Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

It’s become pretty established among most of my friends that when someone has a birthday, I bake them a cake. So when my friend Lola was turning 21 on Friday, I insisted she tell me what kind of cake she wanted. She told me that, despite never having actually tried it, a lemon-poppy seed cake with cream cheese frosting sounded really good. I couldn’t argue, so I set out to presumably compile a separate cake and frosting recipe amongst my cookbooks and the internet. Turns out, I didn’t need to go far: Sky High, a cookbook entirely devoted to cakes, had exactly what I was prepared to spend at least an hour looking for. I knew the book was good, but I didn’t know it was that good.

I definitely stand corrected- not only did I find my recipe quickly, but the cake was SO good. It even withstood a d’oh-move on my part: the recipe calls for both the zest and juice of a lemon, but only the zest is meant to go into the batter. I spaced and just juiced the lemons straight into the batter, only to turn around to my cookbook and read that the juice was for a syrup you coated the cakes with after they were baked. [This may or may not have been immediately following Happy Hour at The Feve] Rather than make the syrup and risk a serious lemon-zing, I skipped it and assembled the cake without it, and it was still so so moist. So I’m sure it would have been great with a lemon syrup, but I managed just fine.

This book stresses the importance the use of cake flour when called for, and to not substitute all-purpose because of the difference in gluten levels. I planned to listen to them, but only had 1 cup of cake flour left. So I used it along with 2 cups of all purpose, proteins be damned. The cake survived. I also omitted the almond extract in the frosting because I don’t care for the flavor very much.

Sadly, I didn’t get a very good shot at a slice of the cake because it was consumed in the midst of a very hectic party/concert at my friends’ house.

adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes

Lemon-Poppy Seed Cake

  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 (heaping) tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 cup (2 sticks or 8 oz) unsalted butter, at room tempterature
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon (I used two small meyer lemons)
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1/3 cup water
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms of three 8-inch (or 2 9-inch) round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper; butter the paper.
  2. Combine the flour, 1 3/4 cups of the sugar, the baking powder, salt, and the poppy seeds in a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer). Using an electric mixer on low speed, blend to combine and break up any lumps, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add the butter, lemon zest and 1 cup of the buttermilk to the flour. Beat on low until completely mixed. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1-2 minutes to lighten and aerate the batter.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the egg whites with the remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk; whisk to blend thoroughly.
  5. Add the egg white mixture to the batter in 2 or 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only enough to incorporate. Divide the batter among the prepared pans.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or unti a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes.
  7. While the cake layers are cooling, make a lemon syrup in a small nonreactive saucepan, combining the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the lemon juice with the water. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  8. Turn out the cake layers onto wire racks and generously brush the hot lemon syrup over the warm cake layers to moisten evenly. Allow the layers to cool completely.
  9. To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup of the frosting over the cake to cover evenly. Repeat with the next layer. Set the third layer in place. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Garnish with poppy seeds.

Almond-Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon almond extract

  1. Place cream cheese and butter in a large bowl. Beat on medium for until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes (a few more if you’re using a hand-held electric mixer).
  2. Gradually add the confectioners sugar 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Continue to beat until very fluffy, 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the almond extract if using, ad mix well.

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