A lemon poppy seed cake on a cake stand with a slice taken out

Lemon-poppy seed is one of my all-time favorite flavor combinations, so it shocks me to my bones that I’ve never had it in cake form before. This recipe for Lemon Poppy Seed Cake changes all that, though, and I couldn’t be happier (neither could my sweet tooth). Layers of soft poppy seed-speckled lemon cake are topped with tangy lemon curd and cream cheese buttercream frosting for the ultimate summertime (or anytime) showstopping dessert. If you’ve never had lemon poppy seed cake before, now is your time.

a lemon poppy seed cake on a cake stand

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Ahem, hi. I made you a cake. But not just any cake — a layer cake. With frosting and everything. If you recall anything about my past disdain for constructing layer cakes, you know that this cake must have been worth the effort. And oh, friends, it was.

See, in my month-long hiatus from posting new content on the blog, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to make a dessert with a lemon-poppy seed flavor profile, and cake felt like the most appropriate form for this situation. So I’ve been sitting on this recipe for an entire month, and today is the day I finally get to share it with you and I’m SO HAPPY. I hope you are, too. Because cake is just the best.

How to Make Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

So let’s break down this cake layer by layer, shall we? The cake itself is a soft, light and lemony cake speckled with crunchy poppy seeds. Yes, OK, we are interested. But then, we add a layer of tart lemon curd on top. Um, YES, we are here for that. And then, we top it all off with a thick layer of poppy seed-flecked lemony cream cheese buttercream frosting.

Please hold as we pick up our collective jaws from the floor.

Every bite is intensely lemony, soft and fluffy with creaminess from the frosting, tangy tartness from the lemon curd and a delicate crunch from the poppy seeds. It’s basically the most perfect form that the lemon-poppy seed flavor profile will ever take on, and may be the only way I enjoy it henceforth. Cake every day? That’s the right way to live.

a close up shot of lemon poppy seed cake

Tips for the Best Layer Cake

Let’s discuss a few tips on how to make the best layer cakes! Because if you’re like me, you find layer cakes to be hella intimidating — all that layering and getting the perfect levels and lines and smooth frosted edges and ugh. And yet, I’m here to tell you it’s not actually all bad — especially when you’re well-prepared from the start. SO:

1. Be sure to line each cake pan with parchment paper. Here’s how I do it: I place a sheet of parchment paper under a cake pan, then trace the outer edge with a pencil. I cut out the traced circle and place it in the bottom of the cake pan. Done.

2. Also be sure to thoroughly spray the parchment and sides of each cake pan with cooking spray, or better yet, baking spray, which is cooking spray + flour. You can find it next to the cooking spray at your grocery store. The flour helps prevent the cake from sticking to the pan.

3. Use bake-even strips to keep the cake layers from doming at the top. Honestly, this was a game-changer for me, as I was tired of cutting off the tops of my cakes and having them end up extra crumbly or uneven (plus, all that wasted cake!). I highly, highly recommend getting yourself a set of these for the purposes of cake-baking sanity.

4. I’ve found that beating buttercream frosting at the highest speed of my electric mixer for a good minute or two gives it more structure, thereby making it easier to spread smoothly on delicate cake layers. Refrigerating the (fully cooled) cake layers before frosting them also helps avoid any accidental cracks in the cake or crumbs getting caught in the frosting. I have firsthand experience with every single one of these mishaps and it is never fun.

5. You can go all out and buy a cake turntable, an icing smoother, a decorating comb, etc. etc. And if you’re into that, good for you! But honestly, I’ve found that just a large offset spatula and a bench scraper do the trick to achieving good frosting coverage on a cake. I just use one hand to gently turn the cake stand on my counter as I spread the frosting on the cake with the spatula; then, I’ll hold my bench scraper against the edge of the cake and turn the cake stand to smooth out the edges and remove any excess frosting. It’s not fancy, but it works for me.

slices of lemon poppy seed cake on plates with a fork

Now that I’ve sufficiently written you a novel about baking and decorating layer cakes, let’s stop this chatter and get to making a lemon poppy seed cake! I hope you love it as much as I do.

Want more layer cake recipes? Give these a whirl:

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lemon poppy seed cake on a cake stand with a slice taken out

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

  • Author: Stephanie
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Yield: 16 servings 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Bake
  • Cuisine: American

Description

A delightfully tart and sweet cake with lemon curd and cream cheese buttercream frosting between layers of soft lemon-poppy seed cake.


Scale

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 container (10 oz) lemon curd

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 16 ounces (2 blocks) cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 810 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
  • 12 tablespoons poppy seeds

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350ยฐF. Line bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper, then spray bottoms and sides with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda until well mixed.
  3. In a separate large bowl using an electric hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat granulated sugar, 1/2 cup butter, vegetable oil and vanilla on medium-high speed 1 1/2 to 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time on medium-high speed until well combined.
  4. Add half of flour mixture to butter mixture. Stir together on low speed until well combined. Stir in milk and 1/2 cup lemon juice until combined. Stir in remaining flour mixture until just combined. Stir in 2 tablespoons lemon zest and 2 tablespoons poppy seeds until just combined.
  5. Divide batter evenly among three prepared pans. Bake on center rack of oven 23-27 minutes or until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Cool cakes in pans 2-3 minutes, then carefully transfer cakes to cooling racks to cool completely.
  7. Meanwhile, make the frosting: In a large bowl with an electric hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and 3/4 cup butter on medium-high speed 1-2 minutes until smooth, light and fluffy. Add 5 cups powdered sugar; stir on low speed until just incorporated, then increase to medium-high speed to fully combine. Beat in 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 tablespoon lemon zest. Stir, then beat in just enough of remaining powdered sugar until a smooth, creamy and sturdy frosting forms. Stir in 1-2 tablespoons poppy seeds (if you want a cleaner, whiter look, add 1 tablespoon; if you want a highly speckled look, add 2 tablespoons) until just combined.
  8. Place one cake layer on a cake stand or serving plate. Top with half of container of lemon curd (about 5 ounces); spread in an even layer to within a 1/2-inch of edges. Top with 1 cup of cream cheese frosting, in dollops; gently spread over curd to cover entire top of cake layer.
  9. Top with second cake layer. Repeat process, topping and spreading with remaining lemon curd and another 1 cup frosting.
  10. Top with third cake layer. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining frosting (you might not use all the frosting; just use as much as you want to cover the cake). Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.

Notes

  • If the tops of your cakes are domed, use a sharp serrated knife to cut off the domes before stacking in layers. OR, use bake-even strips like I did (they’re seriously magical).
  • For best results, use a large offset spatula to frost cake. For those clean, smooth sides, I used a bench scraper and gently rotated the cake stand while holding the bench scraper along the sides for a smooth finish.
  • Generally speaking, buttercream-frosted cakes can be stored covered at room temperature. But because this cake has a layer of lemon curd, it needs to be stored covered in the refrigerator (it tastes better cold anyway, IMHO).
  • This recipe is adapted from Lindsay of Life, Love and Sugar, the queen of cakes.

Keywords: lemon cake, layer cake, cream cheese buttercream, buttercream frosting