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
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3.91 from 235 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

Equipment

  • 9 inch cake pans

Ingredients

  • 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

frosting

  • 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

garnish

  • very thin slices of lemon
  • mint leaves

Instructions

  • 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.

Nutrition

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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74 Comments

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  • Reply
    Bernice
    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
    Fatime
    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
      Barbara
      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
    Whitney
    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
      Sue
      October 22, 2020 at 11:10 am

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

  • Reply
    Erin
    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
      Sue
      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!

  • Reply
    Elia
    July 29, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    5 stars
    This turned out so good! Beautiful summery cake and goes perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. I used a blender (instead of food processor), no lemon paste and buttermilk substitute (lemon juice and cream). Only thing is I found my poppy seeds were slightly bitter. Not sure if that’s just the way they are or if I maybe should have soaked them? Either way, a make again for sure.

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      April 13, 2021 at 6:26 am

      I’m not sure why your poppy seeds tasted bitter, but I’m wondering if they could have been old?

  • Reply
    Meagan
    July 8, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    5 stars
    This cake was a huge hit in our household-thanks for sharing! Very flavorful, moist, and yummy 🙂

  • Reply
    Girlie
    June 26, 2020 at 6:42 am

    5 stars
    What do you think would happen if I used lemon curd in between the layers instead of buttercream? Any tips on that with this tender crumb cake?

    • Reply
      Sue
      June 26, 2020 at 7:10 am

      That would work wonderfully!

  • Reply
    Meggie Arroyo
    June 24, 2020 at 12:36 pm

    Can I use regular milk or half n half instead of the buttermilk?

    • Reply
      Sue
      June 24, 2020 at 1:07 pm

      Yes, that will be fine. And remember, by adding a little lemon juice to milk or half and half you can approximate the effects of buttermilk. Just add a teaspoon per cup and let sit for 15 minutes.

  • Reply
    Lacy
    June 12, 2020 at 11:53 am

    Hi! If I plan on only making two layers should I make less frosting?

    • Reply
      Sue
      June 12, 2020 at 4:31 pm

      It won’t make that much difference losing one layer, so I’d make the recipe as is.

  • Reply
    Ana
    June 12, 2020 at 4:43 am

    Hi there! I love the look of this recipe and I’m going to give it a try for my moms birthday. Just wondering do you think I can add smashed raspberries to the frosting without ruining it?

    • Reply
      Sue
      June 12, 2020 at 9:08 am

      Making a berry frosting is tricky. If you add fresh raspberries to the frosting you’ll need more sugar to compensate for the extra moisture. And be sure to strain them to remove the seeds, first. As an alternative you might consider just decorating the top of the cake with the berries.

  • Reply
    Trinity
    June 2, 2020 at 8:18 am

    If I wanted to make this recipe with just vanilla buttercream with a white chocolate drip on it do you think it would turn out good?

    • Reply
      Sue
      June 2, 2020 at 9:02 am

      It would be a lot less lemony, but sure, you can do that!

  • Reply
    Margaret
    June 1, 2020 at 8:31 pm

    5 stars
    Out of pure curiosity is there a reason you prefer to process whole pieces of rind with sugar instead of using a zester and depositing the zest that way? Also I’ve made this recipe once this quarantine and absolutely adore it, so much so that I am making it for my own going away barbecue.

    • Reply
      Sue
      June 2, 2020 at 6:01 am

      Hey Margaret ~ I do this because I think it draws out the most lemon flavor from the zest, and infuses it into the batter for a more prominent lemon presence in the cake.

      • Reply
        Margaret
        June 2, 2020 at 1:08 pm

        Wonderful! I’ll have to try it that way this time. Thank you so much for replying so quickly each time, one of my favorite parts of your blog!

  • Reply
    Katelyn Walker
    May 20, 2020 at 9:32 am

    5 stars
    How far in advance can I freeze this cake before assembly and frosting? And how long should I anticipate thawing to take?

    • Reply
      Sue
      May 20, 2020 at 9:41 am

      You can freeze it up to a month ahead, even more if necessary. I’m not sure how long it will take to thaw, I’d allow several hours.

  • Reply
    Micaela
    May 8, 2020 at 9:56 am

    Hi! I want to bake this cake and will be at 5,280ft. How do I adjust the recipe?

    • Reply
      Sue
      May 8, 2020 at 10:29 am

      The changes necessary for high altitude baking can be quite complicated, I like this guide, from King Arthur Flour.

  • Reply
    Rosie Lucia
    May 1, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    What can I use in replacement of eggs? Can I also use GF flour ?
    My husband is allergic to egg whites and wheat so I try to adjust all recipes and use ground flax for egg replacement but sometimes it doesn’t come out.
    R.

    • Reply
      Sue
      May 1, 2020 at 4:26 pm

      I know that Bob’s Red Mill now sells an egg replacement that might help you Rosie. And I think you could use a good gf baking mix for this cake.

  • Reply
    Jane
    April 23, 2020 at 1:29 pm

    Do the poppy seeds need to be soaked before being mixed in the frosting?

    • Reply
      Sue
      April 23, 2020 at 2:02 pm

      No, they can go right in.

      • Reply
        Krystin
        May 12, 2020 at 6:08 pm

        What bake time would you suggest for cupcakes? I love to take this to work.

        • Reply
          Sue
          May 12, 2020 at 8:48 pm

          Cupcakes generally take between 15 and 20 minutes, and I’d check them on the early side.

  • Reply
    Kristen
    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
      Sue
      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
    Genny
    April 1, 2020 at 9:24 pm

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

  • Reply
    Genny
    March 31, 2020 at 7:36 pm

    I one tablespoon baking powder correct?

    • Reply
      Sue
      April 1, 2020 at 8:52 am

      Yes.

  • Reply
    Kelley
    January 30, 2020 at 1:22 pm

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

    • Reply
      Sue
      February 1, 2020 at 9:12 am

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

  • Reply
    JK
    January 12, 2020 at 9:28 am

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

    • Reply
      Sue
      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

    5 stars
    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
      Sue
      August 12, 2019 at 11:40 am

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

  • Reply
    Haley
    July 5, 2019 at 8:27 am

    5 stars
    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
      Sue
      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
    Brandy
    June 3, 2019 at 5:16 pm

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

    • Reply
      Sue
      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
        Sue
        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
    SMBAXTERSD
    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
      Sue
      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
    angiesrecipes
    May 25, 2019 at 1:19 am

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

  • Reply
    Sonia
    May 24, 2019 at 11:17 am

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

  • Reply
    Caroline
    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
      Sue
      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
      Nola
      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
      Sue
      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
    Hana
    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
      Sue
      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
    Dannii
    May 24, 2019 at 7:58 am

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

    • Reply
      Sue
      May 24, 2019 at 8:32 am

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

  • Reply
    Becky
    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
      Sue
      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
      Hana
      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
        Sue
        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.

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