Lemon and poppy seed cake

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This is a cake that revels in its simplicity (you just mix the sponge ingredients together and bake!) and it tastes wonderful. A very easy crowd-pleaser, it is perfect for so many occasions.

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I adore the combination of lemon and poppy seeds, and every bite of any poppy seed cake instantly transports me back several decades to cakes eaten with my gran.

This is my adaptation of one of literally hundreds of recipes I had scribbled down on bits of paper over the decades, tucked away at the back of so many old cookery books! I am sure it can’t be just me who does that…..

I use the zest of quite a few lemons in the cake itself as I think it needs it – and in a lemon cake you really should be able to taste lemon – but you can get away with using 1 lemon if you want a less lemony tang.

I like to make a small, deep cake here so I use a deep 6″ tin, which takes about an hour of baking. I have also made this using a 7″ tin, giving a shallower cake, which bakes for about 45-50 minutes.

A great gluten-free version

I have made this cake on numerous occasions replacing the flour with a good gluten-free self-raising flour: Dove’s is my gluten-free flour of choice.

You get a very light, melt-in-the-mouth cake that does not need any additives or gums etc.. to help everything work together.

Recipe: lemon and poppy seed cake – makes one cake

  • 120g very soft unsalted butter
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 140g self-raising flour (see above for a gluten-free cake)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 30g poppy seeds
  • finely grated zest of 3 large lemons
  • 100g soured cream or crème fraîche
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature, beaten
  • juice of 1-2 large lemons
  • about 150g icing sugar
  • a sprinkling of poppy seeds

(1) Pre-heat the oven to 160C (fan). Grease and base-line the base of a 6″ deep circular tin, or use a cake tin liner.

(2) Beat the butter and sugar together for about a minute until very pale and light. Sift the flour and the baking powder into the bowl and add the rest of the cake ingredients. Mix well until just until combined, taking care not to over-beat (over-beating results in denser cakes as the gluten in the flour gets over-worked).

(3) Put the mixture into the tin and flatten the top. Bake for about an hour until golden brown, testing it is cooked after about 50 minutes by inserting a skewer into the centre: if it comes out clean, it is ready. If not, bake for a further 10 minutes and test again. Put a sheet of greaseproof or foil over the top of the cake if looks like it is getting too dark.

(4) Leave the cake in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool fully. Peel off the greaseproof when cool.

(5) To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a small bowl. Add enough lemon juice to give a fairly thick mixture: it should only just hold its shape when you lift a spoonful of it out.

(6) Pour the icing onto the cool cake, starting in the centre and going out towards the edge. If you want a drip effect, let a little more of the icing pool at the edge in various places: it will gently and slowly drip down the side.

(7) Sprinkle over a few poppy seeds and lemon zest, and leave the icing to set before cutting.

Author: Philip

Finalist on Britain’s Best Home Cook (BBC Television 2018). Published recipe writer with a love of growing fruit & veg, cooking, teaching and eating good food.

2 thoughts on “Lemon and poppy seed cake”

    1. Mine is basically just a standard all-in-one Victoria sponge with a few additions. Yes, the gluten free version is lovely. So light and easy to eat. I would love to try a yoghurt version


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