June 1, 2011

Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake

I love lemon. Take me to Dunkin Donuts and I'll order the powdered donut with lemon filling. I always bypass the raspberry Danish for the lemon one. And bring on the lemon bars, lemon meringue pies and lemon cakes.

Not surprisingly, my favorite snack bread is lemon poppy seed. So you’d think that by now I’d have a great recipe for it. Sadly, no. I figured now was as good a time as any to find one so I consulted some cookbooks and food blogs.

I kept coming across variations of a lemon poppy seed pound cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s popular cookbook, The Cake Bible. The recipe got rave reviews from several bloggers so I decided to give it a try.

This is a pound cake flavored with lots of lemon zest. Once it’s out of the oven, you poke holes all over the cake and brush it with a lemon syrup that’s made by dissolving sugar into lemon juice. I paused when I read about the lemon syrup and it turns out I should have listened to my gut. I’m not a huge fan of sweet/tart. I found the syrupy edges of the bread too jarring next to the mellow lemon flavor of the bread. But that’s just me. This is a very popular recipe so clearly I’m in the minority here.  

The bread itself was lovely. It was moist and dense, buttery and lemony. The poppy seeds provided a bit of crunch and little earthiness. I’d added a teaspoon of pure lemon extract to the batter to ramp up the lemonyness of the cake. It helped, but next time I’d add even more lemon extract, along with some extra lemon zest. And I’d leave out the lemon glaze.

To make this cake you begin by combining the milk, eggs and vanilla extract (I also added some pure lemon extract).

Then combine your dry ingredients. This includes the lemon zest and poppy seeds, the stars of this show.

Add the butter and half the egg mixture and beat for about one minute. Then add the rest of the egg mixture and continue to beat until the mixture is thick and fluffy.

Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan and put it in the oven.

Bake until the cake is a beautiful golden brown.

When the cake is almost done baking, make the lemon syrup by heating the sugar and lemon juice until the sugar dissolves.

Poke holes throughout the warm cake.

Then brush the lemon syrup on the top, bottom, and sides of the cake.

Let the cake sit overnight to let the syrup distribute evenly throughout the cake. Slice and serve!

Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake

Recipe adapted from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

All ingredients should be at room temperature.

3 Tbsp milk
3 large eggs
2 tsp pure lemon extract (my suggestion to make the lemon flavor really pop)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp loosely packed grated lemon zest (I recommend adding 2 Tbsp lemon zest)
3 Tbsp poppy seeds
13 Tbsp unsalted butter, must be softened

Lemon Syrup:

¼ cup + 2 Tbsp sugar

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1.      Preheat oven to 350˚F and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter and flour (or spray with a non stick vegetable/flour spray) the bottom and sides of a loaf pan (8 x 4 x 2 1/2 inch). Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper. Set aside.

2.      In a medium bowl lightly combine the milk, eggs, lemon extract and vanilla.

3.      In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients, including the lemon zest and poppy seeds, and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and half the egg mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 minute to aerate and develop the cake’s structure.

4.      Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the remaining egg mixture in 2 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.

5.      Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake 55 to 65 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover loosely with buttered foil after 30 minutes to prevent overbrowning. 

6.      Shortly before the cake is done, prepare the Lemon Syrup: In a small pan over medium heat, stir the sugar and lemon juice until dissolved. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, place the pan on a rack, poke the cake all over with a wire tester, and brush it with 1/2 the syrup. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a spatula and invert it onto a greased wire rack. Poke the bottom of the cake with the wire tester, brush it with some syrup, and reinvert onto a greased wire rack. Brush the sides with the remaining syrup and allow to cool before wrapping airtight. Store 24 hours before eating to give the syrup a chance to distribute evenly. The syrup will keep the cake fresh a few days longer than a cake without syrup.

Store: Airtight: 3 days room temperature, 1 week refrigerated, 2 months frozen.

Serve at room temperature.


  1. Hi! I tried this recipe, but I used whole wheat flour and flax seeds. Still turned out great, though it did not look the same. It was VERY easy to make.
    Sandra Karastergios

  2. Sandra -- I'm glad the recipe worked out well for you! I need to start experimenting with whole wheat flour in my baking.


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