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Lemon Yogurt Poppy Seed Cake

February 21, 2013

Poppies, Poppies… Remember the Wicked Witch of the West stroking her crystal ball as she cast a spell over Dorothy and Company? Their hurried steps got slower and slower as they crossed that lush field of red poppies.

Poppy Seeds, also known as muhn (moon) in Yiddish, are very popular in cakes, danishes and this time of year, in hamentashen.

Hamentashen are triangle-shaped cookies that have all types of fillings and are enjoyed during the Jewish festival of Purim to recall the story of Queen Esther. I didn’t fully appreciate poppy seeds as a child because I always preferred hamentashen with apricot or cherry fillings. But all that’s changed.

This week, my Hebrew class had a Purim celebration. My classmate, Judy, signed up for the hamentashen-making duties. I had poppy seeds on the brain and in my pantry.

Poppy seeds have a lovely delicate flavor and aroma. And the lemon-poppy seed combination is terrific.

lemons and poppy seeds

You see it in all manner of cakes, loaves and muffins.

lemon zest and sugar

Sometimes lemon zest has a tendency to clump a bit. Christopher Kimball, of Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen, has a solution. He is a wonderful food investigator, always coming up with just the right ratio and problem-solving his way through a gazillion cooking and baking situations. He finds that a few quick pulses of the zest and sugar in the food processor help permeate the fantastic aroma of the zest throughout the batter. And he’s right. I used my mini-processor and it didn’t take much time at all.

lemon zest and sugar in Mini-Cuisinart

A fine-mesh sieve works just as well as a traditional sifter. Sometimes I skip this step but I wanted to ensure a light batter.

sift dry ingredients

Whisk the yogurt with other wet ingredients.

yogurt and more wet ingredients

unbaked lemon poppy seed cake

Get the lemon syrup ready.

lemon syrup

Poke little holes all over the loaf.

lemon poppy cake ready for more lemony flavor

Shiny and Oh-So Aromatic

Shiny and Lemony Loaf

So what if a little seed or two gets stuck  between your  teeth? Consider it a reminder to floss! So, enjoy this cake…and floss away my friends!

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf

Happy Purim!

Recipe barely adapted from Deb’s Lemon-Blueberry  Yogurt Loaf of Smitten Kitchen (SK), which she adapted from Ina Garten. (I am a huge fan of going to Ina and then adapting her creations to my style. Smitten Kitchen is another excellent resource that I refer to, especially when baking.)

Lemon Yogurt Poppy Seed Cake


1 1/2 c.+ 1 T. all-purpose flour (if you’re skipping the poppy seeds or fruit, you can also skip the last tablespoon of flour)
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. kosher salt or sea salt
1 c. 2% Greek yogurt (SK uses plain whole-milk yogurt)
1 scant c. plus 1 t. sugar
3 large eggs
2 t. grated lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)
1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/3 c. poppy seeds
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice


Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. (I used a 9 1/4″ loaf pan and it came out fine).

If you have a mini-food processor, use it to do a few quick pulses of the lemon zest with the sugar. Or, you can haul out your large food processor. This step does a lot to evenly distribute the zest throughout the batter. But if time is short, or you’re opposed to washing food processor parts, simply use a fork to separate the strands of zest throughout the wet ingredients.

Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt into one bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar with lemon zest,  eggs, vanilla and oil. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix the poppy seeds with the remaining tablespoon of flour, and fold them into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping out onto a cooling rack. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, use a toothpick to poke holes all over the top and sides of the cake. Use a pastry brush to coat the cake with the lemon-sugar mixture. Allow a little time for it to soak into the cake. Cool.

Smitten Kitchen offers these additional ideas:

  • Swapping all of the olive oil with canola oil
  • Swapping a few tablespoons of the vegetable oil with a nut or coconut oil
  • Swapping orange, blood orange or lime for the lemon
  • Using 1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and rinsed (miniature wild blueberries are great for this, and pose the least risk of sinking) instead of poppy seeds
  • Swapping blackberries or raspberries for the blueberries
  • Adding 1/2 cup of toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans
  • Swapping almond extract for the vanilla
  • Covering the cake, once completely cooled, with a glaze of 1 cup of powdered sugar whisked with 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • This recipe will also yield about 12 standard muffins or 36 miniature muffins, baking time adjusted (OR it may be baked in an 8″ square or 9″ round, yielding a thin cake [about 1 1/2″ tall], with baking time adjusted).
  • It could be doubled and baked in a well-greased and floured bundt pan, baking time adjusted.

MORE inspiration for this cake came from:

  • My new food bloggy friend, Liz The Chef, who recently posted a delicious Lemon Yogurt Cake.
  • Her site led me to another wonderful find,  Winnie of Healthy Food Kitchen, where I discovered her Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake.

From → Breakfast, Desserts, Fruit

  1. Sam permalink

    Hi Judy!

    What a lovely site you have! I can’t wait to try everything here! Keep up the great work!

    Thank you for sharing!!


  2. Hannah Simpson-Grossman, Israel permalink

    The cake looks great-lemon poppy is one of my favorite combinations.
    I’m not sure I’ll manage to try it before Pessach as I have a freezer full of cakes…
    Happy Purim,

    • a freezer full of cakes=happy family and friends but a grateful uncle just may be a wonderful excuse to bake this cake -it’s easy, skip the processing of sugar and zest if short on time!

      • Hannah Simpson-Grossman, Israel permalink

        The cake came out great! Indeed skipped the processing part to save time. Used olive oil and a bit of orange juice instead of some of the lemon juice for lack of lemons. Added chopped candied citrus peels. A definite “repeat”. Only problem – when presented the cake to my aunt, I learned for the first time she doesn’t like poppy!!

      • But did she like it?! It’s a delicious easy to do cake and I like what you added to it. I’m glad you tried it out- J

  3. Hannah Simpson-Grossman, Israel permalink

    Unlike my kids (…) she tried a slice and liked it. Said it’s not like the poppy cakes she was thinking of from her childhood. It’s really a velvety smooth lemon cake with poppy, if you decide to add some. I’ve had a slice from our tin yesterday – delish!

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