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
    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
    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
    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
      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
      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
    June 12, 2020 at 11:53 am

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

    • Reply
      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
    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
      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
    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
      June 2, 2020 at 9:02 am

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

  • Reply
    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
      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
        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
      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
    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
      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.

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