Home Recipe IndexDesserts Lemon Poppy Seed Cake (Gluten-Free)

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake (Gluten-Free)

by Emily
Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

I made a Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Y’all!!!

This past weekend was J’s Birthday, so that means our tall giraffe got to eat some cake! Now that I’m baking and cooking again after my kitchen hiatus, I am force feeding J all the food in the world. Because…I have to fit into a wedding dress. Yes, that’s right! We are engaged! It happened a few months back, but we wanted to keep it to ourselves for awhile.

J spent his birthday weekend languishing in front of the TV watching Supernatural. It was a weekend without studying or being productive. While he chilled, I spent most of the weekend testing recipes, making the lemon poppy seed cake for his birthday, and watching the episodes over my shoulder! Honestly, we started watching the show because I’m a scaredy cat that can’t watch anything with a remotely frightening plot. He wants me to watch horror films and Stranger Things, so we are easing into things.

And, for the record, after he went home for the night I still had to crawl into bed with my sister, because I was too scared to be alone. Ghost children are terrifying.

Anyway, for his birthday, I made an extremely moist and citrusy lemon poppy seed cake! Naturally gluten free, it uses techniques I learned through America’s Test Kitchen’s gluten free cookbooks. The Royal Wedding inspired me to do a lemon influenced cake. (Who got up at 4:30 EST with me to watch it?! The Clothes, the hats, and the dress were all on point! Meghan Markle looked AMAZING.) I switched out poppy seeds for the elderflower because I wanted to make a cake that screamed “BIRTHDAY” instead of “WEDDING.”

Lemon poppy seed cake
A slice of lemon poppy seed cake!

The first attempt was a monstrosity. I decided to use slices of lemon like an upside down cake. While the cake looked cute, the peels didn’t cook through and were impossible to chew. I will spare you the details but let’s just say we were constantly digging around looking for peels to remove from the cake. Also, you just can’t cover an upside down cake with buttercream icing. I tried. It was gross. It just meant digging further for the peels.

The second attempt was a winner! I mixed lemon zest and juice into the batter instead of using the lemon peels. This simple change allowed my cake to continue having its fluffy texture without having a nuisance of a gag worthy and chewy topping.

Lemon poppy seed cake icing
Dollops of icing

The icing is based on Martha Stewart’s classic buttercream frosting. I tweaked a few things here and there, such as adding a touch of lemon. Finally, it was time to ice the cake. This was the first time I officially iced a cake with the intention of trying to make it look good. Usually I would slap that icing on and tell friends and family that it was ‘rustic’ or ‘it only matters what it tastes like, not what it looks like.’ All of which were just excuses for a butt ugly cake. So I knew I needed help. I couldn’t do this alone. Molly Yeh is my go to cake/dessert girl. She is this super cool blogger/chicken mama. She wrote an article for Food & Wine detailing her best decorating tips. Without her, I wouldn’t have iced a cake that looked half this good!

Elizabeth designed and drew the cake topper. It is, of course, a giraffe celebrating his birthday. A perfect little present for J!!! We also made Ppopgi for J’s birthday because of his love for Korean treats from his childhood.

Happy Weekend Everyone!

Please Note: For this recipe we used America’s Test Kitchen’s gluten-free flour blend. We also wrote a blog post about this flour blend. It is (in my opinion) the best gluten-free flour blend out there! If you liked the recipe, I highly recommend checking out The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen! (Amazon link to Volume 1 & Amazon link to Volume 2)

If you do not want to make your own flour blend, I recommend using the Cup 4 Cup gluten-free flour.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Cake (Gluten-Free)

5.0 from 1 vote
Recipe by Emily Course: Desserts


Prep time


Cooking time


Total time




  • Cake
  • 4 large eggs

  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  • 3 tablespoons lemon zest

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds

  • 12 ounces America’s Test Kitchen* gluten-free flour blend

  • 8 3/4 ounces granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (cut into 1 tablespoon pieces)

  • Icing
  • 48 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (6 sticks)

  • 8 cups of confectioners’ sugar

  • 3/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice

  • a pinch of salt


  • For the Cake:
  • Adjust oven rack to middle position, and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 6-inch cake pans. Whisk eggs, 1 cup of sour cream, 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract, 3 tablespoons of lemon zest, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds together in a bowl.
  • Using standing mixer, or hand mixer, mix flour blend, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and xanthan gum on low speed until combined. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of sour cream, and gradually add the pieces of butter while continuously mixing. Mix until the dry ingredients are moistened and completely combined. Gradually add egg mixture in multiple additions, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Increase speed to medium high and beat until the batter is light and fluffy, about 1 or 2 minutes. The batter should be thick.
  • Measure the batter evenly into the two cake pans. Bake until the cake feels firm to touch, and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Halfway through baking, rotate the cake pans to have an even bake. Cake should cook for 45 to 50 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for 30 minutes to an hour, until cool. Run knife around the edge of the cake to loosen. Remove cake from pan and let cool on rack for about an hour.
  • For the Icing:
  • Put butter in bowl, and beat on medium high speed until pale and creamy. Reduce speed to medium, and add sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. Add vanilla, salt, and lemon juice. Raise speed to medium high and beat until smooth. (If you want multiple colors like I did, leave some of the icing for decoration on the side. I added red dye to make pink icing.)
  • Ice your cake. Have Fun! Dance a little!


  • The recipe for America’s Test Kitchen’s gluten-free flour blend can be found here!

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1 comment

AHRA June 13, 2018 - 10:53 pm

That looks amazing! Super cute and yummy 🙂 Can’t believe that you made yourself, Plus I wish I could see you dance at step5 too 😉


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