Magdalenas: Spanish Lemon Cupcakes

In Spanish, magdalenas simply means “cupcakes” or “muffins.” This recipe makes a sweet, lemony, and rich-tasting cake with a light and fluffy texture. It is common to enjoy them at breakfast with café con leche and they would make a great addition to a Sunday champagne brunch or tea time.

Traditionally, the cupcakes are made in the shape of a shell using a special magdalena oven tray, similar to a French madeleines pan. However, it is more common today for them to take on the basic cupcake form. Some authentic recipes call for olive oil as the plump component, but butter is used here for a finer mouthfeel.​

Although magdalena are often purchased at bakeries and even prepackaged in grocery stores today rather than baked at home, they are simple to make and there’s nothing like a hot lemon cake right out of the oven. Give them a try.


  • 1 cup granulated sugar (divided)
  • 4 large eggs (room-temperature)
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter (room-temperature)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

Steps to Make It

  • Gather the ingredients.
  • Position oven rack on the middle shelf and heat to 375 F. Place 18 liners into the wells of cupcake pans and set aside.
  • Measure 1/4 cup sugar, place it in a small bowl, and set aside.
  • In a medium-size mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining 3/4 cup sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  • In a small saucepan on the stovetop, melt the butter over medium heat. Alternatively, you can melt it in the microwave. Before adding it to the egg mixture, make sure the butter cools slightly and is not bubbling.
  • While you continue to beat the egg mixture, slowly add the melted butter, making sure to mix thoroughly.
  • Stir in the lemon zest and milk.
  • In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder until thoroughly combined.
  • While stirring the egg mixture, add the flour mixture with your other hand. Continue to stir until all ingredients are mixed well. The batter will be very thick.
  • Using a large serving spoon or cookie scoop, place batter into the pan, filling each cupcake liner halfway. The batter will more than double in size when baked.
  • Use a teaspoon to sprinkle each magdalena with a bit of the reserved sugar.
  • Place pans in the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the magdalenas have turned a golden color and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs attached.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack before removing cupcakes from the pan to cool completely.


Make sure that your eggs, butter, milk, and any other dairy ingredients are at room temperature before beginning. When mixed together, these ingredients create an emulsion that traps air. During baking, this air expands and results in a fluffy baked good.

The Origin of Magdalenas

Magdalenas are believed to have originated in France. You can see some resemblance to madeleines, which are very popular shell-shaped butter sponge cakes.

However, there also is the story of a young Spanish girl named Magdalena who, it is said, served these little cakes to pilgrims making their journey to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. This may account for the spread of their popularity across Spain.