These Gluten-Free Vegan Lemon Cupcakes are the perfect simple yet elegant dessert: they’re sweet and tangy, and smothered in a rich “cream cheese” frosting!
Why you’ll love these Gluten-Free Vegan Lemon Cupcakes
Unlike most other gluten-free cupcakes you may have tried, the sponge is really the best part, as it’s:
- undetectably vegan and gluten-free
- refined sugar free
- moist and fluffy
- bright and citrusy
- perfectly sweet!
And it’s super easy to make because:
- it comes together in one bowl
- it requires just a handful of simple ingredients you probably already have on hand
- and it takes only 10 minutes of prep time before baking!
The sponge for these cupcakes is also very versatile and flexible, as you can adapt the recipe to suit your dietary needs, food shopping budget, and what you already have on hand:
- you can use any type of oil: coconut oil, olive oil or vegetable oil
- you can use any type of plant-based milk: almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, cashew milk, oat milk etc
- you can use any type of liquid sweetener: maple syrup, agave syrup, brown rice syrup etc
- you can substitute the ground almonds (almond meal/almond flour) with ground walnuts
- for a nut-free version: substitute the ground almonds (almond meal/almond flour) with ground sunflower seeds or use 30g (1/4 cup) coconut flour instead of 150g (1 1/4 cup) ground almonds
- you can use plain flour, wholemeal (whole wheat) flour or spelt flour instead of the gluten-free flour if you’re not gluten-free.
Tips for making the sponge
To ensure you don’t run into any problems making the sponge, make sure to follow the recipe exactly, and pay particular attention to these steps:
- make sure to use the right amount of baking powder – 2 heaped teaspoons! Use too little baking powder and your sponge won’t be fluffy, too much and it’ll have a bitter taste
- make sure to use lemon juice as well as lemon zest for the most well-rounded, slightly sharp, slightly tangy, aromatic lemon flavour. If you like a stronger lemon flavour, you may need to double the amount of lemon juice and lemon zest
- the lemon juice is also crucial as it’s acidic, which means it reacts with the alkali bicarbonate of soda to create a bubbly batter, and fluffy sponge
- make sure to use an all-purpose shop-bought gluten-free flour blend (or a homemade gluten-free flour blend), as opposed to just using any type of gluten-free flour you can find (such as almond flour, coconut flour, buckwheat flour etc).
Once you’ve made the sponge, you can move onto the fun part: the “cream cheese” frosting!
How to make the vegan “cream cheese” frosting
I love this vegan “cream cheese” frosting recipe because:
- you don’t need to use shop-bought vegan cream cheese
- it’s healthy and refined sugar free
- you can use any type of sweetener: maple syrup, agave syrup, brown rice syrup etc
- it’s perfectly tangy because of the lemon juice
- it’s rich and creamy
- it’s super easy to make
- if you can’t get hold of coconut milk or are feeling lazy, you can use a thick coconut yogurt instead, which adds a lovely fermented flavour reminiscent of real cream cheese, as well as a ton of gut-friendly probiotics!
Top tips for making vegan “cream cheese” frosting
- Keep your tin of coconut milk in the fridge overnight (or for at least 12 hours) for the rich creamy bit to separate from the watery bit at the bottom
- Make sure you use full-fat coconut milk, otherwise this separation won’t happen and you won’t be able to whip it up
- Open the tin upside down – the coconut cream will be at the bottom and you can just pour off the watery liquid
- Save the watery liquid you pour off for adding to soups or smoothies
- Place the thick, creamy part into a bowl along with the other ingredients (maple syrup, lemon juice and vanilla extract)
- Use an electric whisk (or a manual one and a lot of elbow grease) to whip until light and fluffy
- Make sure not to over-whip as you don’t want it to be curdly
- For super fluffy frosting, make the frosting fresh and top the cupcakes with it just before serving – the frosting does set well, however, and frosted cupcakes will keep their shape and texture for up to a few days in the fridge
- Make sure the cupcakes have cooled completely before applying the frosting, otherwise it will melt!
- You can apply the frosting with a knife, a spatula, or a piping bag depending on how fancy you want to be
- The recipe below yields a medium-sized amount of frosting per cupcake. However, if you do want to apply a generous amount of frosting (like in my photos), I’d recommend doubling the amount of frosting.
How long do these Gluten-Free Vegan Lemon Cupcakes keep for?
Although these cupcakes do taste best when fresh, they do keep well covered in the fridge for up to a few days. For super fluffy frosting, you should make it fresh just before serving, but frosted cupcakes will retain their shape and texture for a good few days.
Equipment you need to make these Gluten-Free Vegan Lemon Cupcakes:
- glass mixing bowl – for mixing the cupcake sponge batter
- measuring jug – for measuring out the plant-based milk
- muffin/cupcake tin – for baking the cupcakes
- cooling rack – to leave the cupcakes to cool on before applying the frosting
- electric whisk – for whipping up the coconut cream to make the vegan “cream cheese” frosting
More gluten-free vegan cupcake recipes:
If you try out this recipe or anything else from my blog, I’d really love to hear any feedback! Please give it a rating, leave a comment, or tag a photo @rhiansrecipes #rhiansrecipes on Instagram! Thank you.
Gluten-Free Vegan Lemon Cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
- 60 g (1/4 cup) coconut oil (or sub olive or vegetable oil)
- 200 ml (4/5 cup) unsweetened almond milk (or any other plant-based milk)
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon (1 tablespoon) lemon zest
- 8 tablespoons maple syrup (or sub any other sweetener)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch (Pinch) salt
- 150 g (1 1/4 cup) ground almonds (almond meal) *
- 150 g (1 1/4 cup) gluten-free flour blend (or sub plain flour if not gluten-free)
- 2 heaped teaspoons baking powder (ensure gluten-free if necessary)
- 1/4 teaspoon (0.25 teaspoon) bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
For the frosting**:
- 400 g (14 oz) tinned full-fat coconut milk ***
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup (or sub any other sweetener)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) vanilla extract
- Lemon slices
For the cupcakes:
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Place the coconut oil in a large bowl and melt over a saucepan of boiling water or in the microwave (skip this step if using any other oil)
- Once melted, add the milk to the same bowl along with the lemon juice, lemon zest, maple syrup, vanilla, salt and ground almonds
- Sift in the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda
- Mix well, adding a tiny splash more milk if it’s looking too dry
- Transfer mixture between 12 cupcake cases in a cupcake tin
- Bake in oven for around 15 minutes until risen and an inserted skewer comes out clean
- Once out the oven, transfer cupcakes onto a wire rack to cool completely before applying the frosting
For the frosting:
- You’ll need to keep your tin of coconut milk in the fridge overnight for the rich creamy bit to separate from the watery bit at the bottom. Make sure it is full-fat coconut milk, otherwise this separation won’t happen and you won’t be able to make this cream!
- Open the tin upside down – the coconut cream will be at the bottom and you can just pour off the watery liquid (save this for adding to soups or smoothies)
- Place the thick, creamy part into a bowl
- Add the maple syrup, lemon juice and vanilla extract
- Use an electric whisk (or a manual one and a lot of elbow grease) to whip up the coconut cream until light and fluffy
To frost and decorate the cupcakes:
- Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, use a knife, spatula or piping bag to apply an even amount of frosting to each of the cupcakes
- Decorate with triangular lemon slices, if desired
- Best when fresh, but keeps well covered in the fridge for up to a few days
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