The absolute best lemon poppyseed bundt cake: a fluffy tender cake bursting with lemon and studded with sweet, crispy poppy seeds.
I’ve made this bundt cake what feels like 3941 times. I wanted it to be perfect, the standard by which poppy cakes are measured. But also I wanted to give you some variations on it and I’ve got three!
Ingredients to make Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake
Lemons: Size matters here, if you have large lemons you can zest just two of them and that should be enough. If yours are small, use four. The more zest in the cake the more lemony the taste. Rub your lemons clean under running water to remove any chemicals that might be on the skin.
Poppy Seeds: Don’t buy poppy seeds in the spice aisle, the ones in the little jars; those are costly. Get them in bulk! Sometimes poppy seeds will have little brown bits in them which taste quite bitter so avoid those. I buy these and quite like them.
Cake flour: Why cake flour? It’s ground more finely than all purpose flour and is made from a different kind of wheat, it also has added cornstarch; all which make for a more tender cake. I prefer bleached cake flour but unbleached will work fine too. You can use all purpose in a pinch but the cake will be a tad drier.
Eggs: Do take your eggs out to warm up with the butter, and if you forget, place them in a bowl of warm water while you beat the butter. This is not the kind of recipe I’d try an egg substitute with; flax eggs have a similar binding power but can’t be whipped fluffy. Aquafaba can be whipped but doesn’t have the same fat in terms of egg yolk which makes for a moist cake.
Butter: I do often reach for oil instead of butter for many cakes as they are known to keep cakes moist longer (considering oil is liquid at room temperature while butter is solid), however the cake I made with oil did not compare in terms of taste to the one I made with butter. A butter cake has a richer mouthfeel and in this kind of cake where the flavors are more subtle (vanilla, lemon) you will miss it.
Buttermilk: A lot of recipes might suggest using a milk/lemon or milk/vinegar substitute if you can’t find buttermilk. These mixtures are a lot less creamy than buttermilk and their phd level can be lower (more acidic). Will it work in the cake? Probably. Will it yield the same kind of cake made with buttermilk in terms of fluffiness and moisture? It won’t. Use kefir if you can’t find buttermilk, it’s comparable in terms of ph level and thickness. If you can’t find either, thin out some sour cream with water (60% sour cream, 40% water).
How to make Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake
First, make sure your ingredients are at room temperature: especially the butter, buttermilk and eggs. Butter should be taken out about an hour before you begin making the cake (less if your kitchen is warm, more if your kitchen is particularly cold). Eggs can be warmed in a bowl of warm water. Pour the buttermilk into a cup and let it sit at room temperature for an hour or so.
Zest the lemons right into the sugar and rub it between your fingers. Then beat in the butter, keep beating and scraping down as needed until you have a very well-creamed mixture. You can add the salt, leavening and vanilla in this step too.
Next the eggs, they should go in one at a time. The yolk should disappear before you add another. Then beat for a good 3-5 minutes until fluffy.
Sift the cake flour over the mixture. Cake flour is often lumpy and you don’t want any pockets of unmixed flour in the cake. If you are vehemently opposed to sifting, whisk the flour in a separate bowl before you add it in.
So that the flour doesn’t go flying out of the bowl, I often mix it in gently with a rubber spatula -until I’m sure that when I turn the mixer on it won’t make a mess.
Then slowly pour in the buttermilk and let it beat on medium, scraping down as needed, until you have a well-mixed batter. Pour in the poppy seeds at the very end.
You can see bits of unmixed batter below – this is why I mention scraping down as needed.
To ensure I have a perfect release from a bundt pan I use a baking spray that is part butter part flour.
This batter will make a shorter cake if made in a 12 cup bundt pan, a taller one if made in a 10 cup bundt.
In the last photo below you can see what it looks like with the cream cheese filling – a little cheesecake arch!
Variations on Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake
I did tell you I made this 4693 times right? I’m going to order the variations in the order I loved them:
Cream Cheese Swirled Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake
For this you’ll need to beat together:
1 package cream cheese, 226g (softened a few hours beforehand)
1 large egg
⅓ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream
Pinch salt, splash of vanilla
Once you have made the cake batter, add ⅔ of it into the bundt pan and use the back of a spoon to create a moat, then pour the cheesecake filling into the center (see photos below) and add the remaining cake batter on top and bake as directed.
Lemon Syrup Soaked Poppy Seed Bundt Cake
This version will give you the most puckery lemony cake, especially on the edges and exterior of the cake. Simply cook together ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice and ½ cup granulated sugar until the sugar dissolves. When the cake comes out of the oven, poke it with a toothpick or cake tester and pour the hot syrup over the cake. Let it absorb into the cake before you remove the cake from the pan.
Tunnel of Curd Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake
For this you’ll need: ¾ cups lemon curd, store-bought or homemade
This idea was inspired by the Tunnel of Fudge cake that made the bundt pans famous. I’d love to tell you you can do this as I did with the cheesecake, but I tried it and the curd overheated in the oven, curdled and I wasn’t be able to get the cake out in one piece. Instead, once the cake is baked, slice it in half horizontally and use a spoon to ‘dig’ out a ring of cake in the bottom half. Pour the curd into the ring and put the top half over it.
Recipe for Poppy Seed Bundt Cake
Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake
- 1 10 or 12 cup bundt pan
- stand mixer or hand mixer
Lemon Poppyseed Bundt Cake
- 2 cups granulated sugar 440g
- zest of 2-4 lemons more if you like it to be lemony
- 1 cup butter, unsalted and softened 226g
- 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 3 large eggs
- 2 1/2 cups cake flour 335g
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup buttermilk 220g
- 1/4 cup poppy seeds 70g
Cream Cheese Glaze
- 113g cream cheese half a package
- 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted if lumpy 130g
- pinch fine sea salt
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp milk, cream more if needed
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Butter and flour (or use baking spray) a 12 cup bundt pan. Make sure you get into all the crevices so the cake will be easy to remove from the pan.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, rub together the zest and sugar with your fingers. Once the sugar is wet and the oils have been released add the butter, vanilla and salt. Beat until very light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed. This will take 5-7 minutes.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, with the mixer on low. Scraping down as needed to ensure all the batter is evenly mixed.
- Sift in the cake flour with the baking powder and soda and use a rubber spatula to fold the flour into the batter (this way when you turn the mixer on the flour won’t fly out). Turn the mixer on low and pour in the buttermilk, slowly. Once it’s well blended add the poppy seeds and mix. Pour the batter into the bundt pan and bake for 1 hour or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert it onto a plate.
- When the cake is cool, whisk together the glaze ingredients and pour over the cake. Top with poppyseeds.