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Purim Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze Recipe

Purim Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze Recipe


  • 1 cup poppy seeds
  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

For the lemon frosting glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the warm lemon glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 or 10-inch Bundt cake pan (12-cup capacity) and set aside.

If you like a less crunchy cake with a more pronounced poppy seed flavor, grind the seeds in a coffee grinder. If you prefer a crunchier texture, leave the seeds whole.

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.

Place poppy seed mixture into a mixing bowl along with butter 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 add wet ingredients to dry, using an electric mixer to beat everything together until well combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure all dry ingredients are fully incorporated.

In a separate clean 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 three-quarters full or less. Do not fill beyond three-quarters full 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, and 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. You can pick one, two, or all three toppings… using all three makes this pretty decadent. If you’re only picking one, pick topping #3. Toppings #1 and #2 are pretty, but #3 takes this cake to a whole other level of deliciousness.

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 tablespoons 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. Pretty, simple, yummy.

For the lemon frosting glaze:

Option #2: Again, it's best to put the cake on a wire cooling rack with a piece of parchment paper underneath to catch the drippings. Mix together powdered sugar and fresh lemon juice in a small mixing bowl to form a tangy frosting with the texture of thick honey. Pour the icing into a Ziploc bag, guiding the icing towards one of the lower corners of the bag. Cut the very tip of that corner off the bag. Drizzle the icing onto the cake in a zig-zag pattern by squeezing the Ziploc bag gently to release the glaze. Allow icing to dry completely before serving — this usually takes about 30 minutes.

For the warm lemon glaze:

Option #3: My favorite topping of the three! In a small saucepan, combine powdered sugar, lemon juice, and 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. (Photo courtesy of Tori Avey)

Poppy Seed Cake With Lemon Glaze

My love affair with lemon continues with this cake. It has bright, fresh lemony flavors swirled into a sweet batter loaded with poppy seeds. Sure, you can pick up a piece of poppy seed cake at the coffee shop but one bite of this homemade deliciousness and I’ll never make that mistake again.

I absolutely love poppy seed cake. I always have and I think it’s particularly good with a cup of hot tea in the afternoon. My recipe includes lemon because it’s a great combination with the poppy seeds. The thing that really gives this cake it’s bright freshness is the lemon zest. Now, here’s the thing with lemon zest. You MUST zest your lemons BEFORE you squeeze out the juice. Yes, I’ve forgotten before, more than once and I always have a big laugh about until it’s time to try to zest a flattened out lemon.

This cake is really easy to make and you don’t even need a stand mixer. I just used my electric hand mixer but you could just as easily use a whisk. Another great benefit of this recipe is that all of the batter fits into one loaf pan. This is my youngest son’s favorite snack cake. When I make it, you can be sure there’s always a piece tucked into his lunch bag. When this cake is involved, I’ll ask him, “how was lunch today” and the response is always, “I ate the cake during 3rd period.” I take that as a complement.

Now it’s time to share maybe the number one reason I like to make this cake

it’s easy. Yes, I told you that you don’t have to drag out your stand mixer and that it bakes in a loaf pan. Well, those things are important to me. See, I’m not a baker. Actually, I think it’s because I’m impatient. It’s not that I like instant gratification but sometimes, baking just has too many steps for me. I am always in awe of great bakers and those that have the talent for decorating cakes and cookies. Please don’t judge me here, friends. I can bake, when I put my mind to it. Even if it’s a delicious, lemon poppy seed cake in a loaf pan…cooking, baking and enjoying the process is one of life’s greatest pleasures!

Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake Recipe

Inspired/Adapted from Sweeter Off the Vine (affiliate link) by Yossy Arefi.

Note: You can omit the lemon curd, but the cake won’t be quite as lemon-y. The cake holds well for several days (I prefer it on the second and third day).

3 cups (600g) granulated sugar
Zest from 2 lemons
3 cups (375g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 cup (227g) unsalted butter
6 ounces (170g) cream cheese
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup (8oz) lemon curd (I used store bought, but if you want to make your own, check out Zoe’s recipe here.)

