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

A zucchini cake with lemon and poppyseed topped with lemon frosting on a platter with half the cake cut into slices.

Zucchini Cake with Lemon and Poppyseeds

5 / 2 votes
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.
Servings8 to 10 servings
Calories629 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time1 hour 30 minutes


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.
Cinnamon, Spice and Warm Apple Pie

Adapted From

Cinnamon, Spice & Warm Apple Pie

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Serving: 1 sliceCalories: 629 kcalCarbohydrates: 73 gProtein: 10 gFat: 35 gSaturated Fat: 18 gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3 gMonounsaturated Fat: 8 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 162 mgSodium: 58 mgPotassium: 275 mgFiber: 3 gSugar: 52 gVitamin A: 1013 IUVitamin C: 9 mgCalcium: 144 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 © 2010 Ryland Peters & Small. Photo © 2010 Peter Cassidy. All rights reserved.

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

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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Recipe Rating


  1. Please add the 9 oz of zucchini equals about two cups note in the comments to the main text of the recipe. I didn’t see this and instead grated two smaller-side-of-medium zucchini and ended up with a soggy cake. Flavors are great together and I can tell a less soggy cake would have been fantastic. It also involves way more than 15 minutes of hands-on time, between grating zucchinis and lemons, beating egg whites into peaks… Took at least an hour to get it in the oven.

    1. Thanks, Eliza. We’ve added that detail to the recipe. We’re sorry that it didn’t turn out as you’d anticipated but are glad that you like the flavors. We hope you try it again and let us know how it turns out.

  2. 5 stars
    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!

    1. Thanks Tania! With all the zucchini in the produce section right now you could have a little treat in the morning and in the afternoon.

  3. Love this recipe, the cake is so moist and such a switch from all of the chocolate-zucchini or carrot-zucchini cake recipes. Whenever I serve it, people cannot stop at one slice. It freezes well which is a nice benefit when you live in a single household. I have not made the frosting as it sounded too sweet for me. What I did this last time is served it with fresh raspberries. Fabulous! Blueberries would be great too. The St. Paul Pioneer Press had shared this recipe with credit given to your website which is how I found you.

    1. Barbara, how lovely of you to take the time to let us know! We so appreciate it. And we’re thrilled that you like this cake as much as we do. Welcome to our world and we look forward to hearing which recipes you try next!

  4. 5 stars
    This super-moist cake is awesome, the texture and flavour are so memorable. I browned the butter for the icing and doubled the recipe, and months after I made the cake people were still talking to me about it.

  5. 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!

    1. You bet, Jenn. Sorry that the cake stuck. I wonder if adding the milk mixture after the batter was in the pan caused the sticking?

  6. 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.

    1. 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…

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

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

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