Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

Today I turned 41. And while it feels like I was 17 years old about five minutes ago, I’ve never been intimidated by getting older. Not everyone gets to get older, right? And so to celebrate entering my “early forties,” I baked myself this lemon poppy seed layer cake.

This past week I weighed my birthday cake options, considering a caramel cake, a lemon raspberry cake, and a spice cake with maple buttercream. Then yesterday, Mike mentioned something about a lemon poppy cake, and here we are. It’s one of my favorite cakes I’ve ever made. And being a proud Pittsburgher, I do love that it’s black and gold.

Ingredients

For the lemon poppy seed cake

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • About 1 cup poppy seed filling*
  • About 1/2 cup lemon curd*

For the lemon curd buttercream frosting

  • 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon lemon curd
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

*Truth: I used bottled filling this time, because I’ve never made my own poppy filling and my homemade lemon curd went awry. Even experienced bakers have mishaps in the kitchen, my friends. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 6-inch round cake pans, line each with a parchment circle, and lightly grease the parchment.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until very well-blended. Add eggs, vanilla extract, lemon extract, and lemon zest and beat well to combine, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times.

Add flour and milk alternatively in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour and beating until completely combined. Stir in poppy seeds.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cakes to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting: in a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add 2 cups powdered sugar and beat on low, then medium speed, until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add lemon curd and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, then slowly add remaining cup powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed for another 2-3 minutes; you want a spreadable consistency that is not too soft or firm.

To assemble the cake:

Slice each cake in half lengthwise to create four layers. Place the first layer on your cake stand – I anchored my cake with a blob of buttercream to help it stay in place. Spread about 1/2 cup poppy seed filling on the first layer, leaving about a 1/4 inch border at the edge of the cake; some of your filling will spread further once the other layers are added.

Top with the second layer, then spread that layer with lemon curd, again leaving a bit of a border around the edge. Repeat with the third layer, topping it with poppy seed filling, then place the final layer on the top of the cake.

Frost the entire cake with a thin crumb coat and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Remove from the fridge and frost to completely cover the crumb layer; you don’t need to put the frosting on too thick, as it will take away from the flavors in the cake itself. I chose to add some flower decorations to the top of my cake because I had a bit of frosting left over.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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