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Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This easy recipe for a made from scratch layered Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting yields a delicious, tender and moist lemon cake.

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A layered Lemon Poppy Seed Cake frosted with a lemon infused Cream Cheese Frosting.

This lemon flavoured cake hits all the musts, it's moist, tender, perfectly lemony and sweet but not overly so. The cake is frosted with a luscious lemon-infused cream cheese frosting which tastes amazing with this cake and makes this dessert worthy of special occasions.

A close-up of a lemon flavoured cake with cream cheese frosting.

How to Make a Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

The cake portion of this recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe for this lemon cake. She layers her cake with lemon curd so the cake portion itself doesn't have a lot of lemon flavour.

In order to make the lemon flavour stand out, I added lemon juice and more zest to the cake batter. This really gives the cake an extra pop of fresh lemon flavour.

This homemade Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is simple to make and requires basic baking ingredients.

Ingredients Overview:

  • All-purpose flour
  • Baking powder, baking soda and salt
  • Poppy seeds. They are used in this recipe to give the cake a bit of texture, but they are not necessary if you don't like them or don't have any at home.
  • Granulated sugar
  • Eggs 
  • Unsalted butter
  • Buttermilk. See the notes in the recipe card below for how to make a homemade buttermilk substitute.
  • Sour cream. I recommend full-fat.
  • Lemons. You will need both fresh lemon juice and zest for the cake and frosting. Four lemons should yield enough juice and zest for both the cake and frosting.
  • Vanilla extract

To make the lemony cream cheese frosting you'll need these ingredients:

  • Cream cheese. You'll need full-fat, brick style cream cheese for this frosting.
  • Unsalted butter
  • Confectioners’ (icing) sugar
  • Cream or milk. Only a touch of either is needed.
  • Vanilla extract
  • Fresh lemon juice and zest.

To help speed up the cake making time, you could make the cake layers a day ahead of making the frosting and serving the cake.

Steps Overview for the Cake Portion:

  1. Preheat your oven and place an oven rack in the middle of your oven. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans, line them with parchment rounds and dust with flour the bottom and sides of pans. See recipe notes if using 9-by-2 inch cake pans.
  2. Into a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk in the poppy seeds and set aside.
  3. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes until creamy.
  4. Gradually add the granulated sugar, and beat until butter is pale and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula a couple of times. 
  5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and buttermilk. 
  7. Slowly add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the buttermilk and sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat until just combined. Add the lemon juice, vanilla and lemon zest and beat until mixed in.
  8. Divide the batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Start checking at 30 minutes to avoid over-baking. 
  9. Transfer the cake pans to wire racks to cool for approximately 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan and turn out the cake layers onto the racks to cool completely.

For the Frosting:

  1. Using your mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until smooth.
  2. Add the cream or milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Beat for another minute then add one cup of confectioner sugar at a time. Add the lemon zest and beat until incorporated.

To Assemble and Frost the Cake:

  1. Use a serrated knife to trim the top off the first cake layer to create a flat surface. Place that layer (trimmed side down) on your cake stand and evenly spread the top with cream cheese frosting.
  2. Top the first layer with the second and spread the cream cheese frosting on the top and sides of the cake. 
  3. Keep frosted cake refrigerated. Remove the cake from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving.
Slice of a layered Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

How to Store

Store any leftover frosted lemon cake covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

If making ahead, you can freeze the cooled cake layers by wrapping each layer in plastic wrap and storing in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to three months. Cake layers should be thawed in the refrigerator and brought to room temperature before frosting.

How to Serve

Though the cake looks pretty with frosting alone, you can garnish it with fresh or candied lemon slices or fresh berries. A few edible flowers would also be lovely.

Slice of lemon cake on dish.

I hope your family and friends will enjoy this fabulous Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting as much as mine did!

More Delicious Lemony Baked Goods

A close-up of a lemon flavoured cake with cream cheese frosting

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This easy recipe for a made from scratch layered Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting yields a delicious, tender and moist lemon cake. This cake is a fabulous way to end a special meal!
4.53 from 21 votes
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 32 mins
Total Time 1 hr 2 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 12
Calories 710 kcal

Ingredients
  

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (more for cake pans) softened to room temperature
  • ¾ cup buttermilk See notes on how to make your own
  • ½ cup sour cream full-fat
  • 5 tablespoons lemon juice from 2 medium sized lemons
  • 1-½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons lemon zest from 3 medium sized lemons

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 250 grams full-fat cream cheese 1 package, softened
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter softened
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream, half and half or milk
  • 1 tablespoons lemon juice freshly squeezed
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest

Instructions
 

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake:

