Zucchini Cake with Lemon and Poppyseed

Zucchini Cake with Lemon and Poppyseed Recipe

There is a lovely retro charm, redolent of 1950s cookbooks, about making a sweet zucchini cake with a vegetable that’s usually served savory. Of course, the zucchini here performs the same function as grated carrot does in the more familiar carrot cake. It keeps this cake wonderfully fresh and moist.–Brian Glover

LC Some Like It Sweet Note

Nothing helps a vegetable go down without a struggle like a little sweetness. This particularly lovely zucchini delivery system—an old-fashioned dessert that’s not unlike carrot cake—is sweet but not too sweet. In other words, it’s just right. Although you can temper how much sugar you prefer to dose—or douse—your zucchini with by twiddling with the frosting. If you wish to retain some sense of savoriness, omit it. If you want to layer on the sugar, frost away. And if your sweet tooth falls someplace in between, consider a sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar. You can’t really go wrong any way.

Zucchini Cake with Lemon and Poppyseed Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 15 M
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • For the zucchini cake
  • 3 tablespoons poppyseeds
  • Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/3 cup milk, preferably whole milk
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • 1 1/3 cups light soft brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour, sifted (or substitute 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt)
  • 2/3 cup ground almonds
  • 9 ounces zucchini, topped, tailed, and coarsely grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • For the lemon frosting
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)

Directions

  • Make the zucchini cake
  • 1. Butter a 9-inch springform cake pan. Preheat the oven to 375° F (190°C).
  • 2. Place the poppyseeds and grated lemon zest in a small bowl. Heat the milk until hot but not boiling and stir it into the poppyseed mixture. Let it cool while you make the batter.
  • 3. Beat the butter and brown sugar together until very light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract, flour, and ground almonds. Gently fold in the zucchini, followed by the poppyseed mixture.
  • 4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar until stiff. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the cake mixture. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and level the surface.
  • 5. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the cake is just firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Make the lemon frosting
  • 6. When the cake is cool, sift the confectioners’ sugar into a bowl. Make a well in the center and add the still-hot melted butter. Stir, adding sufficient lemon juice, a dribble at a time, to achieve a spreadable frosting. Mix in the grated lemon zest. Spread the frosting over the cooled cake and let it set at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before slicing and serving.
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Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Susan Bingaman

Aug 07, 2011

When you’ve got zucchini coming out your ears (thanks to your garden or maybe your neighbor’s), make this cake and make it often. It’s light enough that you won’t feel guilty having a second piece or maybe sneaking a piece for breakfast instead of that lemon-poppyseed muffin. And since it’s got zucchini in it, this cake is healthy, right? I was a little bit worried about how much lemon went into this cake, but it was so fresh-tasting. Just make sure the cake is completely cool before frosting. In a rush, I spread on the frosting while the cake was a bit warm, and it turned into a glazed cake more than a frosted cake.

Testers Choice
Tamiko Lagerwaard

Aug 07, 2011

I thought this was tasty and, as promised, moist and fresh. The lemon zest really came through as a dominant flavor, which I appreciated, as I love lemon. I thought the frosting made this a bit too sweet, though. The cake’s flavor and sweetness can stand alone. The cake was easy and fairly quick to assemble, and I thought the addition of the warmed milk to (I am guessing) soften the poppy seeds and infuse the lemon flavor into the milk was innovative. The whipped egg whites guarantee a light cake, and I wasn’t disappointed. I would make this again, but as for me, I’d omit the frosting.

Testers Choice
Linda B.

Aug 07, 2011

This cake is moist and dense, like a carrot cake, and is a great use for all the zucchini this time of year. The poppyseed and lemon zest are a nice touch. The tangy frosting really livens up the cake, so don’t leave it off!

Testers Choice
Lisa O.

