Make a gorgeous lemon poppy seed cake with this easy recipe.  The lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting really takes this moist layer cake to another level!  Family and friends will love this dessert for a birthday party or wedding.

Prep Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
slice of lemon poppy seed cake with the cake
Cakes

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

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I’ve always loved lemon poppy seed muffins, so I thought it would be fun to make a cake with the same delicious flavor combination.  Sit down and have a slice of lemon poppy seed cake–made from scratch!

slice of lemon poppy seed cake with a fork

Can I make lemon poppy seed cake ahead of time?

  • Yes, you can make the cake ahead of time.
  • Bake and decorate the cake and store in an airtight cake carrier.
  • If you live in a hot climate, refrigerate the cake.

holding a forkful of lemon poppy seed cake

Can I freeze lemon poppy seed cake?

  • Yes, you can freeze lemon poppy seed cake.
  • Freezing the Undecorated Cakes: let the baked cake layers cool completely.  Wrap them in plastic wrap, then a layer of foil.  Seal in a zip-top freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • Freezing the Decorated Cake: cut in slices for ease, then seal them in a zip-top freezer bag or airtight container.  Freeze for up to 1 month.

slice of lemon poppy seed cake on a plate

How to Make Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Gather the ingredients for the cake.  You’ll need all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, unsalted butter, caster sugar, vanilla extract, eggs, buttermilk, lemon juice, lemon zest, and poppy seeds.

ingredients for lemon poppy seed cake

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.

sifting flour and dry ingredients into a bowl

Cream the butter and sugar together until lightened in color, about 3 minutes.

creamed butter and sugar in a bowl

Beat in the eggs one at a time, so the batter doesn’t spit, then add the vanilla and beat until smooth and fluffy.

adding vanilla and eggs to creamed butter and sugar

Fold in the lemon zest and poppy seeds, then mix in the sifted dry ingredients.

mixing lemon poppy seed cake batter with a spatula

Pour in the buttermilk and lemon juice and stir until smooth and no lumps of flour remain.  Be careful not to over mix, though!

lemon poppy seed cake batter in a bowl

Divide the batter among three 6-inch cake pans that have been buttered and lined with parchment paper.  I also recommend using cake strips to get a higher rise, flat tops, and fluffier cakes.

three cake pans filled with cake batter

Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then flip them out and peel off the parchment paper.  Let them cool completely on the wire racks, about 30 minutes.

baked lemon poppy seed cakes on a cooling rack

How to Make Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream

Gather the ingredients for the buttercream: unsalted butter, cream cheese, icing sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract.

ingredients for lemon cream cheese buttercream

Beat the butter and cream cheese together with a hand mixer until smooth and blended.

beating butter and cream cheese in a bowl

Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula, then sift in the icing sugar and add the lemon juice.  Leave out the vanilla for a stronger lemon flavor.  Beat with a hand mixer until really smooth and fluffy.

lemon cream cheese buttercream in a bowl

How to Decorate Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Sandwich the cakes with the lemon cream cheese buttercream.

spreading icing between cake layers

Crumb coat the cake by spreading on a layer of icing, then scraping most of it off.  Chill the cake for 30 minutes to firm up the icing.

crumb coated lemon poppy seed cake

Ice the cake with the remaining frosting, smoothing the sides with an angled spatula.  Chill for 20 minutes, then smooth the sides again.  Pipe rosettes of buttercream on top of the cake and decorate with small lemon slices.

lemon poppy seed cake on a cake stand

Cut in slices and serve with tea for a lovely afternoon snack.

person holding a fork above lemon poppy seed cake

Pro Tips for Making Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

  • Measure the solid ingredients with a kitchen scale.  It’s much more accurate than using measuring cups.
  • Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature.  This ensures a beautifully smooth batter.
  • Sift the dry ingredients for a lighter-textured cake.
  • Be careful not to overmix the batter once you add the flour, or the cakes will be tough.
  • Bake the cakes with cake strips around the pans.  The strips make the cakes have flat tops, fluffy interiors, and a higher rise.
  • Don’t overbake the cakes, or they will be dry.
  • Chill the cake or icing if they are melting.

angled spatulas, cake strips, cake pans, and electric mixer

Our Go-To Kitchen Tools for Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Relax and enjoy a slice of homemade cake.

slice of sour cream chocolate cake on a plate slice of red velvet cake with a fork holding a plate of coffee and walnut cake with a fork

The pleasure of a 5-star review for this lemon poppy seed cake would be greatly appreciated.

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slice of lemon poppy seed cake with the cake

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake


  • Author: Emma
  • Prep Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes
  • Yield: 10 slices 1x

Description

Make a gorgeous lemon poppy seed cake with this easy recipe.  The lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting really takes this moist layer cake to another level!  Family and friends will love this dessert for a birthday party or wedding.


