Orange Cupcakes

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These perfectly moist and fluffy orange cupcakes are topped with a tangy orange cream cheese frosting for a burst of juicy orange flavor in every bite.

An orange cupcake topped with a swirl of orange cream cheese frosting and garnished with orange zest with oranges and more orange cupcakes in the background.

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Orange ranks as one of my top favorite flavors, neck and neck with chocolate. Every year, I whip up an orange cake for my dad’s birthday, a family favorite that my kids can’t seem to get enough of.

And after a spree of chocolate desserts for Easter, I decided to pivot to oranges before peak citrus season is over. Oranges at this time of year are at their sweetest and juiciest!

This is not to say that you won’t be making these orange cupcakes all year around, because you will. After my healthier orange loaf cake became a weekly request from my kids last year, it’s clear that the love for orange runs in the family.

So, while I’m usually making these mini chocolate cupcakes at this time of year, I thought it was high time to get some orange cupcakes on the site!

orange cupcakes and fresh sliced oranges

They are absolutely fabulous and I’m confident you will love them, especially if you’re as big a fan of oranges as I am.

Why You’ll Love these Orange Cupcakes

  • These cupcakes are moist, soft, fluffy, and infused with fresh orange flavor. The texture is perfect.
  • These orange cupcakes are super simple to make. You don’t need to be a pro at baking, or at piping fancy frosting swirls to make these!
An orange cupcake sitting in a cupcake wrapper, with a bite taken out to show the inside.
  • The orange cream cheese frosting on top pairs perfectly well with the citrus flavors in the cupcake. It’s tastes like a creamsicle in cupcake form! I tested them with an orange flavored buttercream too, but decided tangy cream cheese frosting was the ideal match.

Ingredient Notes

For the Orange Cupcakes

ingredients to make orange cupcakes

Cake Flour

Cake flour is a finely milled, light flour with a lower protein content compared to all-purpose flour—usually around 7-9%. This lower protein level means less gluten is formed during the mixing process, which results in a finer, softer texture in baked goods. It’s bleached, a process that further alters the protein structure, allowing it to absorb more moisture and fat.

This is why cake flour is ideal for cakes and cupcakes, as it produces a delicate crumb and a tender texture. Using cake flour in these orange cupcakes specifically helps achieve that light, airy consistency that makes them so enjoyable to eat!

But if you don’t have any cake flour and don’t want to buy it, all purpose flour will also work, although the texture will be somewhat less tender.

Kosher Salt

Salt in desserts enhances the flavors of the other ingredients. If you’re substituting with table salt, use a bit less since it’s finer. You can skip it altogether if you’re using salted butter.

Baking Powder

Acts as the leavening agent, helping the orange cupcakes rise and become fluffy. Do not substitute this with baking soda, they act differently.

Unsalted Butter

You’ll need unsalted butter for both the orange cupcakes and the cream cheese frosting. Make sure you use room temperature butter for easy mixing. Salted butter can be used instead.

Canola or Vegetable Oil

The oil adds moisture to the cupcakes, making them tender and soft. You can use either, as they’re both neutral oils. You can use all butter instead if you like, but I like a little oil for moisture.

If you don’t want to use vegetable oil, you can also use a light-tasting olive oil. I use that in my orange loaf cake, as well as in many of my other baked goods, and the flavor is lovely!

Granulated Sugar

You can use granulated white sugar or cane sugar. I have not tested this recipe with any alternative sweeteners

Eggs

You’ll need a whole egg and an additional yolk to give the orange cupcakes structure and richness. The extra yolk also gives them some extra orange color. Make sure they’re at room temperature for better incorporation.

Whole Milk

Milk adds moisture to the batter and I really recommend using whole milk here because the higher fat content really helps yield a moist cupcake. Make sure your milk is also at room temperature milk so it blends more smoothly with the batter.

