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Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Poppy Seed Buttercream

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

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Poppy Seed Buttercream ~ a lush lemony 3 layer cake loaded with a tart lemon poppy seed buttercream frosting.  Your fork won’t touch solid ground until the piece is finished off to the last delicious crumb.

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

Lemon layer cake with lemon poppy seed buttercream…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.  

I’m going through a mini cake obsession lately here on tvfgi, and this latest lemon dessert is my new favorite.  Promise me you’ll try it!

A piece of lemon layer cake on a plate with fork

Is there a season for cake?  I hope not, because I have a feeling I’m going to be coming up with layer cake variations all year long.  This one is inspired by the success of my Raspberry Lemon Cake with Lemon Buttercream that’s been wildly popular this spring.  (A mouthwatering lemon frosting is the connection between the two.)  Both are definitely spring/summertime cakes, perfect for tea parties, showers, birthdays, etc.  

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.  

a slice of lemon layer cake with lemon poppy seed buttercream

I use my favorite 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

This cake is precisely the reason it pays to have THREE cake pans in your cupboard!

a 3 layer lemon cake with lemon poppy seed frosting

Make this lemon 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’ve always been crazy for lemon desserts, so of course I’ve got others waiting for you to try ~ 

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
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3.6 from 174 votes

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Poppy Seed Buttercream

A sunny yellow lemon layer cake with a tangy lemon poppy seed frosting!
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Yield 12 servings


  • 3 cups or 409 grams, cake flour (you can use regular flour)
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 and 3/4 cup or 368 grams, granulated sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon peeled with a vegetable peeler (no white pith)
  • 1 cup or 226 grams, unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 tsp lemon paste optional!
  • 1 cup or 240 grams buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup or 81 grams fresh lemon juice


  • 1 cup or 226 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 cups or 600 grams, confectioner's sugar
  • 6-8 Tbsp or 90-120 grams fresh lemon juice plus more if needed
  • 1/4 cup or 37 grams 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.

Make this lemon cake with poppy seed buttercream 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.
  • 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.  


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    Leave a Reply

  • Reply
    April 8, 2020 at 8:51 pm

    I want to make this cake for Easter on Sunday, but I don’t have cake flour. Can I use all-purpose flour instead? Do I have to make any adjustments?

    • Reply
      April 8, 2020 at 9:19 pm

      You can easily make our own cake flour ~ for every 1 cup of flour, remove 2 Tbsp of flour.
      Now add 2 Tbsp of Cornstarch and whisk together really well. If you don’t have cornstarch, use regular flour.

  • Reply
    April 1, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    My cake turned out pretty dense. Any idea what I did wrong?

  • Reply
    March 31, 2020 at 7:36 pm

    I one tablespoon baking powder correct?

  • Reply
    January 30, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    Where I live they only sell cultured buttermilk (been to many stores). What should I do?

    • Reply
      February 1, 2020 at 9:12 am

      Yes, cultured buttermilk is the thing to use, I love it.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2020 at 9:28 am

    Sue, would this recipe also work out as a bundt cake or cupcakes?

    • Reply
      January 12, 2020 at 10:20 am

      Cupcakes would be fine, not sure about the bundt cake. If you try I would make sure to use a good nonstick pan with a simple design, nothing with intricate patterning because the cake is moist and fluffy and can stick.

  • Reply
    Norma McDonald
    August 12, 2019 at 11:02 am

    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.

    • Reply
      August 12, 2019 at 11:40 am

      Thanks for the feedback Norma, I do love this cake too!!

  • Reply
    July 5, 2019 at 8:27 am

    This was, with no exaggeration, the best tasting cake batter I’ve ever had in my life. I literally said, “oh my GOD” out loud to myself in my kitchen.

    • Reply
      July 5, 2019 at 8:27 am

      I’m going to feature your comment on the homepage Haley, thanks :) I love this cake too.

  • Reply
    June 3, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    I only have two pans. What is the baking time if split in two?

