Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake
Brighten up your day with this cheerful Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake, a perfect combination of citrusy lemon flavor and crunchy poppy seeds. This easy-to-bake cake, topped with a simple lemon syrup and easy glaze, is the perfect sweet treat!
It’s cold outside. There’s snow on the ground and more on the way tomorrow. We’re past the holidays, but spring is still months away. There’s a reason this time of year is sometimes called the “January Blues” – there’s not a whole going on to keep us excited.
So how are we going to combat this? With this bright and cheerful lemon poppy seed pound cake from scratch – it’s like a slice of pure happiness! If you’re a fan of bold citrus flavors and delightful bursts of crunch, then this lemon poppy seed pound cake is about to become your new winter obsession. (But no need to limit it to winder – lemon is a year-found flavor in my book.)
And don’t even get me started on how delicious your kitchen will smell when this is in the oven!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: bundt cakes are my favorite kind of cake. They’re easy to make but always look so pretty, especially with the bright, sunny color of this one. The decorations are minimal: in this case, we’ll brush it with a simple lemon syrup and cover it with a simple lemon juice and powdered sugar glaze.
This cake is easy enough for a simple weeknight dessert but also fancy enough for a weekend brunch or celebration.
So let’s get ready to bake up a bright sunshiney cake to carry us through the next few months of winter!
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Butter: Unsalted butter at cool room temperature (approximately 68*F – not soft!). To keep the cake dairy-free, substitute in margarine or cold coconut oil.
- Eggs: The eggs should also be at room temperature.
- Flour: Use all-purpose flour or swap with a gluten-free all-purpose baking mix that contains xanthan gum to make a gluten-free version of this cake.
- Milk: Use whole milk or a high-protein non-dairy milk, like soy milk or pea protein milk.
- Lemons: We’ll be using both the zest and the juice, so start with fresh lemons.
- Vanilla Extract
- Lemon Extract: This is an optional ingredient; the cake will still be lemony without it, but if you really love a big bold lemon flavor, try adding a little lemon extract for an extra punch.
- Poppy Seeds: White poppy seeds will work, but black provides the visual contrast we expect in a lemon poppy seed dessert.
- Confectioners’ Sugar
Best Lemon Pound Cake
Let’s start with the basics: what is a pound cake, and what isn’t? A pound cake is a type of cake traditionally made with a pound each of four key ingredients: flour, butter, eggs, and sugar. Pound cakes are known for their dense, moist texture and rich, buttery flavor.
Over time, the recipe has evolved and modern variations don’t strictly adhere to the “punch of each” rule, but still maintain the same basic principles in terms of ingredients and texture.
You’ll see with this cake, we’re adding a few extra ingredients (milk, lemon, vanilla, and poppy seeds) and the ratios of the main ingredients are a little different. One thing you won’t see in this cake? Chemical leaveners! No baking soda or baking powder here.
Even though some modern pound cake recipes use them, I find the best texture and flavor still come from the traditional way of leavening a pound cake. So how do we do that? It’s time for my favorite subject – kitchen chemistry!
A traditional pound cake relies solely on the eggs and the creaming of butter and sugar to achieve its rise and structure. Beating the butter and sugar together vigorously incorporates air into the butter, as does beating room-temperature eggs, which creates small air bubbles in the batter. These air bubbles will expand during baking which helps the cake rise.
- Cream Butter and Sugar: Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. This introduces air into the batter, which is necessary for the structure of the cake.
- Add Eggs: Beat in the eggs, one at a time, ensuring each is fully incorporated.
- Combine Wet and Dry Ingredients: Alternatively add dry ingredients and milk to the butter and egg mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. This method prevents overmixing.
- Add Flavorings: Mix in the fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla extract, and poppy seeds.
- Bake the Cake: Pour the batter into the bundt pan and bake until the top of the cake springs back when pressed lightly.
- Make the Simple Syrup: Combine the granulated sugar and lemon juice over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved. Brush the syrup over the warm cake.
- Glaze the Cake: Combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice to form an opaque lemon glaze. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake.
Soaking Poppy Seeds
Soaking poppy seeds is something I recently discovered. None of the poppy seed recipes I’ve made in the past called for soaking, so I was confused when I started seeing it. It turns out that there are some benefits, and I’ll go through them here so you can decide if you’d like to soak your poppy seeds first or not.
For starters, soaking poppy seeds is important to enhance their flavor. Soaking the seeds releases the oils contained in the seed, resulting in a more pronounced nutty flavor. Soaking is also important if you don’t like the crunchy texture in baked goods and you’d rather have the poppy flavor without the little tiny crunch from the seeds. Soaked seeds mix into the batter a little better, too, meaning they stay better dispersed throughout your cake.
