Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze - Classic Purim Recipe by Tori Avey

Note from Tori: This recipe has been retested and updated with new photos for 2014! I improved the recipe by cutting the butter in half and adding vegetable oil to make the cake more tender and moist. I also used full fat dairy and added a bit more lemon juice. It was always tasty, but it’s so much better now. Enjoy!

This lemony sour cream poppy seed bundt cake is delicious year-round, but it’s particularly appropriate during the Jewish holiday of Purim. In addition to eating triangle foods like hamantaschen and kreplach, which represent Haman’s ears or his triangular-shaped hat, many Jewish families celebrate Purim with a vegetarian feast in honor of Esther. The meal often includes items like chickpeas, nuts, and poppy seeds. This tradition of eating nuts, legumes and seeds has roots in the intermarriage between Queen Esther and her husband Ahasuerus, the king of Persia.

Queen Esther was Jewish, King Ahasuerus was not. When Esther came to live in the king’s palace, tradition says she became a vegetarian in order to avoid eating food that was not kosher. For protein, she was said to eat nutrient-rich seeds, nuts, and legumes instead of meat. Poppy seeds are a natural outgrowth of this seed and legume tradition; in eating them we are celebrating Queen Esther and her role in the Purim story. Poppy seeds are also seen in the Jewish religion as a symbol of fruitfulness. Accordingly, I think this cake would also make a great addition to a Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah or Shavuot menu… or really, any time of year! Who needs an excuse to bake a lemony poppy seed bundt cake?

There are three different ways to top this beauty, with powdered sugar, a lemon icing or a warm lemon glaze. They are all tasty, though I don’t recommend using more than one topping– you’ll be on sugar overload! One topping should do it, or serve it naked if you don’t need the extra sweetness and you simply want to enjoy a slice with tea or coffee. It’s sweet, moist and delicious all on its own.  :)

By the way, a friendly heads up: if you are about to take a new job that requires a drug test, skip this cake. Poppy seeds can cause a false positive for heroine use. So if you’re filling out job applications, think twice about this one. Try some fruit or chocolate-filled hamantaschen instead!

Recommended Products:

Stand Mixer

Bundt Pan

Wire Cooling Rack

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Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze - Classic Purim Recipe by Tori Avey

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze


  • 1 cup poppy seeds
  • 1 cup milk (full fat recommended)
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil - canola and coconut work well
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs separated (room temperature)
  • 3 tbsp lemon zest
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup sour cream (full fat recommended)
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt

Lemon Icing Glaze (optional)

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Warm Lemon Glaze (optional)

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp water
  • Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

