Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

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This lemon poppy seed cake is laced with fresh lemon zest, filled to the brim with nutty, crackly poppy seeds, and drizzled with a bright lemon glaze. It’s the perfect “company cake.”

A variation of my lemon buttermilk pound cake, this lemon poppy seed cake is laced with fresh lemon zest, filled to the brim with nutty, crackly poppy seeds, and drizzled with a bright lemon glaze. The texture is just what you hope for in a homemade cake — moist and melt-in-your-mouth tender — and the cake keeps well for days. My grandmother would have called it a “company cake” since it’s the perfect treat to have on hand when friends and family come over.

For those who have issues with cakes sticking to Bundt pans, you’ll notice that I used a new technique here: dusting the pan with sugar instead of flour. It works beautifully and leaves no floury residue on the outside of the cake; just be sure to pop the cake out of the pan after ten minutes, as cooling too long in the pan will cause the cake to stick.

What you’ll need to Make Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

How to make lemon poppy seed cake

To begin: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and poppy seeds.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Whisk well and set aside.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, lemon zest and lemon juice.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Whisk and set aside.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or beaters), combine the butter and sugar.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Cream on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the eggs one at a time.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Beat well after each addition.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Scrape down the sides of the bowl again. With the mixer on low speed, beat in one-quarter of the flour mixture.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Add one-third of the buttermilk mixture.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Beat in another quarter of the flour mixture, then another third of the milk mixture. Repeat with another quarter of the flour mixture and the remaining milk mixture. Finally, beat in the remaining flour mixture.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and give a quick mix to make sure all of the ingredients are well incorporated.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Spray the Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and coat with sugar. Make sure the entire pan is covered.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Spoon the thick batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Bake for 65 to 75 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Cool the cake in the pan for ten minutes on a rack. While the cake cools, make the syrup. Combine the water and granulated sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Invert the warm cake onto the rack. Slip a large piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil under the rack to catch all the drips from the syrup. Gradually brush the hot syrup over the cake, letting it soak in (a little syrup will drip off, but try not to rush so that most of it is absorbed). Allow the cake to cool completely, about one hour.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

When the cake is cool, make the glaze. Stir the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl, mixing until completely smooth. Add more confectioners’ sugar if necessary to make a thick, opaque glaze (it should be thicker than you’d think — you want it the consistency of honey or molasses).

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

Carefully transfer the cake to a serving platter. Drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides.

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

How to Store and Freeze Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Let the glaze harden before slicing. The cake will keep nicely for 3 days if kept covered on the countertop. It can also be frozen (without the glaze) for up to 3 months. After it is completely cooled, double-wrap it securely with aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap, or place it in heavy-duty freezer bag. Thaw overnight on the countertop before serving. (Add the glaze after the cake is thawed.)

how to make lemon poppy seed cake

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Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

This lemon poppy seed cake is laced with fresh lemon zest, filled to the brim with nutty, crackly poppy seeds, and drizzled with a bright lemon glaze. It’s the perfect “company cake.”

Servings: One 10-inch bundt cake, about 16 servings
Prep Time: 25 Minutes
Cook Time: 70 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled-off with a knife
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup poppy seeds
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • Finely grated zest of 3 lemons (about 3 gently packed tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2-1/4 cups granulated sugar, plus more for the pan
  • 3 large eggs

For the Syrup

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the Glaze

  • About 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Spray a 10-inch Bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray and dust with sugar. Be sure the entire pan is coated.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and poppy seeds. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, lemon zest and lemon juice. Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or beaters), cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again. With the mixer on low speed, beat in one-quarter of the flour mixture, then one-third of the buttermilk mixture. Beat in another quarter of the flour mixture, then another third of the milk mixture. Repeat with another quarter of the flour mixture and the remaining milk mixture. Finally, beat in the remaining flour mixture. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and give a quick mix with a rubber spatula to make sure all of the ingredients are well incorporated.
  5. Spoon the thick batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake for 65 to 75 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for ten minutes on a rack.
  6. While the cake cools, make the syrup. Combine the water and granulated sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.
  7. Invert the warm cake onto the rack. Slip a large piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil under the rack to catch all the drips from the syrup. Gradually brush the hot syrup over the cake, letting it soak in (a little syrup will drip off, but try not to rush so that most of it is absorbed). Allow the cake to cool completely, about one hour. When the cake is cool, carefully transfer it to a serving platter.
  8. To make the glaze: stir the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl, mixing until completely smooth. Add more confectioners' sugar if necessary to make a thick, opaque glaze (it should be thicker than you'd think -- you want it the consistency of honey or molasses). Drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Let the glaze harden before slicing and serving the cake, about 15 minutes. The cake will keep nicely for 3 days if kept covered on the countertop.
  9. Note: You'll need 3 large lemons for this recipe
  10. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The cake can be frozen (without the glaze) for up to 3 months. After it is completely cooled, double-wrap it securely with aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap, or place it in heavy-duty freezer bag. Thaw overnight on the countertop before serving. (Add the glaze after the cake is thawed.)

