lemon poppy seed layer cake.

I am one of those people who bakes their own birthday cakes.

It’s not because I don’t have any friends. I’m wicked popular, you guys.

Just kidding. I’m not that popular. But I do have some amazing people I love a lot that seem to like me a little, too. It’s nice.

I bake my own birthday cake simply because I love doing it. It’s my little gift I get to give myself every year. I can dream up any flavor combination I want, and I don’t have to worry if someone doesn’t like it. It’s my birthday cake, after all.

Technically, I could eat the entire thing and it would totally be okay, because everyone knows that calories don’t count on your birthday. That’s just science.

Ryan’s birthday is ten days before mine, so we decided to have a joint party between his birthday and mine. We had a cupcake bar, plenty of homemade mixers and infused spirits, and a great group of people to share it all with. So many great friends came over to help us celebrate, and we stayed up until dawn the next day, talking and laughing and having a damn good time.

…Although I was nursing a wicked hangover until about 7pm the following day. Ouch. The older I get, the worse hangovers seem to hit me. My ability to shake off a night of staying up late and consuming an undisclosed amount of wine isn’t nearly as good as it was when I was 19 21. Oh well.

On my actual birthday, I went easy on the wine. Sort of. I celebrated my 27th year in a row of being awesome with my favorite boy, my favorite puppies and my favorite flavor: lemon.

There’s no two ways about it–I’m over the moon for lemon. I’m fairly certain that I prefer lemony desserts to chocolate. I know, I’m aghast, too. Lemon is just so happy! So bright and cheerful! So ebullient and fresh! There’s nothing negative I can say about a lemon.

Sure, they’re tart. Yep, lemons make your mouth pucker like an over eager pre-pubescent boy anxiously awaiting his first kiss. But I just can’t help myself. I’m obsessed, head over heels crazy in love with that sweet-tart combination.

I should warn you: this cake is a lemon-lover’s dream. Layers of tender-crumbed lemon poppyseed cake and ascerbic lemon curd mousse, blanketed in a lemon-kissed, vanilla bean-flecked Swiss Buttercream. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was dreamy. My birthday was over a month ago, and I’m still fixated on this lemon cake. It’s enchanting!

I cannot think of a dessert more representative of springtime than this cake. Light, sweet, tender and tart, this lemon poppyseed cake would be welcome at anyone’s table.

Whether it’s a birthday, an Easter brunch or simply dinner on Friday, believe me when I say that you want this cake in your life.

Lemon Poppyseed Layer Cake

Yield: one 6" triple layer cake


For the Lemon Poppyseed Cake

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
zest of 2 lemons
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups natural cane sugar
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks (save those whites for the frosting!)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla bean paste (substitute pure vanilla extract)
2-3 tablespoons poppyseeds (depends on how much you like them!)

For the Lemon Curd Mousse

1/2 cup lemon curd (store-bought or homemade works! I'll have a recipe for homemade up soon)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla bean paste (substitute pure vanilla extract)

For the Lemon Swiss Buttercream

3 large egg whites (remember, we saved them when we baked our cake!)
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
zest of one lemon
2 teaspoons pure lemon extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla bean paste (substitute pure vanilla extract)


For the Lemon Poppyseed Cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with a rack in the middle.

Butter and flour three 6" cake pans (or two 8" pans) and set aside.

Sift the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice and buttermilk in a small bowl, stirring to combine. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment fitted on, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.

Turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, yolks and vanilla bean paste and mix on medium for 1-2 minutes, until light and fluffy.

Alternately add the dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture in three additions, beginning and ending with the dry.

As soon as the final addition of flour has been incorporated into the batter and the dry ingredients have dissolved, turn the mixer off.

Stir the poppy seeds into the batter with a spatula, and portion the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Then transfer the cakes from the pans to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

The cakes can be made up to 5 days in advance. Wrap well with plastic wrap and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Alternately, the cakes can be frozen for up to 6 months. Before cutting and filling, leave the cakes wrapped up and allow to thaw in the fridge overnight before using.

For the Lemon Curd Mousse

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment fitted on, combine the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla bean paste.

Whip on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.

Using a silicone spatula, gently fold the lemon curd into the whipped cream until combined.

The lemon curd mousse can be made up to a day in advance. Place plastic wrap directly over the mousse to seal it from the air, and store in the fridge.

For the Lemon Swiss Buttercream

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar.