Aug 07, 2011

I thought this would be more like the familiar zucchini bread, but it is a bit more “refined,” and lovely enough for company. It may seem like there are a few unnecessary steps (like putting the poppy seeds and lemon in warm milk) but they all make this a superior recipe to others I have tried. It is super moist and delicious, and the use of brown sugar instead of white gives it a less sweet taste that’s really nice and brings out the lemon zest and poppy seeds. A few hints: When you grind the almonds, add just a little sugar so they don’t get pasty in the food processor. This won’t change the recipe. Grind a little extra, to sprinkle on top of the frosting – very nice touch. Nine ounces of zucchini is ABOUT two medium zucchini. If you can’t weigh it, it’s two cups of loosely packed shredded zucchini.
For the step about heating the milk etc.: If you prefer, heat the milk in a bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds, and add the poppyseeds and lemon zest.
When mixing, add the vanilla as directed, but lower the speed before adding the flour and almonds. (WAY less messy!) I added the milk mixture at this point and mixed for just a second to completely incorporate. Test the cake at 45 minutes — I didn’t have to go much longer, just about 48 minutes was perfect in my oven. Well worth a little extra effort, this cake is not only a good way to use summer zucchini, it’s an awesome recipe for all year round.

Testers Choice
Bette Fraser

Aug 07, 2011

Have you ever wanted to be reminded of your Grandma’s kitchen? This is the cake for you! It is a delicious, comforting cake with just the right amount of spice and a nice crumb.

Testers Choice
Tania M.

Aug 07, 2011

I made this cake for dessert for a group of good foodie friends to elicit their feedback! Overall, the comments were positive — nice texture, light, airy, delicious flavors with the poppyseed and lemon. The sweetness of the frosting contrasted nicely with the more savory cake, and the texture was moist but not heavy. However, we all felt this was specifically a “morning tea” treat, better served before noon, and perhaps could be improved by cooking in a loaf pan or maybe configured as cupcakes? I have to say, after having it for breakfast this morning, I quite agree that it was even better the next day!

Testers Choice
Cindy Zaiffdeen

Aug 07, 2011

Can’t have too many recipes for zucchini cake, so couldn’t wait to try this one. I followed the recipe exactly, and was impressed with how high the cake rose in the pan. I let it sit in the pan for the 10 minutes and when I came back to remove it from the pan, I was a little disappointed as the cake had sunk — it had started out looking light and fluffy like a chiffon cake, but afterward it looked a bit like a crater. I didn’t need to worry. The cake was extremely moist and delicious. It must be the ground almonds that weighed the batter down a bit. I loved the extra crunch, not only from the poppy seeds, but from the ground almonds as well. It was absolutely delicious with the lemon glaze. Served it with fresh strawberries and frozen vanilla yogurt. Fantastic!

Comments
Comments
  1. Deb says:

    It’s zucchini time of year! This cake offers a delightful alternative to zucchini bread. Love the addition of poppy seeds and lemon.

  2. Lauralee Hensley says:

    I never liked zucchini bread and such in the past, but I’m going to give this a try. Thanks for the recipe.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      You’re quite welcome, Lauralee. Thank you for the vote of confidence! We’ll be waiting to hear what you think…!

  3. Yanna says:

    Great lemon flavor! I followed the recipe exactly and my friends fell in love with it, though my icing looked thinner than the photo’s. Should I have refrigerated it first? I am so happy that I gave this recipe a try.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      So lovely to hear the cake is a keeper! I’m wondering if you added the full 3 tablespoons of lemon juice right away, Yanna, or if you perhaps started incrementally as the recipe suggests? I always start with the least amount of liquid possible, as you can always add more but you can’t subtract. (There. Now you know the full extent of my math skills!) Anyways, icings like this aren’t an exact science, which is an excellent thing because you can simply stir in a little more confectioners’ sugar to thicken the consistency, then taste, then add a drop or three more lemon juice if need be, then taste, then go from there, taking notes as you go so you can replicate it the following time. Let us know how it goes…

  4. Jenn says:

    What a lovely cake! I had already used all my lemon zest in another recipe AND I forgot to add the milk and poppy seed mixture until *after* I had poured the batter into the pan (oops!) and it still turned out gorgeously.

    My only complaint is that it was hard to remove the cake from the bottom of the pan because it stuck a bit, even though I buttered all around the pan. (Minor complaint).

    A couple changes that worked out well for me: I didn’t have cream of tartar so I used 1/2 tsp of lemon with my four egg whites (i.e., 1/8 tsp per egg white) and they stiffened nicely as far as I could judge, so it worked out well. I also used 1 cup all-purpose white flour and a 1/2 cup whole wheat along with the baking powder and salt as called for in the recipe.

    Finally, I halved the frosting recipe based on other readers’ comments about its sweetness and it was perfect! Not too sweet, but it definitely enhanced the cake.

    Thanks for the recipe!

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