Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is soft, moist, simple to make and loaded with fresh lemon flavor. The lemon buttercream had me licking the spatula, the bowl, the piping bag…

Our love of poppy seed desserts is obvious, from our Poppy Seed Cake to Mom’s Poppy Seed Roll. And the fresh flavor of lemon really amps up desserts, like these lemon-glazed blueberry muffins. The combination of poppy seeds and lemon is pure bliss.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Slice cut out

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Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Recipe:

Lemon cakes are challenging because they tend to be dry. We made cake after cake until we landed on this combination which produced a moist cake with a soft crumb studded with poppy seeds and subtle and lovely lemon flavor. The softened butter and buttermilk were the key to adding moisture and great flavor to the cake.

Decorated top of Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Recipe

Can I Substitute the Fresh Lemon Juice?

Fresh lemon juice is critical in this lemon cake and all you need is a total of 2 large lemons for the cake and frosting. Using both the zest and the juice will give you the best lemon flavor. Lemon juice from concentrate just won’t be the same. We haven’t tried lime but it’s worth experimenting for a lime flavored cake.

Ingredients for lemon cake with flour, eggs, buttermilk, butter, sugar, poppy seeds and fresh lemon

Can I Make this Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Ahead?

This Lemon Poppy Seed Cake refrigerates well and we actually prefer it chilled for an hour or so for easier slicing. The little bit of cream cheese in the frosting keeps it from firming up too much in the fridge so you can serve it chilled or at room temperature.

How to Store A Cake:

  • Plain cake layers – cool completely to room temperature then wrap fully in several layers of plastic wrap and keep at room temperature up to 2 days, refrigerate up to 5 days, or freeze up to 3 months.
  • Frosted cakes – cover with a cake keeper (here’s ours) or use a large overturned bowl or even pot (just be sure it has enough clearance for the width and height of the cake. Refrigerate cakes covered to keep them from drying out or absorbing refrigerator odors.
  • Sliced Cake – once a cake has been cut, it starts to lose moisture. To keep it fresh, lay a piece of plastic wrap against the cut side then cover as you would whole frosted cakes (see above).

Slice of lemon cake on a plate

How to Make Lemon Buttercream:

The secret to the best lemon buttercream frosting is adding just a little bit of softened cream cheese. It balances the flavor, enhances the lemon and makes the texture luxuriously whipped, velvety smooth and perfect for piping onto cakes. A pop of fresh lemon flavor cuts the sweetness and makes it irresistible. This lemon frosting couldn’t get any easier:

  1. Cream butter then beat in cream cheese until smooth
  2. Add powdered sugar, vanilla and fresh lemon juice
  3. Beat 5 minutes on high speed until whipped and fluffy

Step by step photos of how to make lemon buttercream

Pro Cake Baking Tips:

  1. Have all of your moist ingredients at room temperature. Butter, eggs, lemons and buttermilk should be at room temperature before using. Room temperature ingredients incorporate much easier for an even-textured batter and improved rise. When to take ingredients out? Timing depends on your room temperature so take ingredients out at least 1 hour before or 2 hours before to be sure.
  2. Read through the recipe before starting so you know what tools are needed for a recipe and aren’t frantically looking for that whisk when you need it.
  3. Pre-measure everything so it’s ready to add as you follow the recipe.
  4. Measure ingredients correctly – use the correct measuring cups and spoons for wet or dry ingredients. The way you fill matters, i.e. for flour, use the spoon and scrape method instead of plunging your measuring cup into a bin which can give you 25% more flour, resulting in a dense cake.
  5. Keep the oven door closed, opening it only to test for doneness at the end.

side profile of assembled lemon poppy seed naked cake

More Lip-Smacking Good Lemon Desserts:

Watch Natasha Make Lemon Poppy Seed Cake:

This lemon poppy seed cake recipe is simple to make and satisfies that craving for tangy sweetness and poppy seeds. I hope this becomes a new favorite for you!

