Light and Fluffy Lemon Poppy Seed Cake – Updated

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake – Tender and light lemon poppy seed cake layers with lemon cream cheese frosting and fresh raspberries.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

This Lemon Poppy Seed Cake has been a favorite for years, but as I worked on my cookbook, I tweaked a few things to make it even better! You’ll see a similar recipe of this cake in my book with the Grapefruit Poppy Seed Cake. 

Why did I make changes? 

You’ll see in the pictures that this cake is meant to be light and fluffy in texture. However, as I talked to many of you, I learned that you struggled to get the same texture I was getting. So, to make it a bit easier, I changed up the creaming method and a few ingredients. 

How to Make Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

To make this cake light in color but incredibly moist, you’ll be using egg whites, lemon juice and some sour cream. Using all egg whites ensures we get a lovely white color, but we need to make sure we have enough fat in the cake to create and retain moisture. That’s where the sour cream comes in. One of the updates I made was reducing the sour cream, as to make sure the texture doesn’t get too dense for you. 

Ingredients You Need for Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

  • Cake flour
  • Baking powder
  • Salt
  • Poppy seeds
  • Lemon zest 
  • Lemon juice
  • Unsalted butter
  • Granulated sugar
  • Egg whites
  • Vanilla extract
  • Sour cream

One of the most important elements to the cake making process, to ensure you get light and fluffy cake layers, is to make sure you beat the butter, sugar and eggs long enough. We want the batter at this point to look light and fluffy and to be SUPER smooth. 

To obtain a smooth texture, it’s a MUST to use ROOM TEMPERATURE ingredients. Otherwise, these ingredients won’t mix evenly, nor will they be properly absorbed by the dry ingredients – which means: your cake won’t rise well. 

What Flavors Can I Pair with Lemon Poppy Seed?

I also love that the possible flavor combinations in this cake are so versatile. Instead of raspberries, you could use blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, etc. You could also use a compote filling or even preserves.

For this cake, I simply cut raspberries in half and placed them into the buttercream.

Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream

For this delicious Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream, make sure to have the following ingredients on hand:

  • Unsalted butter
  • Powdered sugar
  • Cream cheese
  • Lemon extract
  • Vanilla extract

With the cream cheese, this buttercream is slightly softer, so I don’t recommend piping with it.

More Lemon Cakes You’ll Love

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

4.69 from 22 votes
Lemon poppy seed cake layers with lemon cream cheese frosting and fresh raspberries.
Prep Time 1 hr 30 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 50 mins

Ingredients
 

FOR THE CAKE

  • 3 cups (345 g) cake flour
  • 2 tsp (8 g) baking powder
  • 1 tsp (6 g) salt
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 3 tbsp (27 g) poppy seeds, 27 g, soaked in water for about an hour before hand*
  • 1 cup (226 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups (350 g) granulated sugar
  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (230 g) lemon juice
  • ½ cup (120 g) sour cream, at room temperature

FOR THE BUTTERCREAM

  • 6 cups (750 g) powdered sugar, measured and then sifted
  • 6 ounces cream cheese slightly cold
  • 1 1/2 cups (339 g) unsalted butter slightly cold
  • 1 tsp (4.2 g) pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp (4.2 g) lemon extract
  • *This buttercream recipe makes enough to fill and cover your cake. If you want to add additional piping you’ll want to make an extra ½ batch.
  • Filling and garnish: fresh raspberries, split in half about one small carton,

Instructions
 

FOR THE CAKE

  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Spray three 8-inch or four 6-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray, line the bottom with parchment paper and spray again. Set aside.
  • In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, lemon zest, salt, and poppy seeds. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar for two minutes on medium-high speed. You should notice the color get lighter and the texture should be smooth.
  • Scrape down the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg whites on medium speed, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl between addition. Continue to beat the mixture on medium-high speed for an addition 2 to 3 minutes. At this point, you're again looking for the batter to be lighter in color and larger in volume.
  • With the mixer on low speed, add ⅓ of the flour mixture, followed by ½ cup of the lemon juice. Repeat the additions, ⅓ flour mixture, ½ cup juice and the final ⅓ flour mixture. Only mix until the flour mixture is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix again for another 20 to 30 seconds on low.
  • Gently fold in the sour cream.
  • Evenly divide the batter between each pan (about 16 ounces of cake batter into each of the three 8-inch cake pans or 12 ounces in each of the 6-inch pans) and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs on it. Let cool in the pans for about 15 minutes and then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. (Tip: spray your wire cooling racks with nonstick spray).

FOR THE BUTTERCREAM

  • In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  • Gradually add in the sifted powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  • Continue to beat until very fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the vanilla and lemon extract extract and beat well.
  • Before using on your cake, mix the frosting by hand with a wooden spoon to push out the air pockets.

