Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Poppy Seed Frosting

A slice of lemon cake with lemon poppy seed buttercream on a small plate with fork

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Poppy Seed Frosting is a celebratory 3 layer cake for lemon lovers. It’s the ultimate lemon poppy seed cake!

A slice of lemon layer cake with lemon poppy seed buttercream frosting, on a plate

Lemon layer cake with lemon poppy seed frosting

if you’re a lemon lover I don’t think you can read those words without salivating a little bit 🙂  Then take a look at it: I swear you can literally see that this cake is going to be delicious. Then go ahead and take a bite, the endorphin rush is off the charts.

A piece of lemon layer cake on a plate with fork

My dessert style here at tvfgi is casual and laid back, and even when I do a layer cake like this one it never gets uptight or fussy. This one is inspired by the success of my Raspberry Lemon Cake with Lemon Buttercream that’s been wildly popular. (A mouthwatering lemon frosting is the connection between the two.)  Both are definitely spring/summertime cakes, perfect for tea parties, showers, birthdays, etc.

the grocery list:

  • cake flour ~ makes this cake extra tender, but you can also use all purpose flour.
  • granulated sugar
  • confectioner’s sugar for the frosting
  • unsalted butter
  • large eggs
  • fresh lemon for the juice and zest
  • lemon paste ~ optional
  • buttermilk
  • poppy seeds
  • baking powder
  • salt
a slice of lemon layer cake with lemon poppy seed buttercream

I use my lemon sugar technique to maximize the lemon flavor in lemon desserts.

I simple process the sugar together with the zest of a lemon…the result is a heavily flavored lemon sugar that permeates the cake. It’s such an easy process that makes a big difference.

You can see my lemon sugar technique in action in other recipes on the blog. I first used it in my Scottish Lemon Sugar Shortbread. I was so smitten I went on to make my Lemon Sugar Crumb Cake. After that it was a no-brainer for my Buttermilk Lemon Bread. I don’t think I’ll be stopping any time soon.

Making lemon sugar in a food processor for Buttermilk Lemon Bread

I also used a new product for the first time, Lemon Paste, from Nielsen and Massey. I’ve seen it around and have been dying to try it, I’m all for trying anything that will amp up the lemony flavor in my dessert recipes. I thought it added a nice, natural extra layer of flavor, it’s a keeper!

a bottle of Lemon Paste
filling cake pans for a 3 layer lemon cake

Make this lemon cake your own ~

  • Yes, you can make this as a sheet cake, but the cooking time may be different. Cooking time is dependent on the depth of the batter, for one thing, so keep an eye on it , and check it early. If the cake is pulling away from the sides, and a toothpick comes out dry, its done!
  • For a 2 layer cake, the cooking time will definitely be a little longer so check it every 5 minutes after the original baking time.
  • Use 8-inch cake pans for a taller cake. They’ll also take a little longer to bake.
  • Use regular milk instead of buttermilk, or make your own by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice to whole milk. Stir it up and then let it sit for 15 minutes.
  • You can leave out the poppy seeds in the frosting, no problem. You can add poppy seeds to the cake, no problem.
  • If you don’t want to make the lemon zest infused sugar, just add a tablespoon or 2 of finely grated zest to the batter.
  • If you don’t have the lemon paste, just leave it out.
a 3 layer lemon cake with lemon poppy seed frosting

Make this cake ahead ~

To get a head start on this cake for a special occasion, you can bake the cake layers the day before. Let them cool completely and then wrap in plastic and leave on the counter, or refrigerate.

The buttercream should be made just before frosting, but you can do this in the morning. Keep the cake at room temperature or refrigerate, depending on how you like it. If the weather is hot you can chill the cake and the frosting takes on a fudge-like mouthfeel, it’s decadent and delish.

a lemon cake with poppy seed frosting

tvfgi recommends: sturdy non-stick cake pans

Good sturdy reliable non-stick cake pans are crucial to a successful layer cake. I like to use thick walled nonstick pans like the Chicago pan above, or USA brand pans. Both cook evenly and release the cakes every time. I have a set of both 8 inch and 9 inch pans, there really is a big difference in the size of the cakes when you bake in the different pans ~ sometimes the smaller cake pan works better, and vice versa. I just recently added a 3rd pan in each size to my collection because there’s something about a 3 layer cake…

How to care for your cake pans so they release your cakes perfectly every time!

  • I always hand wash my cake pans in warm water and dish soap, (no abrasives) and I never put them in the dishwasher. Be sure to dry them thoroughly before putting away.
  • Don’t ever let metal utensils touch the surface of your pans.
a slice of lemon layer cake on a plate with fork

I’m crazy for lemon desserts

Reader Rave ~

“This was the best cake I’ve ever made. Moist, with the lemon flavour accented by your lemon sugar method. Thanks for sharing this recipe.” ~ Norma

a slice of lemon layer cake with lemon poppy seed frosting
3.97 from 249 votes

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Poppy Seed Buttercream

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Poppy Seed Frosting is a celebratory 3 layer cake for lemon lovers. It's the ultimate lemon poppy seed cake!
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Yield 16 servings
Calories 586kcal
Author Sue Moran


  • 9 inch cake pans


  • 3 cups cake flour (you can also use all purpose flour)
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon, peeled with a vegetable peeler (no white pith)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp lemon paste, optional You can buy lemon paste here
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice


