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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


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.



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


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 pans that are 2 inches deep.  Line the bases of the pans with parchment paper.
  4. Prepare the cake strips.  Cinch a strip around each 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, or you might forget about it.

Making the Batter (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 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 at 350 F for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let them cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then flip 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 (40 minutes + 50 minutes chilling)

  1. Layer the cakes.  Place one of the cooled layers bottom side up on a cardboard base and put the base on a 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 with an angled spatula, filling in gaps with additional icing.  Scrape off most of the icing from the sides and top with the angled spatula or a bench scraper.  Chill 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 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 and sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired.  Place a small lemon wedge on each rosette.
  6. Serve.  Chill until ready to serve, then cut in slices with a smooth-bladed knife.  Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container to keep it moist.


  • 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.
  • Bake the layers with cake strips around the pans.  The strips make the layers have flat tops, fluffy interiors, and a higher rise.
  • Make your own base.  Cut a circular piece of sturdy cardboard a little larger than the cake and cover it with aluminum foil.
  • Don't have a 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