ASSEMBLY

  • Place one cake layer, bottom side down, on a cake plate or cardboard cake board. Spread about 1 cup of frosting across the top of the cake layer. Make sure to get eye level with the cake to ensure the frosting is even. Cover with fresh raspberries.
  • Place the next cake layer on top of the raspberries. Gently spread about 1 cup of the lemon cream cheese frosting over it.
  • Repeat steps one and two for the second cake layer. 
  • Place the final cake layer, top side down, on top. Give the cake a quick crumb coat and chill for 10 to 15 minutes in the freezer before frosting the entire cake.

Notes

*Poppy seeds absorb moisture. Make sure to soak the seeds to help keep the cake from becoming dry.
Cuisine Cake
Course Dessert
Keyword chocolate cream cheese frosting, cream cheese buttercream, Lemon, Lemon Cake, Lemon Poppy Seed, Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Courtney Rich

I’m a self-taught baker, obsessed with cake.

I long ago ditched box mixes in pursuit of melt-in-your-mouth, to-die-for flavor combinations, fillings and textures. I believe cake must be decadent, life-changing and worthy of celebration! And I believe anyone should be able to bake that kind of cake – and I’m here to teach you just that!

Get my free cake decorating guide
Everything you need to know about decorating a cake like a pro!

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Recipe Rating




Comments

  1. Hi there. This is gorgeous. May I ask what colours you used to get that effect with the icing?
    Thanks so much, Louise

    1. It can sit out for about 4-5 hours indoors. Anything longer than that, I’d cover it completely and refrigerate it.

    1. Never mind, I just tried it and they turned out beautiful! I filled the cups up half way and baked them for 15-17 minutes.

    1. Yes, I’ve had another baker try them as cupcakes and they worked great. Fill the cups half way and bake for about 15 to 17 minutes.

  2. Hello! I really want to make this cake for a baby shower for one of my best friends this weekend but I am wondering if this will be enough cake. There will be about 20-25 people, do you think this is enough cake for everyone? Thanks!

    1. How did it go? Sounds like I might be too late. The cake can feed about 20-22 people if you do small slices.

  3. Hi Courtney! I know this is an old recipe but I’m looking up ideas for Easter dessert. Do you think it would be ok to skip the poppy seeds? We have kids who won’t touch seeds. Would it affect the texture to leave them out, and if so, what should I replace them with? Thanks!!

  4. I was just wondering if I can freeze the cakes ahead of time. I wasn’t sure with this cake since you poke holes and let the syrup sink in. Have you froze this cake before? I am wanting to decorate it and everything a couple days before a party I am having . Thanks advance for your advice

    1. yes you absolutely can make this cake ahead of time with the syrup on the cake layers. I’ve done it lots.

  5. Beautiful cake! I’m making a lemon wedding cake and I’m wondering if your recipe will double well? The bottom tier will be 12″.

  6. If I wanted to do 3- 6″ layers do you think cutting the recipe in half would work? Or would that not give me enough batter? Can’t wait to make this, thanks!

    1. That wouldn’t give you quite enough batter, you’d want to reduce it by 1/4 or just make the full recipe and bake four layers.

  7. so i should use bleached cake flour, right? and also, culd i sub the fresh raspberries inside of the cake for jam or homemade preserves? thanks!

    1. I use unbleached flour, but bleached should be fine. And totally, you can sub fresh berries for preserves.

  8. So, I have noticed there are amazing food photographers and there are amazing recipes and not always do they go together. As a photographer, I LOVE your photos! As a person who loves to make amazing food for the people I love, I was pretty impressed with this recipe. I think I made a few mistakes my first time making this. I should have used all the lemon simple syrup, I should have added more raspberries (cuz yum!) and I baked at 350 degrees for 21 minutes and still think I over cooked them. It did come out a bit dry and slightly crumbly. Is it the baking or possibly over mixing? Also would love to try these as cupcakes! Can’t wait to try this again and I have started a list of your other recipes to try!

    1. Thank you! Yes, I wonder maybe if you oven runs a little warm too. If you make it again or another recipe, try reducing the time by a few minutes. When you insert a toothpick into the center of the cake, you want a few moist crumbs to come out on it. It’s usually over baking the cake layers that causes the to be dry.

  9. Quick question. I am making this and soaked my poppy seeds. But after soaking I only have 1 tablespoon. Not sure if I should soak more or if that’s normal?

  10. Hi! Do you have any thoughts on refrigeration of this cake? I’ve found that with most of your cakes, they get better with time sitting out at room temp, but with cream cheese frosting, I wondered if it was safe to do so? Should I only flash freeze the cakes for frosting them?

