I love a good chocolate or vanilla birthday cake. But this lemon poppyseed cake is a wonderfully light and delightful alternative. Also, it has a special place in my heart.
I originally began making this cake because it was my mom’s favourite at a local restaurant many years ago in Fredericton, NB. Before the restaurant went out of business, I asked the owner for her recipe and for a long time I made it her way…from a (gasp!) box mix! Still, it became my mother’s birthday cake…even on her 50th, the last birthday before she passed away. And now it has become my husband’s favourite and his only birthday request. I have tweaked the recipe here and there so you can make it from scratch, too!
Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Whipped Lemon Topping
This cake is best assembled the day it is served but can be refrigerated overnight in a covered container, if possible.
First, begin with a white cake. My recipe is adapted from a white cupcake recipe, but you can use your own favourite white cake recipe or a box mix. (I know…I know…)
(Yields one 9”x13” or two 8” or 9” rounds)
Preheat oven to 350°F (or follow your own recipe instructions). Also, remember that if you are using a dark or coated pan to reduce the temperature to 325°F.
Grease and flour two 8” round pans.
For the cake
2 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1½ C granulated sugar
½ C unsalted butter, at room temp
4 egg whites
2 tsp vanilla extract
1⅓ C buttermilk (or soured milk: measure 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp of lemon juice or vinegar and add non-fat milk to measure the 1⅓ cups; let stand for 10 mins)
2 Tbsp grated lemon rind (depending on your lemonyness taste)
2 Tbsp poppy seeds
- In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- In a large bowl, using an electric mixer or, as I prefer, a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat together the sugar and butter until well combined, about 8-10 mins. It will go from being very crumbly to fluffy.
- Add egg whites, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Mix in vanilla extract.
- Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk, making three additions of flour mixture and two of the buttermilk, beating until smooth.
- Stir in lemon rind and poppy seeds until well combined.
- Pour batter into prepared pans and smooth tops. Bake in preheated oven for 25-35 mins. (I usually bake mine in a convection oven and begin checking with a toothpick at 25 mins. Usually done at 28-30 mins.) Cakes are done when they begin to separate from the sides of pan and toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Cool on wire rack for 10 mins then remove from pan and continue to let cool on rack. I find that when the cakes are still a little warm is the best time to level the tops with a serrated knife or cake leveller. Then I wrap well with saran wrap and put into a freezer bag and freeze until ready to use.
For the lemon filling
For the lemon filling you can use the store bought variety and make as directed. I often use the box-mix, guilt-free, but I also use a recipe from my Joy of Cooking cookbook (link here), although for some reason, this time it ended up quite runny so I had to improvise with some leftover lemon buttercream.
You could also make lemon curd which is very similar but tarter and tangier. I actually found this great video on how to make the lemon curd on the Joy of Baking website which is easy peasy. Click here for the link. The regular recipe yields about 1⅓ cups but you will need to DOUBLE it just to be sure you have enough. The lemon filling keeps, refrigerated, for up to 2 days and the lemon curd keeps for up to a week.
You will need about 1-1½ cups to fill the cake and the rest will be reserved for the whipped topping.
For the whipped lemon topping
This lusciously light topping is not overly sweet and has a little tartness from the lemon filling.
500 ml whipping cream
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar (adjust to taste)
1 tsp clear vanilla
1-1½C reserved lemon filling
- Place your beaters (or whisk attachment if using stand mixer) and glass or stainless steel bowl in the refrigerator to chill for at least 20 mins.
- Whip cream until soft peaks begin to form, about 3-5 mins. Gradually beat in sugar and vanilla.
- Continue to beat until stiff peaks form, really stiff.
- Take about 1 cup of your lemon filling and gently fold it into your whipped cream. Add more if desired. You don’t want it to be completely blended. You should still see little flecks of the lemon filling throughout the whipped cream. You also don’t want it to be runny.
- Cover and chill until ready to use.
Assembling the cake
- Level your cakes and place one half on your serving platter, cut-side facing up.
- Using a spatula, spread lemon filling or lemon curd on the cake and then place second cake-half, cut-side down, on the first, sandwiching them together.
- Now, with an offset spatula begin frosting the sides of the cake first and then the top with the Whipped Lemon Topping, smoothing or doing swirls as you go. The fluffier it looks, the better! (Feel free to eat any leftovers.)
- To finish, take a pinch of poppy seeds at a time and, carefully tilting your cake platter, sprinkle the sides and then the top, if you wish.