This is a little celebration of the sweetness, tartness, and zingy-ness of these much-loved fruits. When I want something bright and refreshing with a homey feel, this is the cake I’m going for. More than anything, I love the flexibility of this cake. If I’m all out of lemons, then I’ll double up on the grapefruit or orange and maybe even throw in a lime. There’s plenty of room to play around with the proportions of zest and juice to suit your own tastes or to use up a glut.–Benjamina Ebuehi

A cut citrus poppy seed cake with a white glaze.

Citrus Poppy Seed Cake

5 from 1 vote
This citrus poppy seed cake gets a lift from notes of orange, grapefruit, and lemon in both the exceptionally easy-to-make cake and its accompanying sweet glaze.
David Leite
Servings8 to 10 servings
Calories466 kcal
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 30 minutes


  • Wooden skewers or toothpicks


For the citrus poppy seed cake

  • Butter for the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup superfine sugar (or blitz granulated sugar in a food processor until finely ground but not powdery)
  • Grated zest of 1 orange, 1 white or pink grapefruit, and 2 lemons, preferably organic
  • 1 1/2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon (6 1/2 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons full-fat sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds

For the glaze

  • 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • Juice of 1/2 white or pink grapefruit and 1/2 orange
  • Grated zest of grapefruit, orange, or lemon, preferably organic, to decorate


Make the citrus poppy seed cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Butter a 9-by-5-inch (23-by-33-cm) loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
  • In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and as much or little of the zest as desired. Rub the zest into the sugar using your fingertips until it resembles wet sand.

    ☞ TESTER TIP: Many of us quite like the taste of the cake using all the zest, however, some found it slightly bitter. You know your own personal preference. Add all or not quite all of the zest from your citrus accordingly.

  • Add the butter and beat on medium-high speed until pale and creamy and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. If the mixture looks like it’s starting to curdle, add 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture.
  • Turn the mixer down to low and add the flour mixture. Once incorporated, switch to a spoon and stir in the sour cream followed by the poppy seeds, making sure they’re evenly distributed.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 60 minutes.

Make the glaze

  • In a small bowl, mix together the confectioners’ sugar and 1/4 cup mixed citrus juice until thoroughly combined. Add more citrus juice, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the glaze reaches a pourable consistency.
  • Once the cake is out of the oven, use a wooden skewer or toothpick to poke holes across the surface of the cake, inserting it as deep as you can. Spoon the glaze evenly over the warm cake, letting it soak through before adding more.
  • Let the cake cool completely before removing from the pan. Sprinkle with the citrus zest.
The New Way To Cake Cookbook

Adapted From

The New Way to Cake

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 466 kcalCarbohydrates: 63 gProtein: 5 gFat: 22 gSaturated Fat: 13 gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2 gMonounsaturated Fat: 6 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 121 mgSodium: 34 mgPotassium: 130 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 44 gVitamin A: 699 IUVitamin C: 1 mgCalcium: 79 mgIron: 2 mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2019 Benjamina Ebuehi. Photo © 2019 Holly Wulff Petersen. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

One of my taste testers declared, “This is the best poppy seed cake they have ever had in my life!” Enough said!! This cake was lovely. Super easy to throw together, and worth adding the different citrus fruits. I really tasted orange; my husband picked up on the grapefruit. It was a nice twist on the usual lemon cake and is absolutely one I’ll be making again!

I blitzed sugar in the food processor; not sure this was worth the effort… will try it again with just regular granulated sugar. I used a stone loaf pan, so mine needed more time than the recipe stated. I wasn’t paying attention and dumped all my juice into the sugar, so I had a very loose glaze (1 1/2 cups) but I still poured it all on the cake and there were no issues. The cake soaked it all up. I just didn’t have a “glazed top” as it was more like a very moist-looking top.

A cut citrus poppy seed cake with a white glaze.

