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Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake

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There’s a special place in my heart for loaf cakes.

They’re unfussy and unassuming. They don’t demand layers and decoration and all of the foofaraw that can go along with a serious baking project. They don’t demand a special occasion.

They’re suitable for dessert, portable for picnics, and a great excuse for sweet snacking. If you call them quick breads you can get away with eating them for breakfast. (Like banana bread, or carrot loaf cake.)

Flour, butter, sugar, lemons, poppy seeds, and eggs in prep bowls

This lemon poppy seed loaf cake has a bright lemon flavor and is dotted with poppy seeds that add a textural contrast to the tender cake crumb.

The trick to getting the lemon flavor to shine through is grating the lemon zest right into the sugar and then stirring the zest around in the sugar.

This helps to release the lemon oils in the zest and infuse the sugar with all of that delightful lemon fragrance. It’s a technique you can use in any baked good that calls for citrus zest.

Lemon zest grated into a bowl of sugar with zested lemons alongside

But other than mixing the sugar and the zest together, the technique on this lemon poppy seed cake is pretty simple and straightforward.

You cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture turns pale and fluffy. Lots of people skimp on this step. It’s more than just mixing the butter and sugar together. You want to whip enough air into the butter to create pockets for the leavener to expand and give the cake a light texture. In a stand mixer this will take a few minutes. With a hand mixer a bit longer.

If you feel the mixture in your fingers it should feel moist and light and there should be barely any grit because most of the sugar will have dissolved.

A paddle with butter and sugar creamed together

Then you mix in the eggs and buttermilk and lemon juice.

And then it’s just a matter of whisking the flour and baking powder and soda and salt together and adding the dry stuff to the wet stuff and mixing until the mixture is just combined.

Then there’s the simple matter of stirring in the poppy seeds and transferring the batter to a loaf pan that’s been sprayed with nonstick spray.

Lemon poppy seed cake batter in a loaf pan

Then the cake goes into the oven where it bakes into a tender golden loaf.

While the cake is in the oven, you can make the lemon glaze.

The glaze is just a mix of powdered sugar and lemon juice, but it helps keep the cake moist and gives some extra lemon zing to the cake.

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake, sliced side exposed

This one’s a keeper.

And it’s a good one for whenever you want to scratch the itch for cake without going to too much trouble.

Three Slices of Lemon poppy seed loaf cake on a tray
Yield: 1 9x5-inch loaf cake

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake

Three Slices of Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake

This lemon poppy seed loaf cake has bright lemon flavor and is speckled with poppy seeds.

The key to getting the most lemon flavor here is grating the lemon zest right into the sugar to release the lemon oils, so don't skip that step. I like to use a microplane for zesting citrus.

You'll get the most juice out of your lemons if you use simple lemon squeezer/juicer, but it's not necessary.

I call for making this cake in a stand mixer, but you could absolutely use a hand mixer here if that's what you have.

The glaze helps keep the cake moist and adds another layer of lemon flavor from the lemon juice.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams, 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (120 grams) buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons (45 grams) lemon juice
  • 1 3/4 cups (220 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons (22 grams) poppy seeds

For the glaze

  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9"x5" loaf pan with nonstick spray and set aside.
  2. Add the sugar to a small mixing bowl and grate the lemon zest directly into the sugar. Stir the zest around in the sugar until thoroughly combined. It should smell fragrant with lemon oil.
  3. Add the lemon sugar mixture along with the butter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time and mix one medium-high speed between each addition. Add the buttermilk and lemon juice and mix until combined.
  5. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to a large mixing bowl and whisk together. Add to the wet ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl to mix in any stray flour.
  6. Add the poppy seeds and stir in with a rubber spatula until well distributed throughout the batter. Transfer to the prepared loaf pan and bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes.
  7. While the cake is in the oven, make the glaze. Whisk together the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Set aside.
  8. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire cooling rack. Brush the glaze over the top and sides of the cake with a pastry brush. Let cool to room temperature, then slice and serve.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1 slice

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 136Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 48mgSodium: 272mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 1gSugar: 10gProtein: 4g
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