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Our Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is made with three luscious layers of light lemon cake topped with a lemon infused cream cheese icing.
We love serving a towering three layer cake whenever we want a delicious show-stopper dessert for birthdays or other celebratory events. But sometimes we just need something special to make us all feel better. This bright and sunny cake can turn an ordinary day into something so much more delicious!
Do you have to bake the cake in 3-layers?
We use three 8-inch cake pans for this cake, but it can also be baked in two 9-inch cake pans, or one 13×9-inch baking pan. For a 13×9-inch cake, cut the icing recipe in half. Also, adjust the baking time accordingly.
Do you need special ingredients to make this lemon poppy seed cake recipe?
This cake is made with typical pantry ingredients, a few lemons and a couple of dairy products. Other than poppy seeds, which can be found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores, everything else may already be in your cabinet!
You will need:
- granulated sugar
- 2 or 3 lemons
- 1 1/2 cups butter – I use unsalted butter for baking. If you only have salted butter on hand, omit the salt in the recipe. If desired, substitute a portion of the butter for canola or vegetable oil. I would start with 1/4 cup oil and 1 1/4 cups butter and use no more than 1/2 cup of oil total.
- 3 large eggs
- cake flour or sifted all-purpose flour – cake flour produces a more tender crumb, but all-purpose works well too.
- baking powder
- baking soda
- salt – omit if using salted butter
- milk – we use whole milk, but canned milk or rehydrated powdered milk are good substitutes. You can also use sour cream in place of the milk.
- vanilla and lemon extracts – the lemon extract is optional, so no worries if you don’t have any on hand.
- powdered sugar
- cream cheese, and
- 3 tablespoons of poppy seeds
To bake this cake, you will need:
- three 8-inch cake pans; or
- two 9-inch cake pans; or
- one 13×9-inch baking pan
- parchment paper
To decorate the cake (optional) you may also need:
- a pastry bag
- a large star tip for piping swirls
- lemon wedges
The lemon and poppy seed combo is truly a dynamic duo, especially in desserts like this tender cake.
Poppy seeds are great in all kinds of recipes like our Lemon Poppy Seed Bread and Poppy Seed Salad Dressing. We even love poppy seeds mixed in our savory Ham and Cheese Sliders and as a topping for homemade bagels. In many European bakeries you’ll find a wide variety of pastries filled with a thick, black Poppy Seed Filling. If you get the chance to try one or two pastries with poppy seed filling, don’t hesitate!
What’s the best way to store lemons?
Lemons, and other citrus fruits, do not continue to ripen after harvest. The good news is, they tend to stay fresher longer than other fruits like apples, pears and bananas. To keep your lemons juicy and fresh, they must be chilled and sealed in an airtight zipper bag. Keep the lemons whole whenever possible.
If you zest a lemon but don’t need the juice, wrap the zested lemon tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Lemon juice and lemon zest are also freezable if sealed in an airtight container. The color and flavor may be a little diminished, but when used in small amounts it’s perfectly acceptable. If properly stored, lemons should keep fresh for up to 4 weeks.
What are poppy seeds?
Poppy seeds are harvested from seed pods produced by the flowering poppy plant. The seeds are used whole or ground into a meal and used in pastry or breads. Poppy seeds can be used in place of sesame seeds in many recipes.
Are poppy seeds good for you?
According to an article on the Food Network, 1-teaspoon of poppy seeds provide 3 to 4% of your daily needs of iron, zinc, calcium and phosphorus. Not bad for a tiny little seed!
Can this lemon poppy seed cake be made ahead?
The cake layers can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator before frosting. Once cooled, wrap each individual layer in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. You can also make the entire cake and refrigerate 24 hours before needed. Allow it to come to room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
Can you freeze lemon poppy seed cake?
We freeze frosted slices of this cake with great results. Store in an airtight container and thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving. You can also freeze the unfrosted layers of this cake for up to 30 days. Set the frozen layers out at room temperature for 30 minutes before frosting.
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PRINT THE RECIPE!
Three luscious layers of light lemon cake topped with a lemon infused cream cheese icing
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar divided (335g)
- zest of 2 lemons
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature (6 ounces)
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 2 ½ cups cake flour or sifted AP flour - sift before measuring (310g)
- 1 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk 8 ounces
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon lemon extract optional
- ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice strained of seeds and pulp (73g or 2 3/4 ounces - about 2 lemons)
- 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 12 ounces cream cheese room temperature
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature (6 ounces)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
- 24 ounces powdered sugar
- pinch of salt
- yellow gel food color if desired
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 3 (8-inch) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds. Set aside.
In a small food processor, combine ¼ cup (57g) of the granulated sugar with the lemon zest. Process until the sugar turns yellow and the mixture resembles coarse sand.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, the lemon zest/sugar mixture, and the remaining 1 ¼ cups of granulated sugar. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing just until the yolk disappears.
- In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Add ½ of the milk to the sugar/butter mixture and blend on low until incorporated. The mixture may look like it split, but that’s okay. Next, add ½ of the flour mixture and mix on low until blended. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Repeat.
- Add the vanilla, lemon juice and poppy seeds. Using the spatula, gently fold the batter. Do not beat!
- Divide the batter equally between the three prepared 8-inch cake pans. Tap the pans gently on a hard surface to release air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15-18 minutes, rotating the pans after 10 minutes. Do not over bake!!! Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out and cool completely on a wire rack.
- Combine the cream cheese and butter and beat until blended. Add the lemon juice, vanilla, powdered sugar and salt. Beat until fluffy.
Place one cake layer on a cake stand or plate. Spread ¼ of the frosting on top of the cake layer. Repeat by adding another layer of cake and then ⅓ of the remaining frosting. Top with the last cake layer. Frost the top and sides of cake. Pipe any remaining frosting on top in a decorative pattern, if desired. Garnish with lemon wedges and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Cake layers can be made ahead. Cool the layers then wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the cake under ready to ice.
This cake can be made a day ahead and refrigerated until needed. Remove the cake from the refrigerator 30-minutes before serving for the best flavor.
Leftover cake can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before serving.
Here are a few more lemon desserts you might enjoy: