A dreamy Lemon Poppy Seed Cake that’s laced with flecks of poppy seeds and topped with a lemon curd frosting. This lemon layer cake is one of my favorite cakes for spring and summer!
A few weeks ago I shared my favorite Homemade Strawberry Cake, a vanilla sponge layer cake filled with strawberries and topped with a smooth strawberry cream cheese frosting but this week it’s time for another favorite of mine: A Lemon Poppy Seed Cake.
This cake has four layers of lemon infused poppy seed cake, a lemon curd filling, and is topped with lemon curd cream cheese frosting. It’s a perfect spring or summer dessert! I love lemony desserts in the warmer months like my Easy Lemon Curd Mousse or my Easy Lemon Cream Pie Recipe. Both are no-bake desserts that are super easy to make so if you are looking for something easy and quick take a look at these two recipes.
Today’s recipe is a bit more advanced but you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful layer cake that’s great for parties or special occasions!
Making a layer cake is definitely more work than making a simple sheet cake but let’s be honest layer cakes are so pretty. A sheet cake takes me about 5 minutes to decorate, whereas a layer cake takes me at least 30 minutes.
If I scared you off here is my easy Lemon Sheet Cake recipe :-) but this Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is worth the work, I promise!
I love to work with lemon curd when I bake cakes or cupcakes. You can mix it into frostings without making it runny or you can fill cakes and cupcakes with it. I always have a jar at home but it’s also super easy to make it from scratch (Easy Lemon Curd Recipe).
This poppy seed cake is super lemony! It has Lemon Curd in the frosting and between the cake layers and the cake batter is infused with lemon juice and lemon zest. A perfect cake for every lemon dessert lover!
How to make a Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
For this recipe, you need two 9-inch baking pans for the cakes. Each cake will be sliced in half so that you have four equal cake layers. To get the cakes easier out of the pan I like to use these parchment paper rounds which already come in the perfect size for my cake pans. First, I grease the pan, then I line the bottom with parchment this helps to keep the parchment paper in place.
When the cakes are done let them cool to room temperature then slice them with a serrated knife in half. The next step is to assemble the cake on a cake stand. I place two pieces of parchment under the cake to keep the cake stand clean and just pull it out when I’m done with decorating the cake. A great way to make decorating a cake less messy!
This cake has two layers of lemon curd and one layer of lemon cream cheese frosting. The lemon curd is a little bit tangy and adds more flavor and the frosting is so smooth and not too thick. Both, the cake and the frosting, are not overly sweet so you can taste all the flavors instead of just sugar.
When I frost a cake I start with a crumb coat. A crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting that helps to get a really even coat of frosting. To apply a crumb coat, use an offset spatula or knife to spread a thin coat of frosting over the sides and top of the cake. Chill the cake for 10 to 15 minutes to let the crumb coat set before applying the top coat.
This way you also don’t have to make the frosting coat too thick. I used the leftover frosting to pipe little swirls on top of the cake but if you’re more generous and don’t have any leftovers you can also use whipped cream to decorate the cake.
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Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
For the Lemon Poppy Seed cake:
- 8 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3 cups cake flour
- 1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp poppy seeds, plus more for garnish
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- 1 cup milk
For the Lemon Curd Filling:
- 6 tbsp lemon curd
For the Lemon Curd Frosting:
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/4 cup lemon curd
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and butter two 9-inch baking pans. Dust the bottom and sides with flour. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment combine the egg whites with the cream of tartar. Whisk at low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and add 1/4 cup sugar gradually. Mix until peaks are just stiff. Transfer egg whites to another bowl. Set aside.
- In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- In a small bowl sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Add vanilla extract, poppy seeds, about 1 tbsp lemon zest, and 2-3 tbsp lemon juice to the butter mixture. Whisk until combined.
- With the mixer running on low speed add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk. Beat until combined after each addition. After everything is added scrape sides of the bowl and mix for ten more seconds.
- Gently fold in the egg whites with a rubber spatula. Don't overmix!
- Divide the batter between the baking pans. Bake until the tops are golden for about 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack. Cool cakes to room temperature then slice layers equally in half with a serrated knife.