Queen Esther’s Poppyseed Cake with Meyer Lemon Glaze

This poppy seed cake comes to me from my mother. I cannot tell you how many times she served this cake when I was growing up. So many that when I asked her for the recipe, she knew it by heart. She says she got it from her friend Joan who got it from Julia Child. (Not in person. From a recipe of Julia Child’s.) But at this point, it is just my mother’s poppy seed cake.

I confess I never liked this cake as a child. Poppy seeds are not dessert, in my opinion. Moreover, this cake is definitely intended for an adult palate. It is not overly sweet, but rather just sweet enough to make it perfect for serving with afternoon tea or toasted for breakfast. (That being said, with the addition of the lemon glaze, this cake got the stamp of approval from at least one of my kids.)

I was inspired to revisit this cake this week as part of my celebration of the Jewish festival of Purim – a holiday for which poppy seeds are traditional. There are different stories about why Jews eat dishes containing poppy seeds at Purim. One poetic tale is that Queen Esther subsisted on poppy seeds during a three-day fast while she prayed to God to repeal the evil Haman’s murderous decree against the Jews.

Another is that when Queen Esther was living in the court of the Persian king, hiding her Jewish faith, she subsisted on a vegetarian diet of nuts and seeds to avoid breaking the laws of kosher. Eating foods with poppy seeds at Purim, therefore, honors Queen Esther’s bravery and her devotion to her people.

Not content to limit my Purim baking to hamantaschen, I decided that a poppy seed cake was also a fitting Purim dessert. So, I asked my mother to share her recipe. But I am never one to leave a good recipe alone. With citrus season still going strong, I decided to gild the lily, or the cake, with a Meyer lemon glaze. (Mom usually just dusts it with powdered sugar.) Just my way of making this sophisticated, subtly sweet confection more appealing to my giant sweet tooth. If you cannot source Meyer lemons, of course, regular lemons are a perfectly fine substitute.

Upon tasting this cake as an adult, I wonder how I ever disliked it. The poppy flavor is not overwhelming but merely contributes a pleasant nutty, spiciness to a delicate, tender cake. A hint of lemon zest in the cake and the lemony glaze add brightness. As desserts go, this poppy seed cake feels light enough to be virtuous, just like Queen Esther.

Soaking the poppy seeds in milk is not part of my mother’s recipe and it adds extra step. My mother is generally against extra steps and you may be as well. However, I urge you to take the time to do this one. Soaking softens the seeds’ tough outer coating and makes it easier for their unique flavor to infuse the cake. I also prefer the softer texture of the soaked seeds when biting into a piece of cake.

This cake’s light, delicate texture comes from whipping egg whites until stiff and carefully folding them into the batter prior to baking. This leavening technique is very useful, but some bakers find it intimidating. The Kitchn has an excellent tutorial complete with video on how to fold egg whites which I recommend.

The key idea is not to deflate the stiff egg whites, which you have spent all that time beating, so do not simply stir them into the batter. Rather, cut down the middle of the batter with a spatula and fold the bottom of the batter over the top. Turn the bowl and do it again. Keep going this way until the whites are fully incorporated. It takes longer than stirring but is critical to achieving the right texture.

But please do not throw out the egg yolks from those four egg whites! Seriously. Save them to make citrus curd. Or fresh pasta.

Purim begins on Saturday night at sundown, so you have plenty of time to bake this cake for your celebration. But once Purim is over, don’t forget about this gem! Next time you are planning a brunch or having friends over for tea, you will want to remember this poppy seed cake with its irresistible lemon glaze.

To begin: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and poppy seeds.

In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, lemon zest and lemon juice.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or beaters), combine the butter and sugar.

Cream on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the eggs one at a time.

Beat well after each addition.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl again. With the mixer on low speed, beat in one-quarter of the flour mixture.

