This is probably my favorite lemon cake ever! The addition of poppy seeds makes it heavenly. Crunchy and moist, this is one of those recipes that must be kept close by. Worth making it again and again.
I have been baking for a long time, more than 30 years. And have been virtually mentored (through cookbooks) by several bakers.
At the top of my list will forever be Maida Heatter, who wrote the most detailed recipes ever and whose books were my companions until the internet craze began. She passed away not long ago at the age of 102, so this post is dedicated to her.
This is a slightly adapted version of her famous East 62nd Street Lemon Cake, a recipe so famous it deserves to live forever. I remember the first time I made it for a brunch and the way my friends raved about it! They even took leftovers home with them.
What makes it special:
- For starters, it is just freaking delicious!
- And a pretty straightforward recipe too. It is all about the details, as most baking recipes are.
- The butter and sugar have to be creamed enough to become light and airy, the dry ingredients sifted and the cake bathed in a sugar-lemon juice mix just as it comes out of the oven. That final touch adds a lot of moisture to the tight crumb. And sets it apart from other lemon cakes.
- And it is versatile. I have made it with orange, a mix of citrus, tangerine, in a bundt pan, as a sheet cake, as a loaf cake. It always turned out amazing!
I recommend a hand-held electric mixer or a stand mixer for this recipe. You can beat it by hand, but it will take a lot of arm muscle.
First, the butter and sugar need to be beaten and creamed for several minutes, until lighter in color and texture, and the sugar is almost dissolved. This helps the cake grow. Then, the flavorings are added.
Rest of the ingredients
The eggs are added one at a time because it helps the batter incorporate better. It might look curdled at some point but it will smooth enough in the end when the dry ingredients are added.
The poppy seeds are added at the end and folded with a spatula or the lowest setting if using an electric beater. It's important not to overbeat after the flour is added.
Baking and adding syrup
The batter is dense and you have to make sure the bundt pan is large enough (10-12 cups), otherwise, it will take too long to bake and the edges will dry out too much before the center is done.
Right out of the oven a simple lemon syrup is added. The cake will absorb it and add both flavor and moistness.
Preparing the bundt pan
If you love making bundt cakes you probably know the pain of not being able to remove it from the pan in one piece. Fat chance it never happened to you.
I have three ways of dealing with this:
- Butter: I use soft butter (NOT melted) to patiently cover the whole pan, every nook and cranny, every sharp angle, every single bit of space available. I use a brush or my fingers. I then flour the pan and REFRIGERATE IT while putting together the batter. I take it out at the last moment when I need to fill it and it goes like that into the oven. It will unmold like a dream!
- Baking spray: I use a spray that is marked as having flour in it, or being specifically made for baking. It has to have flour in it, otherwise, you have high chances of the cake sticking when removing it. That is my experience at least.
- Recipe: whenever I find a great recipe that can be easily removed from an intricate bundt pan, even though I didn't follow step 1 above, I cling to it like life itself! Case in point is the fabulous Orange Chocolate Marbled Bundt Cake.
The result will be amazing and, as a bonus, you can have the buttered and floured pan in the fridge for at least a week.
After a great bundt cake recipe comes the glaze to crown all that gorgeousness. I have two favorite glazes for bundt cakes in general, both very easy:
- Powdered sugar: the crown always goes to this glaze, which is extremely versatile and a great complement to most cakes. I have many examples in this blog, with coffee, with orange juice, with milk, with liquor. And it goes on.
- Chocolate glaze: the second place goes to the shiny and rich chocolate glaze. Depending on the cake it qualifies as a first choice of course. Again, examples abound in this blog, with bourbon, with dulce de leche, with milk chocolate.
I choose the first one, the powdered sugar glaze, with lemon juice because it is a lemon cake; a no brainer.
And added some lemon zest on top for color. Do so before the glaze sets so that the zest sticks. Otherwise, it would be loose and that is no fun, is it?
Simple, yet delicious and a perfect complement to the lemon poppy seed bundt cake.
My top tips
- Pan: use soft butter (NOT melted) to patiently cover the whole pan, every nook and cranny, every sharp angle, every single bit of space available. I use a brush or my fingers. I then flour the pan and REFRIGERATE IT while putting together the batter. I take it out at the last moment when I need to fill it and it goes like that into the oven. Or use a baking spray with flour in it.
- Poppy seeds: don't overdo it with the amount of seeds. You can use less of course (2 tablespoons) and have a cake that is more like this Vanilla Poppy Seed Bundt Cake.
- Syrup: make sure you add the cold syrup to the hot cake as it comes out of the oven. It adds great moisture and flavor.
- Keeping: this cake keeps very well at room t° for a few days, well wrapped, and freezes wonderfully for a month (I recommend doing it before the glaze). Defrost at room t° before glazing.
- Flavorings: you can use a mix of citrus zest and juice. I recommend using at least one that is strong, such as lemon, lime, or grapefruit. If you use only orange for example, the cake will be too sweet. Your choice.
- Variations: this recipe can be made as loaf cakes (yields 2 medium), muffins (24 or so), round 8 or 9-inch layers, and as a sheet cake. I have served it as part of a brunch table with friends and at parties, as part of the coffee service, made in a sheet pan and with a thick layer of glaze. It is fabulous.