How to make Lemon Curd Frosting
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, cream together butter, powdered sugar, and salt on low speed until combined, scraping as necessary. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until white and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add cream cheese one piece at a time and mix until combined then continue to beat 2 more minutes until fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed.
- With the mixer on, add lemon curd 1 tbsp at a time then beat another minute.
How to assemble the layer cake
- Place first cake layer on serving platter cut-side up (reserve the flattest cake layer for the top). Spread 3 tbsp lemon curd over the top. Place second cake layer on top and spread 1/3 of the frosting over the top.
- Place third cake layer on top and spread 3 tbsp lemon curd over the top. Place final layer cut-side-down, then frost the top and sides. Reserve a little bit of the frosting to pipe onto cake as decoration.
- Store cake covered in the fridge, let come to room temperature before serving.
And if you ask yourself: What should I do with all those egg yolks? Check out this great resource! I like to use them to make Sauce Hollandaise for Eggs Benedict or make Creme Brulee.
It was ok, cake was a little dense.
Julie Davis says
I’ve made this cake three times and it’s been a hit with everyone everytime. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth it.
Sandy Rubin says
Made this for my daughter’s 18th birthday last summer, and it was a huge hit! Asked today what kind of bday cake she wanted, and her immediate reply was Lemon Poppyseed- like last year! Gathering ingredients! ❤️
Hi! Do you think this cake would travel well? I am hoping to take it to a party which is around 3 hours drive away. Thanks!
Lacey Mclaughlin says
I made this cake for my daughters 14th Birthday and half of us loved it and half did not. My question is this, is it suppose to be a dense cake? I think that’s what threw people to not like it. I loved it by the way 😊 I’m just double checking if I did it right. Thanks for the recipe and your time! -Lacey
The instruction says “two” 9 inch cake pans, but the.ln you write to assemble “three” layers. There’s also an earlier comment about 3 layers which you say you haven’t tried?
Hi Rose, the instructions are correct. You need two cake pans and then you cut each cake in half so you have four layers. The instructions to assemble the cake also say 4 layers (and not 3 layers). The other comment asked for using a different sized cake pan.
Hi I don´t have cream of tart, what can I do?
There isn’t really a substitution for the cream of tart. So it would be best to buy some before making this recipe, otherwise, it might not work.
Does this cake freeze well? I’m hoping to make the the cakes 24 hours in advance and frost the day off the event.
Yes, the unfrosted cake layers freeze really well. Just wrap them in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer.
Hi would it work to use 3 6″ round baking pans to make this a taller cake? Thank you
I haven’t tried that yet but I think it would work. You might have to adapt the baking time a little bit so make sure to check with a skewer if the cakes are done. – Julia
Susan Oguchi says
Just to check -the yolks aren’t used?
Yes, only the egg whites are used. The leftover egg yolks would be perfect to make Creme Brulee. – Julia
Paul Cotter says
The unused yolks would also be perfect for making lemon curd instead of buying it.
Whats the difference between “granulated sugar” and “sugar” in this recipe?
No difference :-) I just updated the instructions to make it clearer. Thank you for pointing this out, Nora!
Can this be frozen for a few days? I have my daughters 1st bday party in a couple of days and I would love to make the cake a few days before hand.
Hi Lilly, I haven’t tried freezing the whole frosted cake but I have frozen the cake layers and it worked great. I let them cool down to room temperature, then covered them tightly with plastic wrap and froze them. I took them out the night before the day I wanted to serve the cake and let them defrost on the counter overnight. On the next day, I made the frosting and assembled the cake. I hope that helps! – Julia
Hi! I’m a new follower. I’m in awe of you’re baking!
I do have a question regarding this recipe.
Can this cake be made without the poppy seeds? My husband loves my baked goods but he won’t touch anything with poppyseeds or any kind of seeds. He won’t even eat fresh blueberries.
Anyway, do you think it would make a huge difference if I left them out?
Hi Patsy! Thank you so much for your nice comment. Yes, you can make this without the poppy seeds. Have a great week! Julia
Julia. Is it really 1 1/2 tablespoons of baking powder for the lemon cake?
Yes, it’s 1 1/2 tbsp or 4 1/2 tsp baking powder. This might sound like much but general rule of thumb for the amount of baking powder in recipes is 1 to 2 tsp of baking powder leavens 1 cup of flour. – Julia