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Reviews & Comments

  • Wonderful cake! I have never made lemon poppy seed cake before and it is now one of my favorites. Followed your recipe as written except put it into 2 loaf pans for 65 min. Love your tip regarding using granulated sugar instead of flour after spraying the pan. thank you for such a great recipe that will be made again and again.

    • — judy on May 23, 2019
    • Reply
  • Awesome recipe! I just want to ask, how much does a large egg weigh? I got two different results when I used diff egg sizes and I’m not sure which one is the correct result

    • — Bushra on May 9, 2019
    • Reply
    • Hi Bushra, A large egg weighs about 2 oz (or 60 g).

      • — Jenn on May 9, 2019
      • Reply
  • Wow. Just wow. Made this and it blew my mind. Followed the recipe exactly as stated and I don’t think it could have turned out any better. Didn’t last 24 hours in my house… Thank you SO much for this amazing recipe.

    • — Shari on May 5, 2019
    • Reply
  • This cake is just heaven. I’ve made it twice for weekend guests and it gets so much praise! Also, I’m not a ‘baker’ by any means, and was able to make this delicious treat quite easily. Thank you!

    • — Candice on May 2, 2019
    • Reply
  • I have been looking for a Lemon Poppy Seed cake recipe that would rival our neighbor’s. This one I think even beats it! The cake is so moist and tasty. It has become our large family gathering’s favorite. And yes, I did think the sugar helped pop the cake with ease. Thanks so much for the recipe and tip.

    • — Jennifer Needham on April 24, 2019
    • Reply
  • This is a favourite in my house! with 4 growing boys it doesn’t need company to be gone quickly😊
    Turns out tangy and perfect every time!

    • — Shula Seekings on April 12, 2019
    • Reply
  • This cake is absolutely delicious. For personal preference, I left off the syrup and the glaze and I think the cake still had a very nice lemon flavor. The cake is moist and the crumb is dense, as expected on a homemade cake. It lasted a whole 2 days in my house….even my kids loved it. It would be equally delicious without the poppyseeds, I think, but they add a nice texture.

    • — Stephanie N. on April 12, 2019
    • Reply
  • Thanks for the recipe – the instructions and pictures make it so easy to follow.

    I am relatively new to baking and followed this recipe to a tee and the cake turned out slightly dense. The flavours were however very good. I was wondering whether it is indeed meant to be slightly dense or if I’ve done something wrong along the way. Would appreciate any tips that you can give me.

    • — Joe on April 4, 2019
    • Reply
    • Hi Joe, I don’t think you did anything wrong — the cake is slightly dense.

      • — Jenn on April 4, 2019
      • Reply
  • Success!! I haven’t ever had one of your recipes fail! Thank you for the clear and concise directions. After the cake had cooled for 10 minutes, I used a plastic knife to run around the edges to loosen and then I put the glaze on while it was still in the pan. I found that I didn’t waste any and it absorbed it well and then I could easily invert it onto a cooling rack. I did find it needed the full 75 minutes to bake. Ingenious way to grease and sugar the pan to keep it from sticking.

    • — Marie on March 5, 2019
    • Reply
  • I made this recipe a few weeks ago in loaf pans. My daughter stopped by just after I took the pans out of the oven. She begged me to let her have a piece, of course I did and she loved it. She ended up taking the remainder of that loaf cake home with her without out the glaze. Her family loved the cake. My husband and I had the cake with the glaze. Our favorite!!! My daughter is stopping by tonight and I’m making her family a loaf cake to take home with the glaze. Excellent cake!!! So moist, so delicious. Thank you Chef Jennifer for sharing this recipe.

    • — Suzy P on February 17, 2019
    • Reply
  • I used this recipe after deciding not to use a recipe that required a CUP of oil. So glad I did! It was a delicious birthday cake. It was a bit heavier than I anticipated, but with all those delicious ingredients….
    I learned the trick of using sugar instead of flour to make the cake not stick. It came out perfectly!

    • — siouxbx on February 10, 2019
    • Reply
  • Wow. What an amazing cake! I made this in 2 regular old bread pans and it came out amazing. Super soft and the flavor is to die for. I’m glad that I used this recipe for my first time baking a lemon and poppyseed cake because no way other recipes can top this one.