I think we have a winner! I’ve baked a number of single-note citrus cakes, always with great results, but the variety of citrus with lemon, lime, and grapefruit really make this simple cake a hit. The batter did appear to curdle but it came back together in the end to form a lovely, moist, delicate crumb.

My mixture did start to look like it was curdling but I just persevered until all the eggs were in and it came back together when all the flour went in. It did cause me a little bit of a panic in those minutes in between.

I used a chopstick to poke holes in my cake (I wouldn’t recommend this) but the glaze was a great addition and while I was worried about it being a big mess once I turned it out of the pan, it worked a treat.

This poppy seed cake is the perfect balance of many things—sweet yet citrusy, airy yet moist, soft yet textured. It’s easy to make year round because the ingredients aren’t very seasonal, but because it’s so light and bright, it fits in well at a summer picnic.

A cut citrus poppy seed cake with a white glaze.

I was initially surprised at the amount of zest used, but in the end the citrus flavor wasn’t overpowering. It was incredibly satisfying to mix the zest and sugar with my hands. It felt like playing on a tasty beach in some parallel Willy Wonka world.

It’s really difficult to resist the temptation to cut the cake before it cools, but the slight sugar crust that develops from the glaze is worth the wait.

I found superfine caster sugar but it was super expensive ($7 for a small box) so I opted to blend regular sugar in a food processor. Great suggestion!

I think there was slightly too much glaze, making it a little too sweet. Making it again, I would reduce the confectioners’ sugar by 1/4 cup and reduce the juice accordingly.

I could see Greek yogurt being a great substitution for sour cream here.

First off, I am not a baker. I bake only two things—a zucchini blueberry lemon cake and red velvet cupcakes. Something that only takes 40 minutes to bake in the oven takes me about 2 hours to clean up my kitchen as it always looks like a flour bomb went off, so I tend to shy away from baking. However, I am the biggest citrus fan and this recipe is close to my zucchini blueberry cake so I thought…why not…and BOOM! The flavor of this cake is absolutely delicious. The first taste is the exploding citrus glaze followed by a tender “hint” of citrus cake. Our eyes popped when we took our first bite and even though we just wanted one small piece it turned into a couple…each.

I used orange and grapefruit juices. It was really thick batter and it didn’t pour into the pan. I had to put it in via blobs and then smooth it out. I was worried it would turn into a dense cake but it didn’t. After 40 minutes the toothpick came out with a bit of batter on it so I baked it 10 minutes more and it was perfect. Moist and golden brown on top.

As a non-baker, I found this recipe easy to follow and not complicated to make. The cake turned out better than I could have hoped for. I’d like to tell you exactly how many servings but like I said in my notes we had a few…each.

I did make this cake twice—first as written and the second time swapping out the sugar and icing sugar for Swerve’s Granular Sugar Replacement and Swerve’s Confectioners (icing sugar) Sugar Replacement. I make my zucchini cake using those sugars, as I have friends with diabetes, so I try to accommodate them. My boyfriend and I couldn’t really tell the difference except we both liked the Swerve a tiny bit better as it wasn’t as sweet so the citrus really came through. So this recipe could accommodate a sugar replacement like Swerve.

A lemon poppy seed slice is almost impossible to refuse when I see it offered in a cafe, and IF I am lucky, it is at that perfect level of fragrant and fresh but densely satisfying and not stale. Finding a favorite (and easy) version seems a worthy pursuit. This was almost perfect, but took me a little tinkering to get to the “I’m cutting another slice, do you want one, too?” stage.

I reduced the sugar by 25%. That yielded a nicely domed, evenly baked loaf. You will want a slice as soon as it is cool but I implore you to WAIT for it. Make this a day ahead, wrap it, and chill it. By giving the cake a chance to equilibrate moisture and flavor and texture, you will be rewarded with a much more wonderful experience. This is probably true of many cakes, but seems especially true for pound cakes (and this seems to fall into that genre).

