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A luxurious lemon poppy seed cake with a rich lemon cream cheese frosting and bright, tangy lemon curd. This simple cake recipe is always a crowd pleaser!
Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
Soft, buttery layers of lemon cake loaded with poppy seeds, luscious cream cheese frosting and ribbons of lemon curd come together to make this seriously tasty lemon poppy seed cake. This sunshine-y cake is the perfect centerpiece for all your spring and summer occasions and is a serious crowd pleaser!
What ingredients do you need to make this lemon poppy seed layer cake?
Homemade cakes may seem scary, but they’re actually pretty straight forward once you understand the process. Plus they call for relatively basic ingredients you probably already have in your pantry!
Vegetable Oil: The key to a silky crumb is a combination of vegetable oil and butter. Make sure your butter is at true room temperature to ensure it beats up light and fluffy!
Lemons: You’ll need lemon zest and a little bit of lemon juice to give this cake a bright and fresh lemon flavor!
Granulated Sugar: Sugar will aerate the butter oil to give you a sweet and fluffy cake.
Eggs: Any fluffy cake needs eggs! Make sure your eggs are at true room temperature to prevent your batter from seizing.
Buttermilk: Buttermilk will give your lemon layer cake a little extra tang and help to give it an even higher rise. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand (who does?!, you can make your own with milk and lemon juice. Find our homemade buttermilk substitute here.
Lemon Extract: Lemon juice is incredibly acidic, so using straight lemon juice in a cake can throw off the rise and cause the cake to rise too much and then fall. Using just a little bit of lemon extract will give you lemon flavor without tasting artificial.
All Purpose Flour: If you have cake flour on hand you can use that too, but who really keeps cake flour in their cupboard at all times? Not me. All purpose flour will do just the trick and give you a silky crumb.
Baking Powder: Baking powder gives this lemon layer cake the perfect rise.
Tips for making this lemon poppy seed cake
Making this cake is pretty straightforward because you can frost it in whatever rustic, homemade look you want. Just make the cake batter, bake, and let cool completely before frosting! When making the batter for this lemon poppy seed cake, make sure the eggs and buttermilk are at room temperature before you add them to the batter. This will ensure that the cake batter cooks evenly throughout.
Do you need to make homemade lemon curd for this lemon poppy seed cake?
You certainly do not need to make homemade lemon curd, but if you want to (or have some homemade on hand) you absolutely can use it. Homemade cake and frosting is already a lot of work though, so I usually prefer to just pick up a jar of lemon curd at the grocery store–they usually have it in the baking aisle or by jams and spreads! Splurge on good lemon curd because it really finishes off your lemon poppy seed cake with a bright, tart flavor that cuts the sweetness of the cream cheese frosting beautifully!
If you can’t get your hands on any lemon curd (or just prefer a less lemon-y cake), you can always omit the lemon curd and just frost your cake with the cream cheese frosting!
Preheat the oven to 325°F and grease and flour three 6 inch cake pans or two 8 or 9 inch cake pans. Set aside.
Combine the sugar and the lemon zest in a small bowl and rub the lemon zest into the sugar with your fingers to infuse the sugar. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the softened butter and oil together until they become homogenous, about 3 minutes. This will not work if your butter is not completely room temperature.
Slowly add the granulated sugar to the oil and butter, beating on high until the mixture is light and fluffy and turns a very pale yellow, about 3 minutes.
Add the eggs in one at time, scraping down the bowl in between each addition. Add the lemon extract and the vanilla extract. Beat the mixture on high for 3 minutes more to incorporate as much air as possible.
In separate bowl sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Alternate mixing in the dry ingredients and the buttermilk in 4 batches, starting with the buttermilk and ending with the dry ingredients. It’s okay if the batter still has a few lumps in it–you don’t want to over mix it. Last, fold in the poppy seeds.
Divide the batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes or until the cake is a lightly golden brown and springs back when pressed. This will depend on your oven. Take out of the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let the cakes cool completely.
While the cakes cool, make the frosting. Beat the butter and cream cheese together until combined.
Scrape down the bowl and add the powdered sugar, 1 Tablespoon of the milk, vanilla extract, lemon extract and salt. Beat until light and fluffy, about two minutes. If the frosting is too thick, add in a Tablespoon of milk at a time until desired consistency.
Place first cake on a cake stand, then top with about 1 cups of frosting, using an offset to spatula to spread the frosting evenly to the edges of the cake, bringing it up at the edges so it is a little taller than the frosting in the center of the cake. This will help keep your lemon curd contained. Spread about 1/3 cup lemon curd in the middle of the cake, leaving about a 1 inch border. Layer the second layer and repeat the process. Place the third layer on top and frost the top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. If making a naked cake, use an offset spatula to scrape off any excess frosting. If desired, sprinkle the outside of the cake with more poppy seeds. Refrigerate until ready to serve!