Filed under: Cupcakes
February 16, 2023

Orange Cupcakes

Fluffy, bursting with citrus flavors orange cupcakes topped with a cream cheese orange buttercream.

5 from 2 votes
Yield: 12 cupcakes
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Recipe overview 

Partially motivated by memories of orange cake , I wanted to redo the cake part of that recipe because the batter and cake is SO good – it’s fluffy and orange-y and has just the right bright flavor to make you feel like you’re eating a creamsicle in cupcake form. 

But also, back when I did a brief stint in selling baked goods I would get asked for orange cake by two of my neighbors whenever they had an event and it struck me that while it’s not a popular flavor, it should be! 


Special Recipe Ingredients for Orange Cupcakes


Cake Flour 

Finely milled with a very low protein content (so will have less gluten development) and made from one of the softer wheats. This flour also has cornstarch added to it, done to prevent it from caking (heh) but cornstarch also has the benefit of adding to that very light, airy crumb. 


If you don’t have it (or don’t want to buy) all purpose flour is a fine substitute: just swap one tablespoon of the ap flour with one tablespoon of cornstarch per cup of flour used. 



Really any orange will work in this recipe: navel, cara cara or blood oranges. Get as much zest from it as you can (I’d use two if the oranges were smaller, and one of it was large). 



Acidic and creamy, buttermilk does something lovely to cakes: keeping the chemistry levels balanced while also adding to the richness of the baked good in taste and texture. 

I personally do not like the oft suggested substitution of using lemon/vinegar and milk as this can make it too acidic and there just isn’t enough ‘cream’ in it. 

Better substitutes for buttermilk would be kefir (some of the flavored ones are very nice) or to thin out some yogurt with water. 


Cream Cheese

Because it’ll be used in a buttercream, it’s best to use a full fat cream cheese. Lower fat cream cheeses are softer (there’s water added to them in place of the fat) which will give you an overly soft frosting that will run and slouch off the cupcakes. 


Fine Sea Salt 

If using table salt, use half of the salt recommended below. 



Except in cases where funfetti is requested, I always implore to use a pure vanilla extract. However, with that creamsicle flavor in mind, I think an imitation vanilla could work here. Bear in mind the resulting cupcake will taste a little artificial and quite sweet! 


Tips to Make Orange Cupcakes 

What orange to use to make orange cake batter 

I did say earlier any orange is good, however I do want you to know that there is a chance your batter will look a tad ‘green’ after baking if you use darker blood oranges (this is because of the baking soda reacting with the acid). I don’t mind this personally (especially when it turns the buttercream a pale peach!) but if it bothers you,  you might want to use navel or cara cara. 


Infusing orange flavor into the batter 

I tend to rub the freshly zested orange into the sugar between my fingers before whipping it with the batter, this helps release some of the oils and imparts more flavor into the batter. 

And for the juice needed, always use freshly juiced oranges: juice right before adding to the batter. This will give you better flavor. 



Making Cream Cheese Frosting 


Room temperature ingredients 


Butter can be softened with a quick stint in the microwave (15 seconds at most) but it’s probably better to just take it out of the fridge an hour before baking. 


Cream cheese tends to go from: cold and impossible to overly soft bordering on melty within hours. I like to take this out about 2 hours before using it (especially in the winter) but if your kitchen is quite warm you might only need one hour. 


You might be tempted to hasten this warming process along but don’t put cream cheese in the microwave, it will begin to melt. You might try setting it under an upside down bowl that has been warmed. 


Start and end with a rubber spatula 


Once the cream cheese is soft, set it in the bowl you’ll use to make the frosting and use the back of a rubber spatula (or wooden spoon) to smush it against the sides of the bowl. This helps get those pesky lumps out. 


Do this again, after you’ve added the butter to the mix and beaten it for a bit – looking for those lumps and pressing them out. 


How to stiffen cream cheese frosting 

Add more powdered sugar 

Start with no more than a quarter cup at a time, to avoid the frosting getting overly sweet. 


Chill the frosting 

This is probably the best way to get a cream cheese frosting to the right consistency: consider that the butter and cream cheese are quite warm after being outside the fridge and beaten with the sugar but a quick stint in the fridge will firm them up. 


Leave it in for an hour, and stir it so that the cooler edges mix with the warmer centers – this will give you a good read on whether or not it’s ready to go on the cupcakes. 


Once you’ve made the frosting you can store it in the fridge for a few days (in an airtight container). 


Orange Cupcakes

Fluffy, bursting with citrus flavors orange cupcakes topped with a cream cheese orange buttercream.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yields: 12 cupcakes
5 from 2 votes


Orange Cupcakes

  • 113g or ½ cup butter softened and unsalted
  • Zest of 2 blood oranges or 1 large navel
  • 200g or 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 190g or 1 ½ cups cake flour
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 60g or ¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 95g or ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

Orange Buttercream

  • 113g or ½ cup butter softened
  • 113g or ½ brick cream cheese at room temperature
  • Zest of 2 blood oranges or 1 large orange
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 260g-390g or 2-3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons orange juice freshly squeezed


To make the buttercream

  • Once both the butter and cream cheese are at room temperature, set them in a bowl. Zest the orange over them then use the back of a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to smush everything together.
  • Add the salt and vanilla and beat the mix for 30 seconds. Add the powdered sugar and beat to combine.
  • Add two tablespoons of orange juice and beat. If the frosting is overly thick, add a bit more.
  • Note: cream cheese frosting has a tendency to be overly soft if too much liquid is added, and is easily overwhipped. You can always add more powdered sugar to thicken it to make it stiff, and/or once the frosting is whipped, set it in the fridge for awhile so the butter and cheese will chill.

To make the cupcakes

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the softened butter, zest, salt, vanilla and sugar together until very light and fluffy - at least 5 minutes, scraping down when necessary.
  • Add the eggs and whip for another 2 minutes. It’s ok if it looks separated.
  • Sift in the flour, baking powder and soda and turn the mixer on low. While it’s mixing, pour in the buttermilk and orange juice. Scrape down the bowl if needed and mix until the batter is smooth.
  • Fill cupcakes ⅔ of the way with batter. Bake for about 20 minutes (check them at 18) until the tops spring back when gently pressed.

To frost

  • The cupcakes should be completely cool before frosting, and the frosting should be at a cool room temperature. Spread or pipe on top. Finish with more orange zest, if desired.

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Recipe Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    This is the best cupcake recipe I’ve tried so far! I love the vanilla notes, like an orange creamsicle. I used blood oranges for the batter and buttercream so I did end up with green cupcakes, but they were still pretty with the swirl of pink buttercream on top. Next time I will try with regular oranges!

  2. Now that the snow has melted and it’s dried up and warmed up a bit, I can get out and look for blood oranges!! I have tons of navel oranges but I’d love to find the blood oranges. I’ll keep you posted! I simply MUST make these tomorrow. I’ll be in touch!