To soak poppy seeds, cover them with warm water and let them sit for a few hours. After soaking, they can be drained and patted dry. To make it even easier, you can warm the milk used in this recipe and soak the poppy seeds in warm milk for an hour or two, then add the poppy seeds and the milk to the cake.
I tried this cake both with and without soaking the poppy seeds first and found that I like the little crunch from the poppy seeds (and it’s also what I’m used to in poppy seed desserts). Soaking did have a nuttier, earthier flavor, but I’m not sure I would have noticed the difference if I wasn’t taste testing cakes side by side.
If you’ve never tried soaking poppy seeds before, give it a try and see what you think!
Recommended Tools for Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
- Stand Mixer: You can use either a stand mixer or a hand mixer to make this cake – this is stand mixer is the ultimate workhorse in my kitchen.
- Beater Blade: I always used a Beater Blade with my stand mixer to automatically scrape down the sides of the bowl while mixing.
- 12 Cup Bundt Pan: Metal bundt pans are best for even baking. This recipe is written for a 12-cup pan.
- Citrus Zester: A microplane grater is the best way to zest your lemons.
- Citrus Juicer: This handheld citrus juicer will help you squeeze all the juice out of your lemons.
- Mixing Bowl: This set of mixing bowls has just the right size to make the glaze, and the glass can is both microwave and dishwasher-safe.
- Cooling Rack: This three-layer cooling rack is foldable for easy storage but sturdy enough to support cooling a bundt cake still in the pan.
Tips and Tricks for the Best Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake
- Room Temperature Ingredients: Ensure the butter, eggs, and milk are at room temperature better aeration and incorporation of ingredients.
- Don’t Overmix! Mix until just combined to avoid a dense and dry cake.
- Proper Lemon Zesting: When zesting lemons, only zest the outer yellow layer. The white pith underneath is bitter and can add an unwanted flavor to your cake.
- Let it Cool: Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack. This helps the cake set and prevents it from falling apart when you remove it from the pan.
- Add the Syrup While Still Hot: Use a pastry brush or spoon to drizzle the lemon syrup over the cake as soon as you remove it from the pan. The syrup will absorb better into a warm cake than a cooled cake.
- Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf: This recipe can also be baked in two 8.5 x 4.5-inch loaf pans. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out with a moist crumb.
- Best Bundt Cake Tips: Looking to perfect your bundt cake baking skills? Don’t miss this post on ESSENTIAL BUNDT CAKE TIPS— it covers everything from how to make sure your bundt cake doesn’t stick to how to prevent the bottom of the cake from doing!
More Delicious Lemon Desserts
- Lemon Meringue Cake
- Lemon Lavender Bundt Cake
- Glazed Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
- Lemon Sugar Cookies
- Lemon Raspberry Muffins
- Lemon Poppy Seed Bread
For the Cake:
- 1 1/2 cups (339 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups (495 grams) granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs, room temperature
- 3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup (151 grams) whole milk
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract, optional
- 1/3 cup poppy seeds
For the Lemon Syrup:
- 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the Lemon Glaze:
- 1 cup (113 grams) confectioners' sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Grease and flour a 12 cup metal bundt pan.
- Make the cake batter. Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Lower the speed to the lowest setting, then add each egg, one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated before adding the next.
- Add in half the flour, beating until combined, followed by the milk, and finally the rest of the flour. Mix in the lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and lemon extract (if using). Stir in the poppy seeds.
- Bake the cake. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top of the batter with a spatula. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out with just a moist crumb and the top of the cake springs back when pressed lightly. Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out to a wire rack.
- Make the simple syrup. While the cake is cooling in the pan, combine the granulated sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stirring constantly, cook until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside. Once the cake has been removed from the pan, spoon the syrup on top of the cake, using a pastry brush to spread the syrup all over the surface of the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely.
- Make the glaze. Mix the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl, adding additional lemon juice if necessary to reach the desired consistency. Pour the glaze over the cake and allow it to solidify, about 30 minutes, before slicing.
- If desired, soak the poppy seeds in hot water or the heated milk that will be used for the cake for a few hours to soften them and release more flavor.
- Add the lemon syrup to the cake while it is still hot, but let the cake fully cool before adding the lemon glaze.
- This recipe can also be baked in two 8.5x4.5-inch loaf pans. Reduce the baking time to 40 to 50 minutes.
- Lemon poppy seed pound cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days or frozen for up 3 months.