Citrus Poppy Seed Cake

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.

A cut loaf of lemon-poppy seed cake on a white background

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

Citrus Poppy Seed Cake

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Serves 8 to 10
Print RecipeBuy the The New Way to Cake cookbook

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Special Equipment: Wooden skewers or toothpicks


  • For the citrus poppy seed cake
  • For the glaze


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.

Print RecipeBuy the The New Way to Cake cookbook

Want it? Click it.

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.

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