This easy vegan lemon frosting is based on a German pudding buttercream method, which uses a pastry cream base with whipped butter.
This results in a lighter, creamier, and less sweet frosting that is perfect for smearing on lemon sheet cake or cupcakes, as well as for piping on cupcakes.
The custard base is the perfect way to infuse a tonne of REAL lemon flavor into your buttercream without compromising the consistency with too much liquid or having to rely on artificial flavors or extracts.
📖 Recipe Overview
- Not Overly Sweet - German buttercream uses less sugar than standard American buttercream, and relies on a custard base for structure and flavor, rather than solely sugar.
- Incredibly Versatile - It's smooth and creamy enough to pipe on cupcakes yet stable enough for cake fillings. It also makes a wonderful filling for pastries and cakes and is commonly referred to as crème mousseline.
- Allergy-Friendly - This lemon frosting is of course completely eggless and dairy-free, but can also be made nut-free, coconut-free, and gluten-free depending on the vegan butter you use (I use flora plant butter or Violife block).
Love all things lemon? Try my vegan recipes for limoncello tiramisu, lemon meringue pie, and mini lemon tarts next!
🧾 Ingredients Needed
Here is everything you need to make this easy vegan lemon buttercream:
- Fresh Lemons - This recipe requires real lemons, not the bottled kind! You'll want both the juice and zest to give the best possible flavor.
- Cornstarch - This is the trusty vegan egg replacer that thickens the custard base.
- Non-Dairy Milk - I use soy milk but feel free to go for almond milk, oat milk, or coconut milk if you prefer.
🥣 How To Make Vegan Lemon Frosting
Find the complete list of ingredients, quantities, and instructions in the recipe card at the end of this post.
As promised, this buttercream comes together in just a few simple steps, and you can use either an electric whisk or stand-mixer, depending on what equipment you already have.
Step 1: Make a paste. Add the soy milk, sugar, and cornstarch to a saucepan and whisk well to remove any lumps.
Step 2: Whisk and cook. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest and simmer for 5 minutes whilst whisking. Alternate between using a whisk and rubber spatula to make sure the custard does not stick to the pan.
Step 3: Sift and cool. Remove it from the heat and pass the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Set aside to cool to room temperature for 30-40 minutes.
Step 4: Whip the butter. Add the vegan butter to a large mixing bowl (or stand mixer if using) and whisk with an electric mixer for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Step 5: Slowly combine. Slowly add the chilled custard mixture to the butter, one tablespoon at a time, whisking to incorporate it each time.
Step 6: Finish whisking. Once you have added all of the lemon custard, continue to whisk the buttercream for another 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.
📝 Recipe Tips
Use unwaxed organic lemons if possible. This way you'll avoid any nasty pesticides or wax.
Do not leave the custard unattended or it will most likely burn! Make sure you constantly stir the mixture while it cooks and thickens.
Alternate between whisking and using a rubber spatula while the custard cooks to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
While Italian buttercream and Swiss buttercream are based on meringue, German buttercream is a pudding-based frosting that uses pastry cream and butter. It generally uses ingredients like egg yolks, milk, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, butter, and sometimes flour.
This vegan version not only cuts out animal products but also uses minimal, easy-to-find ingredients.
This is more often than not a sign that you used cold butter or didn't allow it to come to room temperature before using.
Cold butter will not incorporate into the custard base properly, this you won't get a nice smooth finish to your frosting!
Absolutely, simply transfer your frosting to an airtight storage container and freeze it for up to 2 months.
Defrost it in the fridge overnight, and re-whip if needed before use.
🧁 More Vegan Frosting
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Vegan Lemon Frosting (German Buttercream)
- 300 ml (1 ⅓ cups) soy milk, or almond milk/oat milk
- 200 g (1 cups) granulated sugar, use organic if in the US
- 60 g (½ cup) cornstarch, (cornflour)
- 150 ml (0.63 cups) lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 4 tablespoons lemon zest
- 200 g (¾ cups + 1 tbsp) vegan butter, room temperature
- Make lemon custard: Add the soy milk, sugar, and cornstarch to a saucepan and whisk well to remove any lumps. Add the lemon juice and zest and whisk again to combine.
- Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes whilst whisking. Alternate between using a whisk and rubber spatula to make sure the custard does not stick to the pan. The mixture will become thick once the cornstarch is cooked, remove it from the heat and pass the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Set aside to cool to room temperature for 30-40 minutes.
- Whisk the butter: Add the vegan butter to a large mixing bowl (or stand mixer if using) and whisk with an electric mixer for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.
- Combine: Slowly add the chilled custard mixture to the butter, one tablespoon at a time, whisking to incorporate it each time. Once you have added all of the lemon custard, continue to whisk the buttercream for another 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.
- Serving and storage: Use to frost vegan cakes or cupcakes immediately, or store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days. The recipe will generously frost a 3-layer 6" cake, 2-layer 8/9" cake, or 12-18 cupcakes.Before use, allow the buttercream to come to room temperature for an hour, and then pipe or frost as usual.
- Vegan butter: Take this out of the fridge to sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours. Make sure you use vegan block butter, otherwise known as butter sticks. Spreadable butter from a tub or margarine will throw off the recipe due to its higher water content. I use flora plant butter which is nut-free, coconut-free, and gluten-free.
- To freeze: Transfer your frosting to an airtight storage container and freeze it for up to 2 months. Defrost it in the fridge overnight, and re-whip if needed before use.
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