  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • 6-8 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed.
  • 1/4 cup poppy seeds
  • optional: one small drop yellow gel food coloring


  • very thin slices of lemon
  • mint leaves


  • Preheat oven to 350F Grease and flour 3 9-inch baking pans, and then line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper. Note: the parchment paper is important because the cakes can stick without it.
  • Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.
  • Put the sugar in a food processor, along with the zest of one lemon. Note: you don’t want the peel of the lemon, just the outer zest. Use a serrated vegetable peeler for best results and just peel off the yellow part, leaving the bitter white behind. Process the sugar and zest together until the zest is completely incorporated, and the sugar is moist and pale yellow.
  • Cream the soft butter and the lemon sugar together in a stand mixer for 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl to get everything incorporated. Add the lemon paste.
  • Reduce the mixer to low speed and add the flour, mixing just until barely combined, then add the buttermilk and lemon juice. Mix until everything has come together, but don’t over-mix.
  • Divide the batter equally between the 3 pans and spread out evenly.
  • Bake for about 23-25 minutes, or just until risen and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out without wet batter clinging to it. Don’t over bake these layers ~ they’re thin and will cook quickly.
  • Let the cakes cool in the pans on a rack. When they are cool, carefully flip them over and remove the parchment paper.
  • To make the frosting cream the butter and sugar, gradually adding enough lemon juice to make a spreadable frosting. You may need a little more or a little less than the amount stated. Add the poppy seeds and beat until the frosting is smooth and creamy. Add more lemon juice to make it thinner, or more sugar to thicken it. If you’d like a pale yellow tint to your frosting, add a drop or two of food coloring and mix in thoroughly.
  • Frost the cake and then garnish with the lemon slices and mint leaves.


Calories: 586kcal | Carbohydrates: 86g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 109mg | Sodium: 112mg | Potassium: 167mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 67g | Vitamin A: 802IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 91mg | Iron: 1mg
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although theviewfromgreatisland.com tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.
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    Leave a Reply

    Please rate this recipe!

  • Reply
    April 11, 2022 at 10:10 pm

    Hi Sue … Great recipe , can’t wait to try ! Could Lemon Curd be considered as a substitute for Lemon Paste ?
    Thank you ~

  • Reply
    March 18, 2022 at 8:46 am

    Sue, do you think a cream cheese frosting with the poppy seeds and lemon would be good with this cake?

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      March 18, 2022 at 12:48 pm

      For sure, that sounds lovely.

  • Reply
    March 14, 2022 at 2:06 pm

    Sue, can I use lemon extract in place of lemon paste? I realize they are different textures, that is why I am asking. I have the lemon extract and not sure other recipes I could use the lemon paste in. Many thanks.

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      March 14, 2022 at 4:05 pm

      yes, for sure. Lemon extract may be a little stronger, so you might cut back to 1 tsp.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2021 at 9:35 am

    Can I add raspberry to this instead of poppy seeds?

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      April 24, 2021 at 12:36 pm

      Adding fresh berries to frosting is a little tricky…you could make a plain lemon frosting and decorate the cake with raspberries, and also fold berries into the cake layers.

  • Reply
    April 14, 2021 at 3:27 am

    1 cup how many gr of butter at room temperature. he’s coming, is he ? can you say it in grams?thank you so much for this wonderful recipe

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      April 14, 2021 at 4:46 am

      Yes, at the end of the recipe there’s a button for metric measurements, so you can click that to get the weights. The butter is 227g. Hope you enjoy the cake Fatima 🙂

  • Reply
    Ellen Easton
    April 13, 2021 at 6:28 am

    5 stars
    Everything you photograph looks scrumptious. I will try your recipe ASAP. I’ve been using Nielsen Massey Lemon Paste for several years and I agree, it’s a welcome addition to lemon recipes. Wish you were cooking for me everyday! EE

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      April 13, 2021 at 7:09 am

      Lol, thanks Ellen, enjoy the cake!

  • Reply
    Mary Anne
    April 1, 2021 at 2:12 pm

    Are you familiar with dried lemon powder? I like really lemony desserts but can’t find lemon paste in my city. I’m wondering if adding a small amount lemon peel powder, which I can find, would be a good addition to increase the intensity of the lemon flavor.

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      April 1, 2021 at 3:11 pm

      I haven’t heard of that, but it sounds like it’s worth a try. I’m going to try to track some down, sounds right up my alley!

    • Reply
      April 13, 2021 at 1:13 pm

      Lemon paste is available at King Arthur Flour – it is the Nielsen Massey brand. it is also available on the NM website.

  • Reply
    October 22, 2020 at 10:50 am

    I tried the orange recipe delicious but can I use the same recipe just using lemon rinds. I like the cornstarch in the cake.

    • Reply
      October 22, 2020 at 11:10 am

      I’m not sure which orange cake you’re talking about Whitney?

  • Reply
    October 1, 2020 at 11:26 am

    I have a PROLIFIC Meyer Lemon tree. Will those work with the lemon paste or would I be better off using Eureka or similar varieties?

    • Reply
      October 1, 2020 at 4:20 pm

      Whenever I’m lucky enough to be in possession of Meyer lemons, I use them, so I say definitely!

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