Fresh Orange Juice

For the best flavor, use fresh orange juice (from the oranges you’re gonna be zesting anyway!). While most of the orange flavor in these cupcakes comes from the zest, the acidity of the orange juice combined with the milk creates a slightly less acidic buttermilk-like substance that gives a nice tangy flavor.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

ingredients to make orange cream cheese frosting

Note: This recipes yields enough frosting for 12 modestly-frosted cupcakes , like you see in the photos. If you would like to pipe large swirls of frosting onto your cupcakes, consider doubling the recipe and adding an extra cup or two of icing sugar to make a stiffer frosting suitable for piping.

Cheese

I recommend using full fat cream cheese for the frosting. Lower fat option might yield a softer frosting which will not set as well.

The cream cheese provides a tangy contrast to the sweetness of the powdered sugar and complements the orange flavor.

Icing Sugar

Also known as powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar, it gives the frosting its smooth, creamy texture. I opted for less icing sugar in this frosting than I typically use (for instance in this orange layer cake) to keep it as tangy as possible and not too sweet. This means the frosting is softer and not really suitable for piping. I like to spread it on with a spatula or butter knife instead.

Orange Zest

This is for the perfect orange flavor in the cupcakes! You’ll need fresh orange zest for both the orange cupcakes and the orange frosting.

How to zest an orange

Zesting oranges, or any citrus fruit is easy, especially with a zester. One of my favorite and most frequently used kitchen tools is this microplane zester. There are a couple of ways to zest an orange using a zester, so use whichever feels most natural to you.

Method 1

For the first method, hold the orange in your dominant hand and the zester in the other hand with the teeth facing up. Place the orange on top of the zester and hold everything over a bowl. Scrape the orange in an upward motion against the teeth, rotating the orange to go over the whole peel. With this method, the zest will fall directly into the bowl below as you zest.

Demonstration of one technique for zesting an orange with a zester, with orange on top of the zester.

Method 2

For this method, you will hold the zester in your dominant hand instead, and the orange in the other hand. Place the zester on top of the orange with the teeth facing down and scrape the zester over the orange, gathering the zest inside the tool (the curved edges will hold it in). Rotate the orange to get all the zest.

Method 2 is my preferred method, because I feel I have greater control and a better grip of the tool and fruit, and I can also better see exactly which parts of the skin I have already zested, which helps avoid getting too much of the bitter white pith. You can see this method in action in the video in the recipe card.

A second method for zesting an orange with a zester, with the zester on top of the orange.

Other methods for zesting

If you don’t have a zester, you can use a vegetable peeler to remove long strips of peel and then finely chop it. Or you can use the smallest holes of a box grater or handheld grating tool.

Regardless of the method used, the idea is to get only the very top layer of the peel, avoiding the bitter white pith.

Don’t forget to watch the video!

Most of my recipes include a short step-by-step video tutorial. Just scroll down to the recipe card, or use the “Jump to Video” button at the top of the post!

Step-by-Step Instructions

For the Orange Cupcakes

  1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a 12-cup cupcake pan by lining it with cupcake liners.
  1. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
flour mixture in a bowl
  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter, oil, and sugar on a medium speed with an electric mixture until the mixture is light and fluffy, which should take about 3 to 4 minutes. You can also do this in the bowl of a stand mixer.
creaming together butter, oil, and sugar in a bowl
  1. Mix in the whole egg, egg yolk, vanilla extract, and orange zest until everything is well incorporated, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary.
eggs and vanilla added to the bowl with buttered cream and sigar
creamed wet ingredients in a bowl
  1. Mix the milk and orange juice in a measuring cup.
orange juice and whole milk in a measuring cup
  1. On a low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and the milk/orange juice mix to the butter mixture, alternating between the dry and wet ingredients in three parts, and mix until just combined. Be careful not to overmix.
flour mixture added to the wet ingredients
orange cupcake batter in a bowl
  1. Evenly distribute the cupcake batter in the cups, filling each about three-fifths full. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, or until the cupcakes are lightly golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. This recipe makes exactly 12 cupcakes.
orange cupcake batter in a cupcake tin
orange cupcakes in a cupcake tin
  1. Move the orange cupcakes to a wire rack after 5 minutes and let them cool completely before frosting.