    1. I always freeze my leftovers so they stay fresh! I wrap them individually in saran and keep them in the freezer. Take them out a bit before you want to eat them!

  11. You cut the raspberries in half. You use however many you need to cover your cake layer. I took the simple syrup out. You don’t beat the egg whites. You just add them in.

  12. court, your recipe is missing! any ideas on a timeline for when it can be restored?

    – a slightly panicked huge fan

  13. Next time beat the sugar and butter even longer and replace the sour cream with whole milk and see if that comes out better!

  14. I am new to your recipes. I just made the pumpkin Bundt cake and loved it!! I tried this cake tonight and I was wondering if it is supposed to have quite a bit of a sour taste from the sour cream. My husband noticed it too so I know it wasn’t just me. 🤗 I use a kitchen scale so I know the measurements were correct.

  15. I’m sorry… but this recipe completely confused me after reading the comments. I have made many many cakes (a few of them yours), and they have always come out great. I actually made this recipe and the cake, like others have stated here, came out dense and very lemony. So, I started all over again and decided to check out the comments. There were several that mention a lemon syrup, but no where in the recipe do I see a lemon syrup (lemon and sugar together). Am I missing something?

  16. 5 stars
    Loved the recipe! I am gluten free and dairy free, had to make changes to the recipe but still turned out great! It was a little wetter and less fluffier than I expected, I am sure it’s from replacing some of the ingredients. Cake tastes really good, the only advice I’d give to change is to do less powdered sugar for the frosting especially if you’re dairy free and are using a cream cheese replacement and Irish butter. I’m not a big sugary person, the frosting was very rich on the cake but very good with just fruit.

    1. Hi Aleena, Do you mind sharing what flour you used for the gluten free version of this cake – my husband is gluten free and I would love to make this cake for him. Thank you!

  17. You need to bake it until it’s fully cooked. It won’t be a brick but it is a denser cake!

      1. Hi Courtney –

        This recipe sounds amazing! Do you think using a egg whites from a carton work VS breaking each egg and separating the yolk?

          1. Just pulled these out of the oven and they didn’t rise even the slightest. 🙁 I used liquid egg whites and i’m wondering if thats why (my baking powder is brand new). I followed the conversion chart on the carton for each egg white but it seemed like a LOT. Well over a cup…maybe even 2 cups and super watery. For 6 egg whites it was supposed to be 276 grams. I’m curious what 6 actual egg whites would be. When I combined them with the butter it was just sloshing around and definitely didn’t increase in volume. So beware with the liquid egg whites!
            *the cake still tastes AMAZING, FYI. 🙂

          2. Totally could have been the liquid egg whites. Sorry to hear that. As you’ll see in my pictures, this cake will rise to about 1.25″ per layer. If you want really thick layers, you can always 1.5x or 2x a recipe.

  18. The cake was moist and fluffy and the frosting was scrumptious, but the 1 C of lemon juice was waaaay too lemony. I’d make this again but cut the lemon juice way back.

  19. 2 stars
    I want to start off by prefacing that I am a huge fan and have baked tons of Courtney’s cakes (all been outstanding!), but I feel like I need to share my experience baking this lemon poppy seed cake so that others don’t waste their time baking this. I would say I am an advanced baker, so I wasn’t expecting any challenges in baking this cake. I always follow all directions and ingredients to the tea. I have an oven thermometer as well. This cake is awful. It is extremely dense, rubbery, and way too sour. I think this recipe needs to be taken off the site and revamped. I did not listen to the rest of the comments, because every cake I bake by Courtney is perfection, but this time I should have. I have never written a comment on any recipe before but I felt like this was necessary!

  20. Hello,
    I just finished your cake and the layers didn’t seem to rise at all while baking. All my ingredients were fresh and room temperature. Is that normal for this cake? Thanks so much!

    1. These cake layers rise to about 1.25″ tall. For taller layers, you can always double the recipe – but let’s also make sure you covered a few more things 🙂 When you mixed the butter, sugar and eggs, did the batter come together smoothly and nearly double in size by the time you were done mixing for 3 to 5 minutes? You also mixed slowly once you added the dry ingredients?

  21. 1 star
    I followed the recipe exactly and used a rectangular springform pan. What came out of the oven was. 1” high piece of rubber. My baking powder was not old. No idea what could have gone wrong but wondered if soda should have been added because of the sour cream and a whole cup of lemon juice seems like a lot in retrospect.

  22. Looks beautiful and delicious!
    May I please ask would it work with oil instead of butter.

    I have just purchased your book and will be using your great recipes soon.

    Thank you

  23. Hi Courtney, I’m in the UK and haven’t seen cake flour in the supermarket, is there anything I can sub this with?

    1. Yes, you can make your own cake flour. I have a blog post on how to make it. Just search cake flour on my blog.