Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

This elegant, low-stress dessert makes a sunny addition to any winter holiday table.

  • Serves

    One 10-inch cake

  • Cook

    45 minutes


By Nancy Silverton

Published on December 15, 2023

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Almost every American bakery has their version of a poppyseed cake, often in the form of a thickly glazed loaf or in muffins as rich and dense as cupcakes. But in this recipe adapted from her new book, The Cookie that Changed My Life, writer and restaurateur extraordinaire Nancy Silverton transforms the bakeshop classic into a gorgeous, subtly sweet cake suited to any brunch spread or dessert table you can imagine She lightens the cake’s crumb with beaten egg whites, giving the finished dish a lovely pale contrast with the poppy seeds, and bakes it in a tart pan for a low-profile but subtly crunchy and delicate dessert. The final result, topped with a thin lemony glaze, is easy and elegant. (For best results, use Diamond Crystal kosher salt for this recipe, the go-to salt for many bakers, including Silverton.)

From The Cookie That Changed My Life by Nancy Silverton with Carolynn Carreño © 2023 by Nancy Silverton. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


For the cake:

  • Nonstick spray or vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup poppy seeds, divided, plus more for garnish
  • 1½ cups (260g) all-purpose flour
  • ⅔ cup whole or low-fat buttermilk, shaken well
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 16 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • ¾ cup sugar, divided
  • 2 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • ¾ tsp. baking soda
  • ¾ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. cream of tartar
  • 4 extra-large egg whites

For the glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar, plus more as needed
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. whole milk
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice


Step 1

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Lightly coat the bottom and sides of the tart pan with nonstick spray or vegetable oil. Evenly sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the poppy seeds across the inside of the pan.

Step 2

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and the remaining 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds. In a small bowl, whisk the buttermilk and vanilla together.

Step 3

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula as needed, until the butter is just whipped but still cold, 3–4 minutes. Add ½ cup of the granulated sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3–4 minutes. Add the lemon zest, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar, and beat on low speed for about 30 seconds. Working in batches, add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture, scraping down the bowl from the bottom up between additions and mixing on low speed until fully incorporated. 

Step 4

Over a large bowl, separate the eggs, saving the whites, and discard the yolks. Using a handheld mixer, beat the egg whites at medium speed until foamy, 1–2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form, 1–2 minutes. Increase the speed to high, and with the mixer running, gradually beat in the remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar until the peaks are stiff and shiny, 1–2 minutes.

Step 5

Using a silicone spatula, vigorously stir two-thirds of the egg whites into the batter until fully incorporated. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the batter until no streaks of egg whites remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula.

Step 6

Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until the top is golden brown and firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 28–30 minutes. Remove and cool completely, then invert the cake onto a serving platter. 

Step 7

Make the glaze: in a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and lemon juice until no lumps remain.

Step 8

Spoon the glaze onto the center of the cake and use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to spread it in a circular motion, leaving about 1 inch of cake visible around the edges. Lightly sprinkle poppy seeds over the top and serve.

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