frosting, of course! Either a single layer, double layer, or triple layer cake (see the recipe notes on doubling and tripling the recipe). It would also work well on blueberry or strawberry cakes.
It can also be used for macarons, whoopie pies, sugar cookies, sandwich cookies, and more.
It’s also perfect to top gluten-free vegan lemon cupcakes like in my pictures. Watch for that recipe, it’s coming soon!
If you're decorating with sprinkles, add them immediately after piping the frosting onto your dessert since the buttercream will crust a little after it has been piped and the sprinkles will not stick.
TIP: If you're new to cupcake decorating, I highly recommend this inexpensive cupcake decorating kit (Amazon Link) that comes with four of the most popular decorating tips as well as eight disposable decorating bags. I also recommend adding a 12" reusable piping bag to your collection.
- If refrigerating for later use, store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week. When ready to use, bring it to room temperature, add to a bowl, and mix with your electric mixer or stand mixer for a couple of minutes to fluff it up before using.
- If freezing for later use, store in an airtight, freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to use, thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Once thawed, bring it to room temperature, add to a bowl, and mix with your electric mixer or stand mixer for a couple of minutes to fluff it up before using.
Once you frost your cake or cupcakes, you can leave them out at room temperature for a day or two, but after that, refrigerate them.
Expert Tips for Success
- Always make sure your butter is slightly softened before starting. To make sure your butter is at the right temperature, lightly press your finger into it. If it leaves a shallow indent, your butter is at the perfect temperature. If your finger sinks into the butter with barely any effort, your butter is too soft. Refrigerate it until it has firmed up.
- Don't skip the lemon zest, it adds an extra pop of flavour to the buttercream and enhances the flavour even more. Use a zester or fine grater to zest the lemon and only grate the yellow part, not the white part (pith) because it's bitter!
- You can sift the powdered sugar if you’d like, but I usually don’t, I find that if there are any small clumps, they get taken care of during the mixing process. However, if you find that your powdered sugar is very dry and lumpy, sift it before starting for the best results.
- If you prefer a more light and fluffy frosting, after adding the vanilla, lemon juice, and zest, continue mixing for about 5-6 minutes.
- If you find that you’ve whipped too long and the icing is TOO fluffy, give it a few good stirs with a wooden spoon to knock out some of the air and make it a little less fluffy.
- Read this post from beginning to end before making the recipe, it contains lots of tips and tricks on how to make the perfect lemon buttercream frosting, every single time!
- Don't be afraid to use a piping bag and tips to decorate your dessert. They may seem intimidating, but they aren't difficult to use. I used a Wilton piping tip 2A to decorate the cupcakes you see in the images on this page. I recommend investing in this inexpensive cupcake decorating kit (Amazon Link).
- Chill the buttercream for 15-20 minutes if you will be piping decorations onto a dessert to make it easier.
- For the very best results, follow the recipe exactly as it’s written and don’t reduce the amount of powdered sugar or butter called for. The recipe can be halved if you need just a very small amount or doubled (even tripled!) if you need more.
Use your favourite firm vegan butter, but make sure you buy sticks, not butter in a container since that type will make a buttercream that is too soft. If you can, buy unsalted butter so you control the salt. If you can’t find unsalted butter, simply omit the salt the recipe calls for. I like Melt Sticks and Becel Plant-Based Sticks, but other brands like Earth Balance and Miyokos will also work well.
Some brands use bone char to process their sugars, making them not vegan, but luckily, some don’t use this process like Wholesome Sweeteners, Trader Joe’s brand, Whole Foods’ 365 brand, and Redpath (Canadian brand). If you can’t find any of these, your best bet is to look for organic powdered sugar since organic sugar is always vegan. And note that “powdered sugar,” “confectioner’s sugar,” and “icing sugar” are all the same thing.
If you don't have fresh lemons, these ingredients can be used, but to get the best flavour and aroma, use freshly squeezed lemon juice and freshly grated lemon zest.
If you don’t have an electric or stand mixer, you can still make this recipe by hand, but you’ll need to beat the frosting for quite a while, especially after all the ingredients have been added to reach that creamy, fluffy texture and consistency.
This recipe was developed using butter, so for the best results, stick with the recipe as it's written. Coconut oil or shortening may work, but I have not tried either and cannot give specific directions on how to change the recipe.
