Celebrate Summer with Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

IMG_4024The combination of lemon and poppy seed became one of my favorites shortly after I started my very first job following graduation from university. I worked in downtown Washington, DC, and it wasn’t long before I discovered that the cafe on the first floor of my office building sold delicious, jumbo lemon poppy seed muffins. 

To be honest, the thought of making my own lemon poppy seed anything hadn’t ever really occurred to me until a few months ago, when I was looking for something just a little bit more off the beaten path from the standard chocolate or vanilla cupcakes that I usually make. A quick online search resulted in this fabulous recipe, adapted slightly from Dora Daily at One Green Planet. Using apple cider vinegar and a plant-based milk of your choice, it is 100% vegan and makes for a perfect summer (or anytime) dessert. It is light, delicious, and shatters any stereotype you may have heard about vegan cakes doubling as rocks or bricks. Best of all, it is easy to make.


Fresh lemons are a staple in my kitchen. Simply looking at them can brighten a dark day.

What you’ll need:

For the cake:
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
¼ cup poppy seeds
1 cup vegetable or coconut oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar (I know this seems like a lot. I was skeptical, too. Trust me, your cake will not taste like vinegar!)
1 1/2 cups non-dairy milk (I use unsweetened almond milk and I modified the recipe to include an extra half cup, as I found the batter a bit thick otherwise.)
1/4 cup lemon juice (This is my own addition to the recipe and also helps moisten the cake.)
3 tablespoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

For the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 to 3 tbs non-dairy milk

For decoration (This is my own addition):
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon poppy seeds

Step 1: Grate the lemon zest. You will need 3 or 4 large lemons to get enough zest for the recipe. Set aside one teaspoon of zest for decorating the cake at the end.


Wash the lemons and gently grate them so that you are getting only the yellow zest and not the white layer beneath it, which will add bitterness to your cake.


Grating the lemons is the most time-consuming part of making this cake. But, it is well worth it to use fresh lemons. If you only have dry lemon zest in your pantry, reduce the amount to 2 tablespoons, as dry zest is more potent than fresh.

Step 2: Preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).

Step 3: Grease and flour your baking pan. You can use any kind of pan, including a cupcake/muffin pan. I like to use a bundt pan because I like the pretty shape.

Step 4: Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl (flour, sugar, baking soda, lemon zest, poppy seeds, and salt).

Step 5: In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients (non-dairy milk, apple cider vinegar, oil, lemon juice, and vanilla extract).

Step 6: Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and stir with a whisk or using an electric mixer on medium speed for about one minute, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula as you go.


The batter will fizz a little bit as you combine the ingredients. That’s the vinegar working together with the baking soda as a perfect egg substitute.

Step 7: Pour the batter into the prepared pan, filling it about 3/4 of the way full. If you have extra batter, simply use an additional pan. Or eat it. Not that I ever do this. Ever.


Use a rubber spatula to get all of the batter out. Or, don’t, and lick the bowl. One of my favorite things about plant-based baking is the no-fear factor of food-borne illness from raw eggs.

Step 8: Bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. If you are making cupcakes, the baking time will be shorter.

Step 9: Remove the cake from the oven when it is done and let it rest in the pan for about 10 minutes. Gently loosen the sides with a bamboo skewer by sliding it between the cake and the pan. Invert the cake onto a wire rack and allow it to cool completely.

Step 10: Once the cake is completely cool, mix together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, non-dairy milk, and salt in a small bowl. The consistency should be similar to molasses. If it is too thick, add a little more milk, 1/2 a teaspoon at a time; if it is too runny, add more powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency.

Step 11: Using a large spoon, drizzle the glaze over the cake. Immediately afterwards, sprinkle the lemon zest and poppy seeds you set aside for decoration over the cake.


One trick I use while drizzling the glaze: put a plate underneath the wire rack to catch the excess glaze. This will prevent both a mess and wasting precious, delicious glaze!

Step 12: Transfer the cake (carefully) to a serving platter.


Almost too pretty to eat. Almost. 

Slice and enjoy!


Eat it plain or serve with fresh berries, if you so desire.

Store leftovers at room temperature for a day or two; in the refrigerator for longer. But, chances are, this cake is way too delicious to hang around for too long.

This recipe has been adapted from One Green Plant. Visit www.onegreenplanet.org to view the original recipe, as well as many other delicious vegan recipes.

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