Scale

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (180g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (115g)
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons caster sugar (175g)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup full fat buttermilk, at room temperature (118 ml)
  • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons lemon juice (40 ml)
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest

For the Frosting

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened (230g)
  • 4 ounces full fat brick style cream cheese, softened (113g)
  • 4 cups icing sugar (480g)
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (45 ml)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

Instructions

Preparing the Ingredients & Pans (30 minutes)

  1. Measure out all the ingredients.  It’s always best to use a kitchen scale to measure solid ingredients.  If you must use cups to measure the flour and sugar, spoon them into the cups and sweep off the excess with a flat knife.  Do not pack the ingredients into the measuring cup.
  2. Make sure that all the ingredients are at room temperature.  This is important!  Let the buttermilk sit out for 30 minutes or until room temperature.  Warm up the eggs by soaking them in hot tap water for 10 minutes.  Soften the butter by cutting it in cubes and microwaving it in 5-second intervals, smashing the butter with a spoon between each interval.
  3. Get the pans ready.  Lightly butter three 6-inch cake pans that are 2 inches deep.  Line the bases of the pans with parchment paper.
  4. Prepare the cake strips.  Cinch a cake strip around each cake pan, then remove them from the pans and soak them in cold water for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 F.  The oven should be preheated before you start baking the cake, or you might forget about it.

Making the Cake (20 minutes + 20 minutes baking + 35 minutes cooling)

  1. Sift dry ingredients.  Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl.  Set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar.  Cream the softened butter and caster sugar with a handheld electric mixer until smooth and noticeably lightened in color, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.  Add the vanilla extract and beat until smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute.
  4. Finish the batter.  Fold in the lemon zest and poppy seeds with a flexible spatula, then gently mix in the sifted flour mixture.  Carefully stir in the buttermilk and lemon juice and mix until well blended.
  5. Install the cake strips.  Remove the cake strips from the cold water and gently squeeze them to remove the excess water.  (The strips should be really wet, but not dripping.  Don’t wring them out.) Cinch the strips around each prepared pan.
  6. Divide the batter.  Equally divide the batter among the three pans, using the spatula to smooth the surface of the batter.
  7. Bake.  Bake the cakes at 350 F for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then flip the cakes onto wire racks and peel off the parchment paper.  Let the cakes cool completely on the racks, about 30 minutes.

Making the Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream (10 minutes)

  1. Cream.  Beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes.  Scrape down the sides and base of the bowl with a flexible spatula.
  2. Finish the icing.  Sift the icing sugar into the bowl and add the lemon juice and vanilla extract.  (Omit the vanilla for a stronger lemon flavor.)  Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and beat until smooth and fluffy.  Scrape down the bowl as needed.
  3. Make any adjustments.  If the icing is too thick, add additional lemon juice.  If the icing is too thin, add more sifted icing sugar.  The icing should be soft and spreadable, but still hold its shape when piped.

Decorating the Cake (40 minutes + 50 minutes chilling)

  1. Layer the cakes.  Place one of the cooled cake layers bottom side up on a cake base and put the base on a cake turntable.  Spread a liberal amount of icing on top of the cake, then repeat with the other two layers, ending with a layer of icing on top.
  2. Crumb coat the sides.  Spread icing on the sides of the cake with an angled spatula, filling in gaps with additional icing.  Scrape off most of the icing from the sides and top of the cake with the angled spatula or a bench scraper.  Chill the crumb coated cake for 30 minutes.
  3. Ice the cake.  Spread a layer of icing over the sides and top of the chilled cake, smoothing it with the angled spatula and/or the bench scraper.  Fill in any air pockets or gaps with additional icing and smooth it again.  Chill the cake for 20 minutes.
  4. Smooth the finish.  Do any small touch ups to the icing and finish smoothing the icing with the angled spatula.
  5. Decorate.  Place the remaining buttercream in a piping bag fitted with an open star tip, such as the Wilton 1M or the Ateco 824.  Pipe rosettes of buttercream around the top of the cake and sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired.  Place a small lemon wedge on each rosette.
  6. Serve.  Chill the cake until ready to serve, then cut in slices with a smooth-bladed knife.  Store leftover cake in an airtight cake carrier to keep it moist and refrigerate.

Notes

  • Make your own cake base.  Cut a circular piece of sturdy cardboard a little larger than the cake and cover it with aluminum foil.
  • Don’t have a cake turntable to use for the decorating?  Use the turntable from your microwave instead.  Place the plate and its base on a kitchen towel for stability.
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: lemon poppy seed cake with frosting, lemon poppy seed cake with cream cheese frosting

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