Lemon and poppy seed birthday cake

Lemon and poppy seed birthday cake

B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself

So, it’s your mate’s birthday and they’re coming round in a couple of hours. They casually mention that no one got them a birthday cake this year. Sounds like a massive hint to me, considering they know you’ve just bought this awesome book. This is an emergency birthday cake that is straightforward to make and tastes brilliant. Lemon and poppy seed has long been a favourite of mine, whether it’s in birthday cake form, or as a massive tray bake that the kids can go mad decorating. The ingredients are simple and it requires no ridiculous equipment to make. So when you’re in a bind, or if you just fancy a really nice cake, make this. It’s yum.


Quantity Ingredient

For the sponge

Quantity Ingredient
225g unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the tins
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs
225g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 unwaxed lemons, zest finely grated, reserving a few slivers for decoration
1 unwaxed lemon, juiced
50g poppy seeds

For the icing

Quantity Ingredient
50g unsalted butter, softened
100g cream cheese
400g icing sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Tool kit

Quantity Ingredient
2 20 cm round sandwich tins
electric whisk
wire cooling rack
cake-cutting wire, (optional)
offset palette knife


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter 2 x 20 cm round sandwich tins and line the bases with baking parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and butter with an electric whisk until light-coloured and creamy. Beat in the eggs one by one, beating thoroughly between each addition. If the mixture starts to split, just add 1 tablespoon of the flour and continue beating; this will bring the mixture back.
  3. Sift together the flour and baking powder and fold into the mixture with the finely grated lemon zest and poppy seeds, making sure to mix in any flour at the bottom of the bowl. Be gentle when you’re folding; you don’t want to knock out the air you’ve incorporated through all that whisking. Fold in the lemon juice and divide the batter evenly between the prepared tins, smoothing the surfaces. Bake for 18–20 minutes, or until a cocktail stick comes out clean when poked into the centre of each cake. When the tins have cooled enough to handle, turn out the sponges and cool on a wire rack.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the icing. Beat together the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with the electric whisk until creamy and fully combined. Beat in half the icing sugar (start your whisk on slow, or you’ll get icing sugar all over the kitchen). Beat in the lemon juice, then gradually beat in the rest of the icing sugar, a couple of spoonfuls at a time, until it’s a thick-but-spreadable consistency.
  5. Once the sponges have cooled, use a cake-cutting wire or a serrated knife to slice off the raised middles of the cakes (I usually spread a bit of the icing on these as a secret personal preview). Spread about half the icing on the bottom layer of sponge using an offset palette knife. Try to spread it evenly and right up to the edges, so you can see a neat line of icing once the top goes on. Turn the top layer of sponge upside down and lay on top of the icing, pressing down gently and scraping off any excess icing that squidges out.
  6. Using the offset palette knife, neatly spread the remaining icing on top and decorate with the remaining slivers of zest. Invite your friend in and pretend it was no big deal. Which, of course, is true.


  • This recipe has a level 1 (beginner) difficulty.


  • This recipe works really well as an everyday cake, as you can knock it out quickly, but you can scale it up quite easily, too. If you don’t have 20 cm sandwich tins, you can just as easily make it in 23 cm cake tins, using 6 eggs, 350 g each of caster sugar, butter and flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, 4 lemons and 75 g poppy seeds. Bake for 25–30 minutes and test as usual.

    I really like making this recipe as a tray bake with the kids, as I can leave them to drizzle it with lemon icing, then sprinkle half my decorating bits and pieces over the top. (Kids often favour quantity over beauty when it comes to decoration, so only put out as many decorations as you’re willing to lose!)

    Plain lemon glacé icing is much easier to make than this cream cheese version, just mix 1–2 tablespoons of lemon juice with 150 g of icing sugar and drizzle it on the cake.

    If you’re looking to add another element to this cake, why not stir 100 g of blueberries through the mixture, instead of the poppy seeds? Make sure you wash the berries and roll them in a dusting of flour before adding to the batter, though, or they’ll all sink to the bottom.
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