    • Reply
      June 3, 2019 at 5:58 pm

      I haven’t baked this cake in two pans Brandy, so I can’t say for sure. Give them an extra 5 minutes and check from there.

      • Reply
        June 17, 2019 at 10:25 am

        I recently baked this in two pans and it took me 35 minutes.

  • Reply
    Tricia | Saving Room for Dessert
    May 28, 2019 at 1:03 am

    What a great and beautiful recipe! I have to try the lemon paste – that’s something I’ve never seen before.

  • Reply
    May 27, 2019 at 9:30 am

    I’ve used several of your recipes – but this was the first cake recipe I tried. It was fun to make (I have 3 cake pans too!), it turned out great, and is delicious.

    • Reply
      May 27, 2019 at 9:47 am

      I’m so happy to hear that ~ the 3 layers are fun :)

  • Reply
    Candace Shoemaker
    May 25, 2019 at 9:59 am

    I will definitely bake this yummy looking cake. Thanks for an inspiring recipe.

  • Reply
    May 25, 2019 at 1:19 am

    Love that beautiful poppy buttercream! An excellent cake recipe, Sue.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2019 at 11:17 am

    Oh my goodness! The cake and the frosting sounds super delicious and tempting!

  • Reply
    May 24, 2019 at 9:06 am

    I’m a big fan of lemon and this both looks amazing and sounds delicious! We don’t have cake all that often as we struggle to get through them, but might have to make an exception for this!

    • Reply
      May 24, 2019 at 9:12 am

      This would make a nice snack cake, too, you could halve the recipe and make it in a single layer or square pan.

    • Reply
      September 7, 2019 at 8:21 am

      Cakes and their frosting freeze wonderfully. Slice, freeze , thaw and enjoy

  • Reply
    ana @ muy delish
    May 24, 2019 at 8:59 am

    This cake looks just amazing Sue! So fluffy and light. Your photography is outstanding too. Can’t wait to make this!

    • Reply
      May 24, 2019 at 9:14 am

      Thanks Ana ~ I always try to get a good shot of the texture of my cakes, I’m passionate about a moist, loose crumb! (nerdy blogger stuff)

  • Reply
    May 24, 2019 at 7:58 am

    Wow, lemon And poppy seeds are two of my favorite ingredients. My question also goes around the lemon paste. I have never come across such a thing where I live but I have a lemon curd at hand. So my question Is whether you can substitute the paste for the curd.

    • Reply
      May 24, 2019 at 8:07 am

      No, I don’t think that’s necessary Hana. The paste is like a concentrated lemon flavor, and the curd would not be that strong. No worries, the paste is not essential. If you ever come across it, though, I recommend it as a great boost of flavor for lots of lemon dessert recipes.

  • Reply
    May 24, 2019 at 7:58 am

    Lemon is my absolute favourite flavour cake and this looks amazing. Looking the poppy seeds.

    • Reply
      May 24, 2019 at 8:32 am

      I’m obsessed with poppy seed frosting, I love how it looks!

  • Reply
    May 24, 2019 at 7:40 am

    This cake looks delicious but I really wish you’d provided a substitute for the nearly $15.00 lemon paste that you call for.

    • Reply
      May 24, 2019 at 7:47 am

      You can totally leave out the paste, but remember, like vanilla paste, a little goes a long way! But really, it’s just a fun addition for super lemon lovers to play with. The cake has plenty of lemon flavor without it.

    • Reply
      May 24, 2019 at 9:00 am

      Thank you ever so much, Sue. I will look out for that or see if any online shop offers it. I also might have seen a lemon extract, just like a vanilla extract used in baking for example. Could that be used? Thank you for sharing the recipe with us.

      • Reply
        May 24, 2019 at 9:13 am

        I’ve used lemon extract, and it can be tricky. Some brands taste good, some don’t. Lately I’ve been steering clear of extracts and using my lemon sugar technique to amp up the flavor.