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!

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

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze

Ingredients

  • 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 - 65 Minutes
Total Time: 95 - 105 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 (75)Post a Comment

  1. Is it possible to make this recipe using ready-made poppy seed filling? If so, would this replace the poppy seed/milk/honey mixture? Thanks.

    1. Hi Nicky, keep in mind I haven’t tried this, however I can give you my best guess. Try subbing 1 cup poppy seed filling for the poppy seeds. Omit the honey and 1/4 cup of the sugar, and cut the vegetable oil to 1/2 cup (because the filling already has moisture in it). If you try it let me know how it works for you!

  2. I made this the other day, and it turned out nicely. I have a couple of questions, though:

    1. What is the reason for cooking the milk-poppy seed-honey mixture?
    2. Why do you fold beaten egg whites into such a dense cake batter? The main reason for adding beaten egg whites to any recipe is to give it a light, airy texture, like with a souffle or an angel food cake. There’s no way to make this cake “light and airy,” nor would one want to do so. I’ve made lots of different pound cake recipes over the years, and this is the first one I’ve ever seen with beaten egg whites folded in.

    I loved the cake, but frankly I’m not entirely sure it was really worth the extra trouble.

    I love your blog, and really enjoy reading the history surrounding the recipes. Thanks!

    1. Hi Joni, glad you enjoyed the cake! Heating the poppyseed mixture thickens it and helps to mellow the poppy seed flavor. I use beaten egg whites here because it helps to lighten the texture a bit. It’s a dense cake, but it would be even denser without those whipped whites. If you don’t care about that then you can stir in the eggs whole. Personally I prefer the texture that results from folding in the whipped whites (you do have to fold them in carefully, though, or they’ll deflate).

  3. I made this cake for a party I had last weekend and everyone loved it. It is definitely going into my regular roster of cakes. My cake did come out quite a bit darker than the pictures. I wonder if I baked it too long, although it was very moist.

    1. Hi Shayna, glad you enjoyed it! You may have baked it a bit too long, although different metal pans tend to brown cakes at different rates due to varying finishes and thicknesses. You can stop baking when the tester comes out clean, though I would test several parts of the cake in the thickest areas just to make sure it’s baked through before removing. Hopefully even though it was darker it didn’t taste overdone at all– it sounds like it didn’t.

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