For the Orange Frosting

  1. To make the cream cheese frosting, mix the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl on medium speed until smooth.
whisked cream cheese in a bowl
  1. Add in the vanilla extract and orange zest, mixing until fully blended.
cream cheese and vanilla in a bowl
  1. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until the frosting is smooth and spreadable.
icing sugar added to a bowl with other ingredients
orange cream cheese frosting in a bowl
  1. Use a small offset spatula to spread the cream cheese frosting on the cooled orange cupcakes.
putting cream cheese frosting on an orange cupcake

How to stiffen the cream cheese frosting

If you want a thicker, creamy orange buttercream frosting for your cupcakes, or want to pipe some generous swirls of frosting, double the amount of the frosting and increase the quantity of the confectioners’ sugar by one or two cups, until you reach the desired consistency.

Chilling the frosting will also help to stiffen it. Transfer the frosting to a piping bag and pipe on your orange cupcakes!

I like to sprinkle some fresh orange zest on top of the cupcakes but you could leave them plain or add some orange sprinkles or orange slices on top of each cupcake.

overhead view of orange cupcakes with cream cheese frosting garnished with fresh orange zest

Storage Instructions

If you’re not frosting the orange cupcakes right away, store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. Ensure they’ve cooled completely before placing them in the container to prevent condensation, which can make the tops soggy or sticky.

For frosted cupcakes, store in the refrigerator. Place them in an airtight container to keep the frosting from absorbing any fridge odors and to ensure your orange cupcakes remain moist. They will keep well for up to 3 days.

Can I freeze these orange cupcakes?

Unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen. Wrap each cupcake individually in plastic wrap and then place them in a freezer bag or airtight container. They can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or on the counter for a few hours before frosting and serving. I do not recommend freezing cream cheese frosting.

Can I use only butter or only oil in the orange cupcake base?

Yes, you can use either only butter for richer flavor and tender texture, or only oil for increased moistness and softer crumbs. Each impacts the cupcakes differently, so choose based on the texture and taste you prefer.

Can I use orange extract for a stronger orange flavor?

Yes, you can! You can add orange extract along with the vanilla extract in these orange cupcakes.

Tell me what you think!

If you try this recipe, l’d be so grateful if you’d leave a comment and a rating in the recipe card. I love to hear your feedback, and your tips can help other readers too!

An orange cupcake topped with a swirl of orange cream cheese frosting and garnished with orange zest with oranges in the background.

Orange Cupcakes

These perfectly moist and fluffy orange cupcakes are topped with a tangy orange cream cheese frosting for a burst of juicy orange flavor in every bite.
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate Save
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 12 cupcakes
Calories: 283kcal
Author: Ann Otis

Ingredients

Cake

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg at room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup whole milk room temperature
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice from 1-2 oranges

Frosting

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 ½ cups icing sugar

Instructions

Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12 cup cupcake pan with paper liners.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, oil, and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla and orange zest. Beat until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • In a measuring cup, combine the milk and orange juice.
  • With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and milk/OJ mixture, in 3 installments each, beating until just combined (do not overbeat).
  • Divide the batter evenly between the cups (they should be about ⅗ full) and bake for 17-20 minutes until the tops are lightly golden a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Transfer the cupcakes to a cooling rack and cool completely before frosting.

Frosting

  • In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Add the vanilla and orange zest and beat until combined.
  • Add the icing sugar and continue beating until smooth and creamy.
  • Spread frosting onto cooled cupcakes with a small offset spatula or a knife.

Video

Notes

Note: This makes enough frosting for 12 modestly frosted cupcakes. If you would like to pipe large swirls onto your cupcakes, consider doubling the frosting and increasing the icing sugar by one or two cups for a stiffer frosting more suitable for piping.

Nutrition

Calories: 283kcal | Carbohydrates: 37g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 60mg | Sodium: 88mg | Potassium: 103mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 28g | Vitamin A: 424IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 47mg | Iron: 0.3mg
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