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Recipe

4.77 from 77 votes
Author: Natasha of NatashasKitchen.com
Lemon Poppy seed cake with a cut slice of cake
Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is soft, moist, easy to make and has wonderful fresh lemon flavor. The whipped Lemon Buttercream Frosting is incredible!
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Cake Cooling: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients 

Servings: 14 slices

For the Lemon Poppy Seed Cake:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, (12 Tbsp), softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp poppy seeds, sifted to remove any debris
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest, (from 2 large lemons)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature

For the Lemon Buttercream Frosting:

Instructions

How to Make Lemon Poppy Seed Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350˚F with a rack in the center of the oven. Butter the sides and base of two 9" cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a ring parchment paper.
  • In a large mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer, cream together 12 Tbsp softened butter and 1 cup sugar for 2 minutes on high speed. Add eggs one at a time mixing just until incorporated.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, 2 1/2 tsp baking powder and 2 Tbsp poppy seeds. Add half of the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated.
  • Add 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 Tbsp lemon zest and 1 tsp vanilla, mixing just to combine. With mixer on low speed, add 1/2 cup buttermilk then mix in remaining half of the flour mixture, mixing until no lumps remain. Divide between 2 prepared pans and spread evenly. 
  • Bake at 350˚F for 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cake cook in pans 10 minutes then transfer to wire racks, remove backing and and cool to room temperature.

To Assemble and Frost the Cake:

  • Once completely cooled, place the first cake layer on a cake platter and spread a generous 1/3 of the buttercream frosting over the top. Place the second layer of the top (flat-side-up) and spread 1/3 of the frosting over the top and sides.
  • Sprinkle the edges of the cake with poppy seeds if desired. Pipe remaining 1/3 of the frosting as desired over the top and place a slice of fresh lemon over each puff of frosting.

How to Make Lemon Buttercream Frosting:

  • In a large mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer, beat 1 cup butter on high speed until smooth and creamy (2 min). Add 4 oz softened cream cheese and beat until completely smooth. Add 4 cups powdered sugar, 3 Tbsp lemon juice and 1 tsp vanilla and beat on high speed until whipped and fluffy (5 min).

Nutrition Per Serving

514kcal Calories64g Carbs4g Protein27g Fat16g Saturated Fat105mg Cholesterol53mg Sodium164mg Potassium48g Sugar885IU Vitamin A2.5mg Vitamin C89mg Calcium1.2mg Iron
Nutrition Facts
Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Recipe
Amount per Serving
Calories
514
% Daily Value*
Fat
 
27
g
42
%
Saturated Fat
 
16
g
100
%
Cholesterol
 
105
mg
35
%
Sodium
 
53
mg
2
%
Potassium
 
164
mg
5
%
Carbohydrates
 
64
g
21
%
Sugar
 
48
g
53
%
Protein
 
4
g
8
%
Vitamin A
 
885
IU
18
%
Vitamin C
 
2.5
mg
3
%
Calcium
 
89
mg
9
%
Iron
 
1.2
mg
7
%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: lemon poppy seed cake
Skill Level: Easy/Medium
Cost to Make: $$
Calories: 514
Natasha's Kitchen Cookbook

If you make this recipe, I’d love to see pics of your creations on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter! Hashtag them #natashaskitchen

The lemon cake base was adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction lemon cake. Sally is an incredibly talented baker and great resource on all things baking!

Must-Try Poppy Seed Recipes:

Poppy seed cake sliced to show center of the cake

Natasha Kravchuk

Welcome to my kitchen! I am Natasha, the creator behind Natasha's Kitchen (established in 2009), and I share family-friendly, authentic recipes. I am a New York Times Best-Selling cookbook author and a trusted video personality in the culinary world. My husband, Vadim, and I run this blog together, ensuring every recipe we share is thoroughly tested and approved. Our mission is to provide you with delicious, reliable recipes you can count on. Thanks for stopping by! I am so happy you are here.

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Comments

  • Susie Coker
    May 15, 2024

    Hi Natasha,

    I would love to make this in a 13 x 9 for a picnic. Could you help with baking times and tips for that?
    Thanks so much. You have made me a better cook and baker.
    Sincerely, Susie

    Reply

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