This zucchini cake with lemon and poppyseed is an old-fashioned way to use up that seemingly infinite supply of summer zucchini. Not overly sweet, it’s made with zucchini, ground almonds, and poppyseeds. Lemon frosting optional.
There is a lovely retro charm, redolent of 1950s cookbooks, about making a sweet zucchini cake. Of course, the zucchini here performs the same function as grated carrot does in the more familiar carrot cake.
[Editor’s Note: Nothing helps a vegetable go down without a struggle like a little sweetness! This particularly old-fashioned zucchini delivery system really doesn’t belie its vegetable origins despite being sweet but not toothache-inducingly sweet. If you wish to dose your sugar intake and retain some sense of savoriness, omit the frosting. If you want to layer on the sugar, frost away. And if your sweet tooth falls someplace in between, consider a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar. Can’t really go wrong.]–Brian Glover
Zucchini Cake with Lemon and Poppyseeds
For the zucchini cake
- 3 tablespoons poppyseeds
- Finely grated zest of 2 lemons preferably organic
- 1/3 cup milk preferably whole milk
- 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for the pan
- 1 1/3 cups light 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 (about 2 medium or 2 cups)
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
For the lemon frosting
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tablespoons (1 oz) unsalted butter melted
- 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice plus 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
Make the zucchini cake
- Butter a 9-inch (23-cm) springform cake pan. Preheat the oven to 375° F (190°C).
- Place the poppyseeds and 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 stir together the rest of the batter.
- In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter and brown sugar together until very light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Beat in the egg yolks, 1 at a time, followed by the vanilla extract, flour, and ground almonds. Gently fold in the zucchini, followed by the poppyseed mixture.
- In a separate bowl using clean beaters or a whisk, beat 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.
- Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the cake is just firm to the touch and a tester, skewer, or toothpick inserted in 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
- 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, until you achieve a spreadable frosting. Mix in the grated lemon zest.
Frost the zucchini cake
- Spread the frosting over the cooled cake and let it set at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before slicing and serving.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
When you’ve got zucchini coming out your ears (thanks to your garden or maybe your neighbor, make this zucchini 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.
I thought this would be more like the familiar zucchini bread, but it’s 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’s 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.
I thought this zucchini cake 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 (I am guessing) to 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.
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!
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.
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!
Originally published August 25, 2020