You will also need

  • 9-10 inch Bundt cake pan, electric mixer, sifter, wire cooling rack & parchment paper (optional)
Prep Time: 40 Minutes
Cook Time: 55 Minutes
Total Time: 95 Minutes
Servings: 10-12 servings
Kosher Key: Dairy
  • Are you a fan of poppy seeds? Use the full cup indicated in the ingredient list. If you aren't a poppy fanatic, you can cut it to 3/4 or even 1/2 cup for a less poppy-ish cake.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-10 inch Bundt cake pan (12 cup capacity) and set aside.
  • If you prefer a crunchier, more seed-filled texture, leave the seeds whole. If you prefer a less crunchy cake with a more pronounced poppy seed flavor, grind the seeds in a coffee grinder. In a small saucepan, combine poppy seeds (whole or ground), milk, and honey. Stir till combined and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Let mixture boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat and let stand for 20 minutes or until lukewarm.
  • Place poppy seed mixture into a mixing bowl along with butter, oil and sugar. Beat on high until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Add egg yolks to the mixture and beat again on high. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla and sour cream and beat until blended.
  • Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.
  • Gradually combine dry and wet ingredients, beating together until well combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure all dry ingredients are fully incorporated.
  • In a separate clean and dry mixing bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks.
  • Gently fold the egg whites into the poppy seed batter.
  • Pour the batter into the Bundt pan. Bundt pan depths vary, so make sure the batter fills the pan ¾ full or less. Do not fill beyond ¾ or your cake might overflow during baking. Use a spatula to gently push the batter to the outside of the pan, pushing slightly up the walls. This will help to get rid of any air pockets that might interfere with the pretty details of the pan.
  • Smooth the batter on the top so it is flat and even all the way around the pan.
  • Bake cake in preheated oven for 55-65 minutes. When the edges darken and pull fully away from the sides of the pan and the cake browns all the way across the surface, it’s ready. You should be able to insert a toothpick into the thickest part of the cake and have it come out clean.
  • The top of the cake might be a bit domed. If it bothers you, you can trim it down with a knife to flatten—and snack on the freshly baked trimmings. Yum!
  • Let the cake cool for exactly 10 minutes, then invert it onto a flat plate. Tap the Bundt pan gently to release the cake. If your cake sticks, use a plastic knife to carefully loosen the cake around the center tube and sides. Allow cake to cool completely.
  • I have a few topping options for this cake. I prefer the lemon icing, personally, but they are all delish. I don't recommend combining options or you'll be on sugar overload! One topping should suffice, or none at all if you want something less dessert-like to serve with tea or coffee. :)
  • Option #1: Dust the cake with powdered sugar. To keep things neat, I like to do this part on a wire cooling rack with a piece of parchment paper underneath to catch extra sugar. You can simply do it on a plate if you prefer. Put 3 tbsp of powdered sugar into a handheld mesh strainer or sifter. Sprinkle sugar onto the top of the cake by tapping the strainer or sifting to release an even shower of sugar around the surface of the cake. Simple, yummy. Do this right before you serve to keep it looking pretty and fresh... it's a moist cake and it may "soak up" the sugar if left for a long period of time.
  • Purim Poppyseed Cake with Lemon Glaze from Tori AveyOption #2: Frost the cake with lemony frosting. Again, best to put the cake on a wire cooling rack with a piece of parchment paper underneath to catch the drippings. Mix together 1 cup of powdered sugar and 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice in a small mixing bowl to form a tangy frosting with the texture of thick honey. With the help of a spoon, generously pour the frosting over the top of the cake so that it it drizzles down the sides, but doesn't cover the entire cake completely. Allow icing to dry completely before serving—this usually takes about 30 minutes.
  • Purim Poppyseed Cake with Lemon Glaze from Tori AveyOption #3: Warm lemon glaze. This one is decadent! In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of powdered sugar with 3 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tbsp water. Warm up the glaze till it’s heated through and bubbling around the edges. Pour a few tablespoons of hot glaze over the warm cake slices just before serving. Oy. Vey.
  • Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze - Classic Purim Recipe by Tori AveyPersonally, I like the icing option... I think it's the prettiest and the extra touch of lemony sweetness is absolutely delish. Enjoy!
  • Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze - Classic Purim Recipe by Tori Avey


Comments (98)Post a Comment

  1. So I think I can get around well enough my my crutches now to bake this!!! It sounds sooooo good! Thank you for another great recipe, Tori. And I LOVE the historical information and photos you provide, always. Thank you! Many blessings to you,
    Carol Esther
    Ready to have some fun with that beautiful red Kitchenaid Mixer that I won! You have the best giveaways!

  2. Looks rich and musty- must have more!! Will be trying this very soon. I coming on here and not just for the recipes. Thank you for this site.

  3. This is fantastic as to the illustrations of the recipe and the history lesson is outstanding. I will forever be a fan of your website. Thank you so much.

  4. Awesome! Wasn’t born Jewish, but I can definitely see the good points (they all are!). Love reading your blog and using your recipes. Thanks so much!