  • Place an oven rack in the middle of your oven and preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans; line with parchment rounds, and butter the parchment and sides of pan. Dust with flour, tapping out excess.
  • Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Whisk in the poppy seeds. Set aside.
  • Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes until creamy.
  • Gradually add the granulated sugar, and beat until butter is pale and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula a couple of times.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and buttermilk.
  • Slowly add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the buttermilk and sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat until just combined. Mix in lemon juice, vanilla and lemon zest.
  • Divide the batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Start checking at 30 minutes to avoid over-baking.
  • Transfer the cake pans to wire racks to cool for approximately 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges and turn out cakes onto racks to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • In the bowl of your mixer, on medium-high speed, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth.
  • Add the cream or milk,  lemon juice, and vanilla extract.  Beat for 1 more minute then add one cup of confectioner sugar at a time until you have the desired consistency (I used 4 cups). Add the lemon zest and beat until incorporated.

Assembling and frosting the cake:

  • Using a serrated knife, trim the top off the first cake layer to create a flat surface. Place that layer (trimmed side down) on your cake stand and evenly spread the top with cream cheese frosting. Top the first layer with the second and spread the cream cheese frosting on the top and sides of the cake.
  • Keep frosted cake refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving.

Notes

  1. I used two 8x2 inch pans for this cake, the batter filled the pans close to the top but it did not overflow when baking, if you prefer you could make this in three 8x2 pans which will yield thinner layers and take less time to bake. I recommend checking at 22 minutes and add time if needed. If using two 9x2 pans the baking time will be approximately 28 minutes, I recommend you checking on it at 25 minutes if you choose to do so. You can always add a couple minutes if needed. 
  2. This cake can be baked a day ahead of time and frosted on the day of serving. Once frosted keep the cake refrigerated.
  3. When making layered cakes, I always like to use my kitchen scale to weigh the filled pans so that I know I have the same amount of batter in each. Using this technique helps you get even layers. 
  4. One medium sized lemon will yield approximately 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.
  5. One medium sized lemon will yield approximately 1 tablespoon of lemon zest.
  6. The typical measurement to make your own buttermilk substitute at home is to add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a liquid measuring glass and to fill the glass with milk until you reach 1 cup. Since this recipe calls for 3/4 cup buttermilk, I measured 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and filled my cup with milk until it reached 3/4 cup. Stir the milk and lemon juice (or vinegar) and let it sit for 5 minutes before using in the recipe. Please note you need milk with at least 1% milk fat to make your own buttermilk substitute.

Nutrition

Calories: 710kcalCarbohydrates: 101gProtein: 8gFat: 32gSaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 137mgSodium: 297mgPotassium: 253mgFiber: 2gSugar: 75gVitamin A: 1054IUVitamin C: 6mgCalcium: 147mgIron: 2mg
Keyword Lemon Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, Lemon Poppy Seed Cake, Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Tried this recipe? Have any questions, comments or suggestions? Leave a comment below!Mention @sweetandsavourypursuits or tag #sweetandsavourypursuits!

This post was originally published in April 2017. It has been updated to include more details. The recipe remains unchanged.

Recipe Rating




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Carli

Wednesday 8th of July 2020

My icing sugar was too runny.

Sweet and Savoury Pursuits

Wednesday 15th of July 2020

Hi Carli, sorry to hear your frosting was runny. It could happen especially if it was a particularly hot day and hot in your kitchen. Next time try placing the frosting in the refrigerator for a bit, it will stiffen up. You'll want to keep an eye on it though so it doesn't get too stiff and become difficult to spread. If you don't have time to refrigerate the frosting, you can extra powdered sugar until you've reached a spreadable consistency.

Roslia santamaria

Friday 22nd of March 2019

This looks super tasty!! I can’t wait to give it a try! It’s all delicious ingredients :)

Sweet and Savoury Pursuits

Friday 22nd of March 2019

Thank you! It's one of my favourites on the blog! Don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about making it. Take care!

Trina Lowry

Wednesday 11th of April 2018

I made this for my daughter's wedding cake and everyone Loved it! Great recipe.

Sweet and Savoury Pursuits

Friday 13th of April 2018

That's wonderful, so happy to hear that! Thanks so much for leaving a comment to let me know.

Lauren

Friday 27th of October 2017

Hi just wondering about the sour cream. It’s on the ingridents list but not in the step by step instructions.

Sweet and Savoury Pursuits

Friday 27th of October 2017

Hi Lauren,

Thanks so much for bringing that to my attention, I've made the correction to the directions.

Alisa_ewert

Monday 8th of May 2017

Learning new recipes is not easy it takes time to achieve that perfect level but if you have good guide everything is possible. Thank You

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