Frequently asked questions
For this recipe we don't soak them. But you can do it to soften them. Simply put them in a bowl and cover with hot milk, using some from the amount in the recipe. Let cool completely to room temperature before using.
Yes, they can turn rancid. That is because of the oil in the seeds.
In the fridge or, even better, the freezer. I like to store them in an airtight container or glass jar.
Make sure you don't overbake it. It's important to use the right pan size and oven temperature. Also, the type of recipe you use will influence how moist a cake is. Cakes with oil tend to be moister.
Related recipes you might like:
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This is, by itself, one of the best lemon cakes I ever made. The added poppy seeds make it heavenly. Crunchy and moist, it's one of those recipes to keep close from now on. Worth making again and again.
For the cake:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup whole milk
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
For the syrup:
- ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
- ½ cup sugar
Powdered sugar glaze:
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice (or limoncello, a lemon liquor)
Making the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350°F /180°C.
- Butter and flour 10-cup (26cm) bundt pan (see notes below) or spray with baking spray containing flour. Refrigerate while preparing the batter.
- In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand-mixer with the paddle attachment), cream soft butter and gradually add sugar.
- Beat for 3 minutes until it is creamy and light.
- Add lemon zest and mix well.
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Add sifted flour with salt and baking powder in 3 parts, alternating with the milk in 2 parts. That means you begin and end with flour.
- Beat at low speed until it is well mixed but don’t over beat.
- Add poppy seeds and mix with a spatula, making sure you scrape the bottom of the bowl and the batter is uniform.
- Take the prepared pan from the refrigerator and pour the batter, making sure it reaches the sides.
- Lift the pan and bang it lightly against the counter so that any air bubbles rise to the top and you can pop them. This will prevent (as much as we can) the batter baking with holes inside.
- Bake for 1 hour or so, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. It might take 5-10 more or less minutes, depending on the pan size and material it is made of.
- Have ready the syrup mixture.
- Remove from the oven, place on a wire rack and brush the syrup all over the cake.
- Let cool 15 minutes, make sure the syrup didn’t stick to the sides, grab the pan with both hands (and a kitchen towel) and move it carefully up and down and left to right. You will feel that it loosens. And at some point when you move it up and down you will be certain that the whole cake is loose and will unmold well.
- If some parts are sticking, carefully use a smooth bladed knife to separate the cake from the sides and the center.
- IMPORTANT: if you prefer to wait 15-20 minutes while the cake cools on a wire rack after you remove it from the oven, do so. Unmold it and then add the syrup. The cake will still be hot enough to absorb it but not as much as if you do it while pipping hot. It will leave a thin layer of sugar. BUT, you will remove the cake easier from the pan. Your call.
- Put the cooled cake on a wire rack over a large piece of parchement paper.
- Pour the glaze and let it run down the sides.
- How it runs will depend on the bundt cake pan you use.
- If it’s too thin add a second layer of glaze, scooping it from the paper or making a new batch.
Making the syrup:
- Mix the sugar with the room temperature juice right before you brush it. See Notes, below.
- The sugar will not dissolve completely.
Making the glaze:
- Mix the powdered sugar with half the juice and mix.
- Add the rest by teaspoons until you have a smooth mixture as thick as you like. You might not use the whole amount of liquid.
Pan: use soft butter (NOT melted) to patiently cover the whole pan, every nook and cranny, every sharp angle, every single bit of space available. I use a brush or my fingers. I then flour the pan and REFRIGERATE IT while putting together the batter. I take it out at the last moment when I need to fill it and it goes like that into the oven. Or use a baking spray with flour in it.
Poppy seeds: don't overdo it with the amount of seeds. You can use less of course (2 tablespoons) and have a cake that is more like this Vanilla Poppy Seed Bundt Cake.
Syrup: it adds moisture and extra flavor. It's added right out of the oven. The cake will absorb it and add both flavor and moistness. But it will be mostly on the bottom and the glaze will add moisture to the top. Alternative: if you want to put the syrup to the whole cake, you can brush it after you remove the cake from the pan. If it's hot you can add the cold syrup, if the cake is cold, you'll have to warm the syrup first, otherwise it won't soak into the cake.
Keeping: this cake keeps very well at room t° for a few days, well wrapped, and freezes wonderfully for a month (I recommend doing it before the glaze). Defrost at room t° before glazing.
Flavorings: you can use a mix of citrus zest and juice. I recommend using at least one that is strong, such as lemon, lime, or grapefruit. If you use only orange for example, the cake will be too sweet. Your choice.
Variations: this recipe can be made as loaf cakes (yields 2 medium), muffins (24 or so), round 8 or 9-inch layers, and as a sheet cake. I have served it as part of a brunch table with friends and at parties, as part of the coffee service, made in a sheet pan and with a thick layer of glaze. It is fabulous.
- Serving Size: 1/10
- Calories: 554
- Sugar: 51.7 g
- Sodium: 162.8 mg
- Fat: 22.3 g
- Carbohydrates: 82.9 g
- Protein: 7.9 g
- Cholesterol: 125.2 mg
Keywords: lemon poppy seed cake