  5. I can’t wait to make this cake! It looks so good! I have to go buy a bundt pan though before I do :) I also really like that you add the history on your blog posts. I have a cookbook called Olive Trees & Honey and it does that and that’s what I love most about it. I know nothing about my Israeli heritage other than my grandma was Israeli. So this is a great way to learn thanks again 😀

  6. Thanks Tori! I’m getting around on the crutches and a walker pretty good now… I’m printing out this recipe. I’m so excited to learn everything about Purim!

    Shabbat Shalom!

  7. It’s no use, resistance is futile. On my way to the store to buy poppy seeds. This cake looks so good I can’t help myself.

  8. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I used this recipe as mini-muffins for part of our mishloach manot, and my kids have almost eaten them all! I might need to make a second batch. Baked them for 12 minutes…they came out perfectly. Thanks again, Tori!!

  9. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Hi Tori – Here’s a pic of how mine turned out: link to tinypic.com I used a silicone bundt pan which is why the definition isn’t as great. Looking forward to tasting it once it cools! Certainly made the whole house smell delicious.

  10. Too late for this year, but I wanted to mention to Meredith above that you can improve the definition from a silicone baking form by putting it inside a similar metal form. If you don’t have an exact copy of the bundt pan, a more basic angel food pan or cheesecake springform pan is good enough to help hold up the sides.

  11. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I’ve been looking for a poppyseed cake recipe!!!! My mom used to make one when I was a child. This looks delicious!!! I need a reason to bake it now, or I will just have to wait until Purim and bring it into my office.

    1. Ruby I have never made this cake pareve, but I had a reader write me to tell me she tried it with dairy-free sour cream, soy milk and an Earth Balance vegan buttery stick. She said it turned out good. I haven’t tried it myself though, so I can’t promise anything! If you try it please report back and let us know how it went for you.

  12. My Aunt Marie made this , its so delishious! Im looking for a recipe of just Poppyseed cake! My Aunt took the recipe to the grave, did not leave a cookbook! She make this poppyseed cake around Easter. I cannot find any recipe for just poppyseed cake.

    1. Kimberley try this cake recipe but only use 1 tbsp lemon juice (for the acid, it won’t add much flavor) and don’t use the lemon zest. That will make it a regular poppy seed cake. You will love it!

    2. Kimberly, here’s the recipe that I use, that I found on a Croatian cooking website, and in a couple of Serbian newspapers. The interesting thing about it is that they refer to it as the Viennese Cake. You need 6 eggs, and 180 grams of butter, sugar, poppy seeds, and ground almonds or walnuts (I use walnuts- didn’t come out as good with almonds). Instructions are: Beat egg whites. Set aside. Beat butter and sugar, then add yolks and continue beating until it’s a butter like color. To the yolk mixture add poppy seeds and ground nuts. Add that to the egg whites and bake at 330 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour IF you are using a bundt cake pan. If you’re gonna bake it in a brownie pan (which I do most of the time), then it needs about 25 minutes at 350. Optional (and highly recommended) is to make a chocolate glaze. I usually do so my melting a 100g of chocolate (or chops, whatever you have on hand) with a tbs of butter and milk.

    3. Also note that for the above recipe that I gave you, I do add two table spoons of rice flour or any gluten free flour I have on hand, just to make sure it sets right. Another version of this recipe I found calls for flour instead of the ground nuts, but I’ve never tried that one, as I’m a big fan of all European style cakes that substitute flour with ground nuts.

    4. Lastly: I’ve made this many times, and replaced 1/2 of the butter with apple sauce. I also use a 100 grams of sugar instead of the 180 grams the original recipe calls for. If you do decide to cut the butter and sugar, then you MUST add 2-3 tablespoons of flour.

  13. I can’t eat poppy seeds but want to make your cake. Do you think I need to do anything special except take out the poppy seeds? Many thanks :)

  14. Tori I have a lot of Solo cake filling left over from the hamentashen, can I use the poppyseed filling in the lemon cake ?It’s already a sweet paste. How would I incorporate this into the cake?

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