    • — Anna on February 4, 2019
    • Reply
  • I made this for a group on New Year’s Eve. Everyone loved the lemon flavor and the crunchy poppy seeds. They said the cake was moist, tender, flavorful and deeply delicious. I served it with a homemade blueberry sauce which people seemed to enjoy as an accompaniment. Just lovely and another keeper of a recipe. Thanks, Jenn!

    • — Diane on January 9, 2019
    • Reply
  • This looks like exactly what I was hoping for. I’d like to make personal-size mini Bundt cakes with it. Any recommendations on how much to reduce baking time? Thank you!

    • — Lulu on January 8, 2019
    • Reply
    • Hi Lulu, I’d start checking them at 25 to 30 minutes, but keep a close eye on them. Please LMK how they turn out!

      • — Jenn on January 8, 2019
      • Reply
      • Thank you for the advice! You were right on. I made six minis and two small cakes with this recipe, baking the minis for 28-30 min. and the larger ones for about 40. Four of the minis came out well, and the two larger cakes both stuck, though I was able to cobble one back together. I’d experimented with flour/sugar coating and found that spray and flour *right before filling* worked best for me, using the gold Nordic Ware six-mini “Anniversary” pan. Thanks for the great recipe. I’m not a fan of lemon-poppyseed cake myself, but I couldn’t stop eating the broken cake—oops! 🙂 Definitely will make these again.

        • — Lulu on January 13, 2019
        • Reply
  • Just finished making this lemon poppy seed cake. I don’t own a bundt pan so I used 2 8.5″ x 4.5″ bread pans. Baking time was 65 minutes. My bread pans are supposed to be non-stick and they usually are…with bread…but not today 😒. Next time I’ll try the cooking spray and sugar release technique. However, the flavor and texture of this cake is XLNT!!! Bright and not too sweet. The hits just keep on a coming…Many Thanks Chef 👍😉👍

    • — Carl Schena on January 2, 2019
    • Reply
  • I love anything lemon, especially desserts. This cake is moist, delicious and oh so lemony! Just perfect.

    • — Pquinlan on January 1, 2019
    • Reply
  • The cake turned out great and even came out of the pan 99.9% with the sugar tip. My only problem was the glaze. It has to be super thick. I may have added a little too much lemon juice, so it was thin. I sifted powdered sugar over the top. It looks festive and smells divine!

    • — Debbie V on December 29, 2018
    • Reply
  • My first time using sugar to coat the pan… cake stuck badly.. what did I do wrong?

    • — Robbie on December 26, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Robbie, Did you let the cake cool longer for 10 minutes in the pan?

      • — Jenn on December 27, 2018
      • Reply
      • No I actually timed for removal- 10 mins

        • — Robbie Hardy on December 29, 2018
        • Reply
        • Hmmm, not sure why it would stick. I tested this cake with both a flour and sugar coating, and it released best with sugar. I suggest reading this article from King Arthur on how to prevent Bundt pans from sticking. Hope it helps and so sorry you had trouble!

          • — Jenn on December 29, 2018
          • Reply
          • Thanks so much for this article, I think we oiled and sugared too early as our cake making got interrupted…this article has lots of great info..

            • — Robbie Hardy on January 4, 2019
  • Can I make this without the glaze? Will I need to add more sugar?

    • — Rana on December 24, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Rana, The glaze in this recipe adds a lot of the lemon flavor to the cake; without it, it may not taste lemony enough. But if you make it that way, there’s no need to add more sugar. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on December 25, 2018
      • Reply
  • Absolutely sensational, am throwing my other lemon poppy seed recipes away. Added 1/2 tsp of baking powder and baked in 2 9 x 5 in loaf pans for 50 minutes, Did not coat pans with sugar. Used almost all the syrup and all the glaze. Now I have one for me and one to give away. Love the tartness, so delicious.

    • — Carol on December 23, 2018
    • Reply
  • Can I make this without the glaze?

    • — Rana on December 23, 2018
    • Reply
    • Sure, Rana, but keep in mind that a lot of the lemon flavor comes from the tart glaze.

      • — Jenn on December 23, 2018
      • Reply
      • Good Morning! Can this recipe be halved and baked on a loaf pan? Thanks!

        • — Mary Spear on April 21, 2019
        • Reply
        • Sure, Mary – you’ll need an 8-1/2 x 4-1/2-in loaf pan.

          • — Jenn on April 21, 2019
          • Reply
  • Can you substitute almond flour? Thanks

    • — Robbie Hardy on December 23, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Robbie, Unfortunately, I don’t think almond flour would work here. If gluten is the issue, I suggest using a 1-to-1 gluten-free flour blend. (I like King Arthur.)