Place the bowl over a saucepan with about 2 inches of water in it, taking care the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water.

Place the saucepan with the bowl on top over medium heat, whisking gently.

Whisk the mixture until no longer grainy and warm, and the temperature is 120 degrees F.

Remove the bowl from the heat and place on stand mixer with the whisk attachment fitted on.

Whip on medium-high speed for 5-8 minutes, or until the sides of the bowl are cool and the mixture is pale and voluminous.

With the mixer on low, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time until fully incorporated. Add the lemon zest, lemon extract and vanilla bean paste and whip on medium for about 1 minute, until fluffy.

Assembling the cake

Place one cake layer on a small cardboard cake round, and put about 2-3 tablespoons of lemon curd mousse on top. Spread the mousse in an even layer, and top with another cake layer.

Repeat until the final cake layer is on.

Place about 1/2 cup of buttercream on the top layer and gently work the frosting from the center to the edges, working the frosting to the sides of the cake.

Smooth the frosting as evenly on the cake as possible, and top with any type of sprinkles you like!

Chill the cake in the fridge for about 30 minutes prior to serving.

    Pin It

32 Responses to “lemon poppy seed layer cake.”

  1. #
    Kathy - Panini Happy — March 22, 2012 at 1:55 am

    Happy birthday to you, Jaclyn!! And what a gorgeous lemony cake to celebrate (I’m a huge lemon fan too).

  2. #
    Kathryn — March 22, 2012 at 7:18 am

    I’ve never made my own birthday cake but I really like the idea especially when the cake is as dreamy as this!

  3. #
    brandi — March 22, 2012 at 8:56 am

    well, i know what i want for my birthday cake now. want to come to VA in june so you can whip this up for me? :)

  4. #
    Lori @ RecipeGirl — March 22, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Happy Birthday! It’s beautiful!

  5. #
    Erin — March 22, 2012 at 8:59 am

    I’ve only had lemon poppy seed muffins or pound cake, I would love to try this cake! Happy birthday!

  6. #
    Sommer@ASpicyPerspective — March 22, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Oh honey, I would have made you a birthday cake, but it wouldn’t have turned out so pretty!

  7. #
    katie — March 22, 2012 at 9:51 am

    This cake looks as beautiful as you are, and I’m sure it taste pretty damn good, too! I too, make my own birthday cakes, and given the fact that I’m going to be out of town for my birthday this year (in a little less than 3 weeks) I need to figure out what I’m making and transporting STAT! llol.

  8. #
    Stacia Trask — March 22, 2012 at 10:06 am

    I agree that there is nothing fresher than lemon: like having a clean conscience. It might be the only egoless flavor–so fresh and vast!

    Delightful! I adore lemon too, and I’m in the minority in my household, but I have a 14 year-old stepson who begs for my lemon poundcake. With both of our birthdays coming up, maybe we will share making this cake. (Birthday cake calories divided by two are surely negative!)

  9. #
    Lauren — March 22, 2012 at 10:15 am

    This cake is friggin’ adorable!

  10. #
    ErinsFoodFiles — March 22, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Happy Birthday lady! This cake is too cute for words. I bet lemon was a great “perk up” post hangover. ;)

  11. #
    Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar — March 22, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Oh my! So pretty. Lemon cake isn’t made enough!

  12. #
    Cassie — March 22, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Jaclyn, this is gorgeous. happy birthday, too! I usually make my own birthday cake because I’m pretty sure my husband would burn down the house. Lemon desserts are a winner!

  13. #
    Yammie @ Yammie's Noshery — March 22, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    This is the most beautiful cake I have ever seen, and it looks delicious! Happy birthday!

  14. #
    Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen — March 22, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Well when you make your own you always get exactly what you want! I’d love a lemon cake like this for any celebration.

  15. #
    Jeanette — March 22, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Happy Birthday! What a pretty cake you made for yourself.

  16. #
    Amy @ The Nifty Foodie — March 22, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Happy Birthday!! That cake is adorable and looks delish!

  17. #
    Kiran @ KiranTarun.com — March 23, 2012 at 1:19 am

    Happy Birthday! What a lovely and sweet surprise to celebrate :)

  18. #
    thelittleloaf — March 23, 2012 at 5:22 am

    I’m exactly the same – I’ve been making my own birthday cake since I was a little girl…I love it! I’d normally go for chocolate, but recently I’ve bee loving everything lemon – maybe it’s some kind of maturity that comes with age?! This looks gorgeous – love the little flecks of poppy seed throughout.

