Lemon Poppyseed Cake

Lemon Poppyseed Cake. A tender layer cake recipe brightened with lemon juice, lemon zest and poppy seeds, frosted with a tangy sweet lemon cream cheese frosting.

The weather here has been up, down and everywhere in between. Just when it feels like the heavy cast of winter is lifting, it comes back with gusto. But the occasional warm day brings sunshine, a break to the grey monotony, and a refreshing reminder… that spring is coming!

This Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is everything you want in a spring dessert. Fresh lemon awakens the senses while the soft yellow hue builds naturally from a hefty dose of lemon zest. The influx of poppy seeds not only gives the cake layers a beautiful speckled appearance, but a slightly nutty flavor that only poppy seeds can deliver. A few extra seeds sprinkled on top creates a quick and easy crescent backdrop for our edible flowers. While I chose to brighten the muted yellows with vibrant mini sun daisies, the color tones of this cake could easily sway towards pastels suited for Easter. As is, it would look beautiful next to a large vase of yellow tulips.

And then comes the cream cheese frosting. Oh my gosh, it’s good. This is my favorite lemon cream cheese buttercream from my lemon blueberry cake, but with a few tweaks. I changed up the ratio of cream cheese to butter to allow this frosting to have a bit more body than the lemon blueberry cake. While this reduces the tang a tad because there’s less cream cheese, the overall taste is still delicious and the resulting frosting is a little stiffer and easier to decorate with. Still, by no means is this a “decorator’s frosting”– it’s not overly sweet nor is it a good candidate intricate piping work. For best results, be sure to use a block-style cream cheese, like Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Any cream cheese that comes in a tub will be too soft and you’ll have more of a glaze than a frosting. If you prefer a tangier lemon frosting, revert back to this cream cheese frosting recipe instead.


Lemon Poppyseed Cake

★ ★ ★ ★

4 from 3 reviews

A tender layer cake recipe brightened with lemon juice, lemon zest and poppy seeds, frosted with a tangy sweet lemon cream cheese frosting.

  • Author: Carrie Sellman
  • Yield: One 8" Round Cake (3 layers)
  • Skill Level: ✽ ✽ ✽


For the Lemon Poppy Seed Cake:

  • 3 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled (336g)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons organic lemon zest, about 3-4 lemons
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons poppy seeds

For the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 12 ounces cream cheese, block style
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, slightly softened but still cold
  • 4 ounces salted butter, slightly softened but still cold
  • 4-6 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon organic lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the Assembly:

  • Lemon slices
  • Poppy Seeds
  • Edible flowers (optional)


Make the Lemon Poppy Seed Cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter and lightly flour three 8″ round pans. Line with parchment paper circles.
  2. Whisk together 3 cups cake flour, baking powder and salt. Add lemon zest and whisk again. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, combine milk and lemon juice. Stir to combine and set aside for milk to curdle. This is similar to making homemade buttermilk.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high using the paddle attachment. Beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down bowl.
  5. With the mixer on low, add eggs one at a time. Mix well after each egg.
  6. Add vanilla extract. Mix to combine.
  7. Add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Do not over mix.
  8. Add poppy seeds and mix to combine. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and the mixer blade. Batter will be thick and fluffy.
  9. Divide batter evenly between the three 8″ round pans. Smooth tops with rubber spatula or knife to evenly distribute batter in the pan.
  10. Bake for 25-27 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
  11. Let cool in pans for 10 to 15 minutes, then remove to wire rack to finish cooling.

Make the Cream Cheese Frosting:

  1. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and cream cheese until smooth.
  2. Add vanilla, lemon zest and juice and mix until combined.
  3. Gradually add confectioners sugar, adjusting amount, until desired sweetness is reached. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Whip on medium until smooth and slightly fluffy. Overmixing will result in a thinner frosting because the butter and cream cheese will be too warm and soft.

Assemble the Cake:

  1. Place one layer of cake onto serving plate or cake stand and top with about one cup of lemon cream cheese frosting. Repeat with second cake layer, more frosting and then last layer of cake. Crumb coat and frost cake with remaining frosting.
  2. If desired, create soft swirls in the frosting by lightly placing the tip of an offset spatula against the frosting while spinning the turntable. Your spatula will naturally move up the side of the cake, leaving a imprinted swirl.
  3. Decorate with lemon slices, a sprinkle of poppy seeds and edible flowers, if desired.
  4. Store in refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.


  • Be careful not to pack flour into the measuring cups. Too much flour can result is a heavy and overly dense cake. 3 cups of cake flour is 336g when properly measured. If you do not have a scale, spooning flour into the measuring cup and then leveling off the excess is the next best way to measure.
  • When finished mixing the cake batter, be sure to scrape down the mixer blade to grab all the lemon zest that has accumulated. Fold back into the cake batter before diving into pans.
  • You may bake this as two full-sized 8″ round cake layers. Alternatively, I baked it as three intentionally shorter 8″ round layers – this saves time and effort because the shorter layers do not need to be torted. The resulting layers are approximately 1.25 inches tall. If only using two pans, be sure to only fill them 2/3 of the way full to prevent overflowing.
  • I do not recommend substituting 2% or skim milk in the cake batter. This recipe needs the fat from the whole milk.
  • If frosting is too thin after whipping, refrigerate for 30 minutes before assembling cake. The chilled frosting will have a thicker consistency. For an even thicker consistency, add additional confectioners’ sugar as desired.
  • I used edible micro sun daisies for the decoration. Add the flowers just before serving as they will wilt over time, especially when refrigerated.

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