Powdered sugar is needed in this recipe to provide the structure and firmness needed for piping and frosting your desserts with ease, so liquid sweeteners will not work. As for powdered sugar alternatives, I have not experimented with them, so I’m unsure if they will work the same.
This can be caused by a few things. First, make sure to always use powdered sugar. Using any type of granulated sugar will result in a grainy buttercream. Another cause can be that you need to add a little more moisture, so you can add a little non-dairy milk or more lemon juice to lighten it up and make it softer. The last cause can be overly lumpy powdered sugar. As powdered sugar sits, it can dry out and clump up, it will still work to make your icing, it will just need to be sifted first.
Yes! Store it in an airtight, freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to use, thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Once thawed, bring it to room temperature, add to a bowl, and mix with your electric mixer or stand mixer for a couple of minutes to fluff it up before using.
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If You Make This Recipe...
Let me know how things went by leaving a comment and star rating below. If you’re on Instagram, I’d love to see how you used the icing! Share a pic over there and tag me (@delightfuladventures).
And If You Like This Recipe...
You may also like these other tangy and sweet vegan lemon desserts:
- Dairy-Free Lemon Cheesecake
- Vegan Lemon Muffins
- Lemon Glazed Doughnuts
- Lemon Blueberry Oat Bars
- Strawberry Lemon Cheesecake
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Vegan Lemon Buttercream Frosting
- Add butter and salt to the mixing bowl and mix for 1 to 2 minutes until soft and creamy.
- Add 1 cup of the powdered sugar and mix at low speed. Once there are no more spots of dry powdered sugar, add the second cup and mix again at low speed. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of your bowl.
- Add the lemon juice, vanilla, and lemon zest and mix at low speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula again, if needed.
- Turn the mixer up to medium speed and mix until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix for a couple more minutes if you want a creamier, fluffier frosting.
- Use immediately, or refrigerate / freeze until needed. (Refrigeration and freezing instructions can be found above and below)
- Please read all of the information, tips, and FAQ info above, as well as the notes below before making this recipe.
- This recipe makes enough to frost 12-16 cupcakes (depending on how much or how little you add to each one), OR one 9 x 13 cake, OR a single layer 8 or 9-inch round cake, OR a double layer 8″ or 9″ cake using a very thin layer of icing. The recipe can be doubled if you want a thicker layer of buttercream on your 2-layer cake or for a double batch of cupcakes. You can also triple the recipe for a triple-layer cake or a triple batch of cupcakes.
- Make sure that your butter is slightly softened before starting, NOT melted or TOO soft. To make sure your butter is at the ideal softness, lightly press your finger into it. If it leaves a shallow indent, your butter is at the perfect temperature. If your finger sinks into the butter with barely any effort, your butter is too soft. Refrigerate it until it has firmed up and then test it again.
- Sift your powdered sugar before starting if it is lumpy.
- If you have a scale, I recommend weighing your powdered sugar for accuracy. This is the scale I own.
- Use freshly squeezed lemon juice and fresh lemon zest for the best flavour.
- If adding colour, add it at the end after all ingredients have been added and mixed into the buttercream.
- Be sure you are using vegan butter that comes in sticks, not the type that comes in containers / tubs since they will be too soft and will result in a very soft frosting. See above for brand recommendations.
- Chill the buttercream for 15-20 minutes if you will be piping decorations onto a dessert to make it easier.
- If using a stand mixer, my preference is to use the paddle attachment. Follow the same directions above.
- If refrigerating for later use, store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week. When ready to use, bring it to room temperature, add to a bowl and mix with your electric mixer or stand mixer to freshen it up before using.
- If freezing for later use, store in an airtight, freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to use, thaw frozen frosting in the refrigerator overnight. Once thawed, bring it to room temperature, add to a bowl and mix with your electric mixer or stand mixer to freshen it up before using.
- Once you frost your cake or cupcakes, you can leave them out at room temperature for a day or two, but after that, refrigerate.
- Nutrition info is based on 1/12th of this recipe, made as written, on its own with no cake or cupcakes. Nutrition info is only to be used as a rough guide. Click to learn how nutrition info is calculated on this website.