  19. #
    Brian @ A Thought For Food — March 23, 2012 at 9:31 am

    OOOOOOH! Happy Birthday! I can’t think of a more flavorful birthday cake than this! Looks marvelous!

  20. #
    Alison @ ingredients, Inc. — March 23, 2012 at 10:35 am

    love this! Great seeing you in Orlando! Happy B’day!

  21. #
    Cookin' Canuck — March 23, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    What a beautiful cake! I love the idea of the cupcake bar – we may have to do that for the next birthday in our house. As for shaking off a hangover…well, that’s next to impossible as I get older. I’m a lightweight now!

  22. #
    Bella — March 24, 2012 at 12:25 am

    I’m like…i love lemon more than chocolate, and am usually in charge of making my own birthday cake! However, i won’t wait till then to make this luscious looking cake….glad you had a wonderful celebration, keep being awesome! :)

  23. #
    Russell at Chasing Delicious — March 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Happy birthday!! What a scrumptious way to celebrate. That cake looks adorable and I love anything lemon poppy seed.

  24. #
    Lisa — March 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    I would love the lemon curd recipe also. I’m definitely making this, looks fantastically perfect for my daughter’s sweet 16 bday. Too funny, sweet 16 but a sour cake!

  25. #
    Kaitlin — March 31, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Hope you had a very happy birthday! I like to make my own bday cake, too :)

  26. #
    Audra — April 1, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I made this cake for our neighborhood bbq this weekend and it turned out *extremely* lemony. This is great for me because I love lemon and have been known to eat them unadulterated on occasion. But because that’s just weird, I figure if I like it, everyone else must be in permanent pucker mode. Not so with this cake! Everyone loved it! Evidently, it’s just the *right kind* of super lemon powered to please a crowd. Bravo. This one goes in my recipe binder.

  27. #
    Mel — April 2, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    I am making this on Good Friday, for my birthday!! I can’t wait!

  28. #
    Meike — May 18, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your lemon cake recipe! One of my son’s turned 15 today, and he requested a lemon cake. After researching many recipes online – many of which requiring a box of cake mix, it was refreshing to find your recipe. I left the poppy seeds out, but otherwise, the cake was made exactly as written. I doubled the recipe for the lemon curd mousse by accident, so used it as a frosting, as well as filling. Then, I piped some homemade whipped cream, tinted green, around the base and top edge. I can’t eat cake due to celiac disease, but I sure did enjoy the aroma while it was baking and just knew it was going to be a hit. EVERYONE in my family LOVED it! Seriously loved it. OMG after first bite loved it.

    Thanks again!

  29. #
    Katie — June 28, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    This cake is AMAZING! Instead of using the above filling, I made a blueberry curd and also put some on the side when serving it. The combination worked perfectly. The link to the curd is here: http://www.beantownbaker.com/2012/02/blueberry-curd.html#
    I changed the curd a bit by adding 2 egg yolks and cornstarch to make it thicker.

  30. #
    Kelly — July 5, 2012 at 10:55 am

    I found this site by randomly searching for a lemon poppyseed cake. A lot of them are bundt-style. So I picked yours and made it for my mom’s birthday on the Fourth of July. It was amazing! I added some blueberries since they are delicious right now. I would definitely make this cake again and pass the recipe on to others! Thank you!

  31. #
    Sunshine — March 2, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    As I was making this, it smelled delicious. Each of the separate ingredients tasted delicious, too. I ran into a problem, however, because the frosting started separating before I’d even put it on the cake! I think this was because my kitchen was a bit too warm. I should have put it in the refrigerator. Also, one of my layers was a bit lopsided, so the top layer slid almost completely off the cake! I managed to save it by putting tooth picks in to stabilize the layers and put it out on my freezing cold balcony to chill until I had to leave. None of these issues were on the fault of the recipe, though. Operator error, I’m relatively certain. I hope everyone likes how it tastes!

  32. #
    Sunshine — May 5, 2015 at 10:16 am

    I made this for a friend’s birthday last year. Unfortunately, it was way too warm in my apartment, so I needed to use toothpicks to hold the layers in place. We have muffins for mothers coming up for Mother’s day next weekend (it also happens to be my birthday), and I’m going to transform this into cupcake and squirt the mousse into the center of the cakes then frost them. I’m not usually one for filled anything, but these are going to be delicious.

Leave a Comment