      • — Jenn on December 23, 2018
      • Reply
  • My son loves poppyseeds so I made him this cake. He loved the crisp crust with the fluffy inside texture. Loving your family with delicious recipes is always a win win!

    • — Nancy Burroughs on December 22, 2018
    • Reply
  • Love this recipe. I accidentally added 1/2 a cup instead of 1/4 of the poppyseeds but still turned out great (if a little crunchy lol). Five stars for me! (The system wouldn’t let me add the stars lol)

    • — Cherry on December 22, 2018
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen,

    Love your recipes. I have made your lemon pound cake recipe many times. Can this recipe be made into muffins instead, or is it too dense?

    • — Thanks, Lorrie on December 22, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Lorrie, You can definitely use this recipe to make muffins. I don’t think they’ll be too dense but they will be cakey, meaning they’ll have a tight crumb.

      • — Jenn on December 23, 2018
      • Reply
  • Can the cake be made, frozen, and then glazed after it’s thawed?

    • — Paula on December 20, 2018
    • Reply
    • Yep! (And you’ll find full instructions for doing that at the bottom of the recipe.) Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on December 21, 2018
      • Reply
  • I just made this cake as soon as I saw it. This is my daughter’s favorite. It so so lemony and moist. Absolutely delicious
    Thank you again for a great recipe

    I also made the old fashion ginger snap cookies. Just like I remember. Sooo good.

    • — Candy P Scanlon on December 20, 2018
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, Would white poppy seeds make a difference? thanks

    • — Joyce on December 20, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Joyce, To be honest, I’ve never tried white poppy seeds but, from what I know, I think they’d be fine to use.

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2018
      • Reply
  • Hi Jen,
    I was once gifted a mini loaf version of something similar to this and loved it. Do you think this recipe could be used as such? I assume a shorter cook time if so? (Thank you for sharing your delicious recipes with us!)

    • — Lori on December 20, 2018
    • Reply
    • Sure, Lori. I think this would work nicely as mini loaves and, yes, you’d definitely reduce the cooking time.

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2018
      • Reply
  • I’ve been searching for a recipe that reminded me of my grandmothers beloved lemon poppy seed cake. Now my search is over! The delicious lemon flavor and mild poppyseed flavors are perfect together. Thanks for the idea of using sugar to dust a bundt pan.

    • — Sherrie Meals on December 20, 2018
    • Reply
  • Will it work as well to use bread flour or cake flour instead of all-purpose flour in this recipe?

    • — Judy on December 20, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Judy, I don’t recommend bread or cake flour here — sorry!

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2018
      • Reply
  • My usual question: Can this beauty be made with GF flour? Thanks.

    • — Karen O on December 20, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Karen, I do think it’d work. 🙂

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2018
      • Reply
  • This is a fabulous recipe. The taste is the best with the poppy seeds adding a nice flavor. The hint about dusting the pan with sugar is so helpful, too. Will that work for other cakes as well?

    Thanks for such great recipes!

    • — Jeanne on December 20, 2018
    • Reply
    • Yes, Jeanne – it should work with all Bundt cake recipes. Glad you enjoyed it!

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2018
      • Reply
  • Should the eggs be cold, or at room temperature? Thanks

    • — Matt on December 20, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Matt, Technically eggs should always be room temperature when baking, but I’ve used them straight out of the fridge for this cake without any issues. 🙂

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2018
      • Reply
  • Using sugar instead of flour to coat the pan ingenious.

    • — Andrea on December 20, 2018
    • Reply
  • Silly question – can I omit the poppy seeds and just have glazed lemon cake? I love poppy seeds, they are however restricted for my husband’s diet. Love all of your recipes by the way!

    • — Kim on December 20, 2018
    • Reply
    • Sure, Kim – that’ll work fine. 🙂

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2018
      • Reply
    • Kim, Jenn has a recipe for Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake which is pretty much this recipe without the poppy seeds and it’s fantastic! 🙂

      • — Cherry on December 22, 2018
      • Reply
  • I love your cakes but need to make everything gluten free. How do you think this would work with a 1-1 GF flour?

    Thanks!

    • — Samantha Lueken on December 20, 2018
    • Reply
    • I think it’d work well, Samantha. Please let me know how it turns out if you try it. 🙂

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2018
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    Is this amount of batter too much for a rectangular bread pan?
    Thank you!

    • — Patricia on December 19, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Patricia, I think it’s definitely too much — you’d need two.

      • — Jenn on December 20, 2018
      • Reply

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