The scent of the fresh citrus zest is irresistible. Grate or Microplane it right over the sugar to make sure you capture every bit of the volatile oils. The second time I made this, I used a lime to zest over the glazed cake, which was a fun visual contrast as well as introducing another citrus aroma (a reward for the cook along with that last teaspoon of glaze, so you get a taste of how wonderful the grapefruit and orange blend). Sift your confectioners’ sugar so lumps are no issue.

While you can certainly use whatever citrus you have the most of, the combination is more interesting. You might even have to hide half in the freezer to stop eating more of it.

I used ruby red grapefruit, navel orange, and Eureka lemons.

I haven’t baked a cake in ages, (shame on me!) but this delightful cake is now in the same category as ham and Cheddar biscuits, that is, “It’s time to make it again.”

I can easily see changing up the citrus for, say, an extra grapefruit or a couple of limes. This cake is versatile and so delicious.

I had no caster sugar so I blitzed some organic cane sugar. I experienced no curdling when the eggs were added.

This easily makes 8 to 10 servings, depending on how thick you cut it. Made this on Monday afternoon and it keeps perfectly covered in foil. It’s now Wednesday morning.

I found the texture of the cake to be soft and a bit crumbly when eating the cake as soon as it came out of the tin. Perhaps the texture will firm up more when the cake is slightly older or cooler. It was also visibly colored at the edges with the glaze and obviously quite sticky. The cake has a good strong citrus flavor and would be a good tea-time treat.

We so loved this citrus poppy seed cake. What I loved so much in particular was the citrus flavor. Pure perfection. The cake was tender and moist. The batter was easy to make.

I didn’t have superfine sugar and just blitzed my regular sugar for 30 seconds or so. This did the trick. Once all zested, I found the amount of citrus to be a lot! I truly thought the citrus flavor was going to be too much of a punch but it was not. I also thought my husband would be turned off by the grapefruit flavor but it was not detectable on its own.

Once the cake was in the oven, it took 45 minutes for the tester to come out clean. I used 2 wooden skewers, the kind used on the grill, to poke the holes in the cake. I ended up using all of the juice from 1/2 pink grapefruit and 1/2 orange to make the glaze.

Once the cake was completely cooled, I couldn’t wait to cut into it. It’s a perfect spring or summer cake or really any time of the year. It was the perfect combination of sweet and tangy with a light flavor of poppy seeds. I seriously wanted to eat the entire cake in one sitting!

I have a happy bias (or sweet spot!) for any cake that starts with rubbing zest and sugar together. The sweet scent was heavenly, and the addition of grapefruit to the regulars of lemon and orange was so good and provided a nice, wintery twist to the poppy cake! Everyone really enjoyed the cake. I tend to prefer less sweet cakes, so if I were to make this again, I might use less sugar in the glaze. Everyone else in the family thought it was perfect as is, so this is just a matter of taste.

We enjoyed this as a dessert the day it was baked and the next day as a mid-morning snack. The cake was very good the next day, as cakes with a soaking glaze often are. What makes this cake special is the citrus combination—it was a really nice change, especially for fall and winter. It is familiar in name and technique, but at the same time, offers a special twist. That’s what makes a great and much-loved recipe.

We liked the flavor and the loaf came together relatively easily. If I were going to make this again, I would probably mix up the citrus—maybe use both lemon and orange in the loaf and in the icing.

To ice the loaf, I poured a little on and then let it sit for a little bit and then repeated with a little more and continued until the icing bowl was empty. Then I went back and took what spilled onto the plate and spooned it over. Eventually the icing became more opaque and filled in where the holes were.

I love the bold citrus in this sweet cake and poppy seed-infused bakes have my heart forever. I cannot stop eating it! Such a lovely cake to be had with coffee in the morning or just on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Plus, it’s an easy recipe that doesn’t take long to whip up.

I found it next to impossible to zest my grapefruit, so I wound up using a peeler and chopping the zest as tiny as possible.

