Lemon Poppyseed Cake Recipe

"Lemon and poppyseed is such a classic combination," certified nutritionist and recipe developer Hayley MacLean tells Tasting Table, and don't we know it. But to hear MacLean describe how perfectly the "sweet, nuttiness" of poppyseeds goes with lemon's "bright citrus flavors," we now find ourselves utterly helpless to resist the "tangy, aromatic, delicious" draw of her lemon poppyseed cake. 

That, of course, is perfectly fine with us because, as MacLean points out, "the flavors of lemon and poppyseed are so reminiscent of spring," which we can't help but find ourselves longing for at times. "Together they are light and fragrant and remind us of the sweet smelling blossoms and sunshine beginning to show itself this time of year." And, once she really got down to recipe development mode, she realized there was a way to amplify the bright lemon flavor even further. "I use a favorite, lemon curd, between the layers," in addition to the (literally) zesty cream cheese frosting used on the top and the sides. Alright, seriously, who else is ready to get a slice of this cake?

Gather your ingredients for lemon poppyseed cake

To make MacLean's recipe for lemon poppyseed cake, you'll need three sets of ingredients, one for the lemon poppyseed cake, itself, one for the lemon curd, and one for the cream cheese frosting, although there will certainly be some overlap. 

For the cake, you'll need 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour, 1 ¾ teaspoons of baking powder, ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, ½ teaspoon of  salt, ½ cup of unsalted butter (at room temperature), ½ cup of vegetable oil, 1 ½ cups of granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 4 eggs (at room temperature), ¾ cup of whole milk, ½ cup of fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds. 

For the lemon curd, you'll need 4 egg yolks, ⅔ cup of granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, ⅓ cup of fresh lemon juice, ⅛ teaspoon of salt, and 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter (at room temperature). For the cream cheese frosting, you'll need 16 ounces of cream cheese (at room temperature), ¾ cup of unsalted butter (room temperature), 8 to 10 cups of powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of lemon zest.

Prep the cake batter in this one easy step

Start by preheating your oven to 350 F and preparing three 9-inch cake pans by greasing the inner sides and lining the bottom with parchment paper. Then grab a large bowl and whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, vegetable oil, granulated sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy, around two minutes. Mix in the eggs one at a time, until fully incorporated. Then, add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until mostly combined.

Now, add the good stuff to the cake batter

Stir together the milk and the lemon juice, and combine this with the cake batter. Add what's left of the bowl containing dry ingredients, and mix until everything is well-incorporated. Then fold in the lemon zest and poppy seeds, making sure to distribute evenly throughout the batter. 

Divide the batter evenly among the cake pans. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove the pans from the oven and allow the cakes to cool for about five minutes in the pan before transferring them to a cooling rack.

Make the lemon curd

To make the lemon curd, set up a double boiler with 2 inches of water over high heat. Once the water is boiling, reduce to a simmer. Place the egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt into the top part of the double boiler. Mix using a rubber spatula or whisk until completely blended, and then continue stirring while the curd cooks. At this point, MacLean cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you stir the egg mixture constantly, or it WILL scramble, and that can happen quickly. "The key to avoiding this is keeping them moving and blending with the other ingredients," she says.

When the lemon curd mixture becomes thick and resembles the texture of a hollandaise sauce, which should happen in about 10 minutes, remove it from the heat source, and whisk the butter in. Transfer the lemon curd to a clean bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, directly touching the top of the curd. Set the lemon curd aside to cool.

Whip up the lemon cream cheese frosting

To make the frosting, grab a large bowl, and use it to beat together the cream cheese and butter until well combined and smooth. Add about half of the powdered sugar, and beat until smooth. Add the remaining lemon juice and zest, and mix well. Add the remaining powdered sugar, in small amounts at a time, until the desired consistency is reached and the frosting is smooth. Also, you can give the frosting a taste test before adding in all of the powdered sugar, and stop adding more once it reaches the perfect sweetness level. You don't have to use all of the powdered sugar!

Assemble and decorate your lemon poppyseed cake

If any of the layers have a "dome" on top, you can use a serrated knife to remove it to make the layer flat. Place one layer on a plate or working surface and pipe a ring of frosting around the outside of the top of the cake. This will create a sort of "pool" into which you will add the curd. Spread the curd over the top of the first layer, and top with another layer of cake. Repeat this process, finishing with the third layer of cake.

Frost the outside of the cake, and garnish with a sprinkle of poppy seeds. Enjoy immediately, or store for up to three days in an airtight container or on a flat plate with plastic wrap. Any leftovers you might have after that can be refrigerated (or even frozen), although MacLean points out that the cake will lose moisture as a result. In other words, you're advised to be diligent about eating your cake once you've made it so that it won't be necessary to refrigerate leftovers!

Lemon Poppyseed Cake Recipe
5 from 30 ratings
This lemon poppyseed cake is refreshing, decadent, and will give you a much-needed taste of Spring.
Prep Time
30
minutes
Cook Time
32
minutes
Servings
10
Servings
lemon poppyseed cake on plate
Total time: 62 minutes
Ingredients
  • For the cake
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • For the lemon curd
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • For the frosting
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 to 10 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Prepare three 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper on the bottom, and grease the sides.
  3. Start by making the cake. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. In another bowl, beat together the butter, vegetable oil, granulated sugar, and vanilla for 1 ½ to 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs 1 at a time, until fully incorporated.
  5. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until mostly combined.
  6. Mix together the milk and lemon juice, and add to the batter. Continue mixing until well combined.
  7. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients until well-incorporated. Fold in the lemon zest and poppy seeds.
  8. Divide the batter evenly among the cake pans, and bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  9. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool for about 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
  10. Next, make the lemon curd. Set up a double boiler with 2 inches of water over high heat. Once the water is boiling, reduce to a simmer.
  11. Place the egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt into the top part of the double boiler, mix to blend, and then mix continuously until the mixture becomes thick and resembles the texture of a hollandaise sauce — around 10 minutes.
  12. Remove from the heat and whisk the butter into the curd. Transfer to a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap, directly touching the top of the curd. Set aside to cool.
  13. Finally, make the frosting. In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until well combined and smooth. Add about half of the powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Add the lemon juice and zest, and mix well. Add the remaining powdered sugar, small amounts at a time, until the desired consistency is reached and the frosting is smooth.
  14. Now, you can assemble the cake. Place 1 cake layer on a plate or working surface lined with parchment, and pipe a ring of frosting around the outside of the top of the cake, creating a barrier to fill with the curd.
  15. Spread the curd over the top of the first layer and top with another layer of cake.
  16. Repeat this process, finishing with the third layer of cake.
  17. Frost the sides, garnish with a sprinkle of poppy seeds, serve, and enjoy!
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 1,290
Total Fat 61.4 g
Saturated Fat 30.0 g
Trans Fat 1.3 g
Cholesterol 253.5 mg
Total Carbohydrates 180.6 g
Dietary Fiber 1.5 g
Total Sugars 152.2 g
Sodium 448.9 mg
Protein 10.3 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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