Add one-third of the buttermilk mixture.

Beat in another quarter of the flour mixture, then another third of the milk mixture. Repeat with another quarter of the flour mixture and the remaining milk mixture. Finally, beat in the remaining flour mixture.

Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and give a quick mix to make sure all of the ingredients are well incorporated.

Spray the Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and coat with sugar. Make sure the entire pan is covered.

Spoon the thick batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 65 to 75 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden and a cake tester comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan for ten minutes on a rack. While the cake cools, make the syrup. Combine the water and granulated sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Invert the warm cake onto the rack. Slip a large piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil under the rack to catch all the drips from the syrup. Gradually brush the hot syrup over the cake, letting it soak in (a little syrup will drip off, but try not to rush so that most of it is absorbed). Allow the cake to cool completely, about one hour.

When the cake is cool, make the glaze. Stir the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl, mixing until completely smooth. Add more confectioners’ sugar if necessary to make a thick, opaque glaze (it should be thicker than you’d think — you want it the consistency of honey or molasses).

Carefully transfer the cake to a serving platter. Drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides.

Recipe Summary

  • ¼ cup poppy seeds
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package lemon cake mix
  • 1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs

Soak poppy seeds in milk for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan.

In a large bowl, stir together cake mix and pudding mix. Make a well in the center and pour in water, oil, and eggs. Beat on low speed until blended. Scrape bowl, and beat 4 minutes on medium speed. Blend in poppy seed mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.


  • Baking spray with flour, such as Baker&rsquos Joy or Pam Baking
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 2 Tbsp. fresh juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • ½ cup whole buttermilk
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • Lemon-Rose glaze, optional (see below)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat cups of a 12-cup muffin tray with baking spray. (Alternatively, line cups with paper baking cups or parchment paper and coat with baking spray.) Place sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl. Using your fingers, rub zest into sugar until coated and fragrant. Whisk in egg, egg yolk, oil, buttermilk, and lemon juice. Add flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda stir until batter is smooth. Stir in poppy seeds.

Pour batter evenly into muffin cups (about 3 tablespoons each). Bake until center of each muffin springs back when gently pressed, 18 to 22 minutes. Transfer tray to a wire rack and let muffins cool for 10 minutes. Remove muffins from tray and let cool completely on wire rack, about 30 minutes. Top with glaze, if using.

  • 1/2 cup poppy seeds
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon zest from 1 lemon
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place oven rack in upper middle position. Butter loaf pan.

In a small saucepan, combine poppy seeds and milk. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add flour mixture and beat until just combined. Beat in poppyseeds and milk. Stir in lemon zest.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. While cake is still warm, whisk together confectioners sugar and lemon juice. Pour over cake. Let cool 10 minutes in pan, then remove to a rack to finish cooling.

Recipe Summary

  • ¾ cup butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup poppy seeds (about 1 oz.)
  • 1 8 ounce carton dairy sour cream
  • 1 recipe Lemon Glaze

Let butter and eggs stand 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 10-inch fluted tube pan set aside.

In medium bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt set aside. In large mixing bowl beat butter on medium 30 seconds. Gradually beat in sugar. Beat in eggs and poppy seeds. Alternately add flour mixture and sour cream to butter mixture beat on low after each addition just until combined. Spread evenly in prepared pan.

Bake 40-45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare Lemon Glaze. Remove and invert cake on rack poke all over with fork tines. Brush glaze over cake. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate. Makes 16 servings.

(I always put the pretty part of the cake down.. the bottom of it soaks up more glaze.. and it's MUCH tastier!) Once your cake is done.. with a HOT cake.. take a chopstick.. and poke holes all over.. be generous.. show this cake some LOVE! All over.. and when you think you've poked enough.. show it some more love and add a few more! Double your glaze.. add more lemon.. and pour slowly and carefully over your tasty, upside down, hole riddled, bundt cake.

Next, have a slice while it's warm! (with a glass of milk!) and try to stay out of it!