There was a lot of glaze to get through, and it required patience to pour it over. I would wait at least a couple minutes between dousings, and by that time usually the glaze had sunk in.

Yum! This is a great cake. Although I followed the recipe, I like that it’s noted that you can sort of play around with the citrus and tweak according to what you have on hand. I really like recipes that don’t require special ingredients—that you can pretty much make it any time you have a craving versus having to go to the store for extra ingredients. (There is a time and place for that, too, but it’s nice to throw this together and have it available within a few hours without extra trips.)

I had a little difficulty getting the glaze to soak into the holes as the top of my cake was much higher in the middle than the picture above so the glaze kept running down to the sides of the cake. It was still delicious and some of the glaze did make it in there.

I would say this served 8 to 10 people because my family of 4 has each had 2 slices and there is a little bit hanging on.

This was great for breakfast with coffee! This recipe would be great as a non-fancy dessert served with whipped cream and/or berries. I will be making it again for Christmas morning.

The orange and grapefruit add a punch to the typical lemon flavor of this loaf. I really enjoyed it and I would definitely make it again.

The loaf was not fully cooked at 45 minutes, I added another 10 minutes and the top was slightly overdone by the time the center was completely cooked. In a second attempt I split the loaf between 2 pans, and cooked it for 42 minutes with much greater success.

I really enjoyed making (and eating) this cake. I often like to cook and bake with citrus and always feel citrus cakes go really well with a good cup of tea. The recipe was very straightforward and easy to get all the ingredients. I reduced the quantity of sugar (used 125g instead of 200g).

What a burst of sunshine in my mouth during these dark times! I’m a sucker for a good lemon poppy seed slice, so this was totally up my alley. While this citrus cake could compete with even the best breakfast pastry at my favorite cafes, it could’ve benefitted a little bit more from even more citrus, perhaps with the addition of a little bit of juice inside the batter along with the rest of the ingredients. (Although I feel like this would require a little more flour to balance out the wetness.) Nevertheless, the harmonious marriage of orange, grapefruit, and lemon was sheer bliss.

In terms of the bake, the biggest issue I had was with the timing. While the recipe says it’ll be done baking within 45 minutes, mine ended up taking more than an hour to finish. (My boyfriend said I could’ve kept it in for a little bit longer since one of his slices was a little moist in the middle, but I blame that on aggressive glazing on my end.)

The cake also absorbed all of the glaze I poured on top of it, perhaps because it was a little too hot while I applied it. The end result didn’t have that glistening glaze finish that was pictured, but I didn’t bake this for the aesthetic. I baked it for the brightness and sponginess and sweetness that was advertised—and it delivered on all of those fronts.

I swapped sour cream for creme fraiche because that’s what I had on hand and I cubed the butter before adding it to the sugar for easier blending.

I was looking forward to trying this recipe as I love lemon poppy seed muffins, and I was intrigued by the use of other citrus, i.e. orange and grapefruit, in this recipe. I was not disappointed. The cake was moist and delicious with a nice crumb.

I liked the technique of rubbing the zest into the sugar and think it really helped to incorporate the ingredients. Due to the orange zest, the butter/sugar mixture had a bit of an orange hue, but was nonetheless light and creamy after 5 minutes in the stand mixer. I did not have any issues with the eggs curdling and everything came together quite nicely. The batter did seem a bit thick almost like a dough but it worked out fine.

I baked the cake for 50 minutes, which was about right. I checked it at 40 minutes and although nicely browned on the outside, I thought it might be a bit underdone in the middle. I’m glad I baked it for the extra time.

For the glaze, I used about 1/3 cup of juice which produced a nice consistency. I had a few extra tablespoons of juice that I didn’t use, as I thought it would be too runny.

Overall the recipe turned out quite moist and tasty. I will make it again, trying different combinations of citrus fruits to see how that impacts the flavor.

The recipe served about 8 generous slices.

About David Leite

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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