A light and fluffy Meyer lemon poppy seed cake filled with bright, fresh citrus flavor that will keep you coming back for another slice. Topped with a thick vanilla glaze, this loaf cake is the perfect breakfast treat and a surefire cure for the winter blues! Double the batch and save one for a rainy day.
Our Meyer lemon trees are bursting with fruit this time of year and nothing makes me happier than a bucket full of lemons. Well, maybe chocolate. But lemons are a close second. Not so long ago when the girls were little, we’d spend most Saturdays in January juicing pounds and pounds of Meyer lemons picked fresh from the backyard orchard. And as any good parent does, we would set up the obligatory lemonade stand on our neighborhood corner.
In between naps, my girls would take turns holding the bright yellow handmade sign,
pouring spilling the lemonade, and collecting quarters by the handful which they promptly stashed in their pink plastic Toys-R-Us cash register. The neighbors would of course stop by to chit chat on the curb about this and that and the other thing while the girls tried to talk them into a second cup of freshly squeezed juice. Those were the days.
The girls are now all too busy, and far too grown up to sell lemonade on the corner. Needless to say, we have no shortage of ripe Meyer lemons this time of year. Lemon bars, breads and cakes are all on repeat in our kitchen at the moment and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Last week I was craving a simple lemon poppy seed something-or-other and ended up trading an extra hour of sleep for a little late night baking. I settled on this Meyer lemon poppy seed cake/loaf/bread. Call it what you will. I call it sunshine on a plate. Not only is this cake recipe easy to throw together, but it’s super moist and perfectly tart and sweet in all the right places. This loaf belongs at the top of your must-make list so let’s get right to it, shall we?
Ingredients you need
This light and lemony loaf comes together in about an hour with just a few pantry staples you likely have on hand. Grab a handful of lemons (Meyers are my favorite) from the farmer’s market or your neighbor’s tree and get baking!
- Flour – All-purpose flour makes for a light and fluffy, deliciously soft crumb. To prevent a dry, dense cake, be sure to measure the flour accurately. I highly recommend using a digital scale.
- Butter – Cakes made with butter are typically more tender and moist than those made with oil. And they just taste better too. Soften your butter to room temperature before you begin.
- Eggs – Three whole eggs give this cake a tender crumb. Make sure your eggs are at room temperature before mixing the batter.
- Sugar – This cake is perfectly sweetened with just the right amount of granulated sugar.
- Lemon zest and juice – We’re using both the juice and zest of the lemon to deliver a serious citrus punch. Use real lemons – steer clear of artificial lemon juice.
- Greek yogurt – Adding yogurt to loaf cakes adds moisture and helps keep the cake soft for days. If you don’t have Greek yogurt on hand, use sour cream instead.
- Baking powder and soda – Just a pinch helps give the cake texture and rise.
- Vanilla – Use a good quality vanilla like Rodelle for the best flavor.
- Poppy seeds – Did you know that poppy seeds contain fiber, calcium, and magnesium? So basically this is healthy cake. This loaf is the perfect place to use up that half a jar of poppy seeds hiding in your spice cabinet.
- Confectioners sugar – For a silky smooth frosting, sift the confectioners sugar before mixing with the milk.
How to make lemon poppy seed bread
This loaf cake is so easy to make from scratch and your kitchen will smell just like a bakery. I use a stand mixer to whip up the batter but a hand-held mixer works too. Follow the steps below for the perfect cake every time and save the recipe card below for a detailed ingredient list and instructions.
Step 1: Mix together the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 2 to 3 minutes. The mixture will be light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Step 2: Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well with each addition. For best results, make sure your eggs are at room temperature. Next, add in the vanilla and mix to combine.
Step 3: Mix in the lemon zest and juice. If the batter starts to look slightly curdled or lumpy, not to worry. The batter will come back together once you add in the dry ingredients.
Step 4: Whisk together the dry ingredients including the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda in a medium bowl.
Step 5: Add the dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture, alternating with the Greek yogurt. Begin and end with the flour. Do not over mix the batter.
Step 6: Stir in the poppy seeds by hand using a spatula. Just a few quick stirs is all you need – do not over mix.
Step 7: Transfer the batter to a parchment lined 9 x 5 ” loaf pan.
Step 8: Bake the loaf for 50 to 60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the top of the cake comes out clean or with a few crumbs remaining. If the cake is browning too much towards the end of the baking cycle, tent the top loosely with a piece of aluminum foil.
Step 9: Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan for about 10 to 15 minutes. Use the parchment paper overhang to carefully pull the bread out of the pan. Set the loaf on a cooling rack to cool completely before adding the glaze.
How to glaze a loaf cake
Don’t even think about eating this lemon poppy seed loaf without the glaze. Consider it mandatory. And it’s so easy to make with just 3 ingredients. Just sift the powdered sugar and whisk it together with the milk and a dollop of yogurt. For an extra citrus kick, add a splash of lemon juice to the mix. Once you’ve licked the spoon (you know, for quality control), pour the glaze over the top of the cooled cake.
Don’t be tempted to glaze the cake while warm unless you want your icing to end up all over the plate instead of on top of the cake. For a clean cut, leave the glaze to sit for a few minutes before slicing.
Tips for the best lemon loaf
If you’re new to making homemade quick breads, follow the recipe to a T and take a minute to review the tips and tricks below for the very best loaf cake.
Use room temperature ingredients. I know, I know. I’m certain I sound like a broken record each and every time I remind you to use room temperature ingredients. It matters folks. To get that light and tender texture you’ll want to have your butter, eggs and yogurt at room temperature before mixing them with the dry ingredients. This helps to ensure that your batter comes out smooth and bakes up fluffy and moist.
It’s all about the lemons. We’ll use both the zest and juice to give this cake a bright, fresh lemon flavor. Meyer lemons are naturally sweeter and a bit more floral than the standard lemons you see at the grocery store. They are also less acidic which means they deliver a more vibrant citrus flavor that makes this cake really shine. January is the height of citrus season so if you see Meyers at the market, buy them. By the dozens!
Do not over bake. Bake this loaf cake as directed, keeping in mind that all ovens run differently. For best results, invest in a simple oven thermometer to be sure your oven is baking at the correct temperature. Do not over bake this loaf or it will be dry and crumbly. If the top is browning too quickly, loosely tent the top with a piece of aluminum foil. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out nearly clean or with just a few crumbs remaining.
Cool completely. This light and lemony cake is delicious all on it’s own, but the extra thick drizzle of vanilla icing sure doesn’t hurt. Wait to mix up your glaze until the cake is completely cool. The glaze will set within minutes. Slice and serve for breakfast or dessert. Or do as I do and eat it twice a day until it’s gone.
How to store loaf cake
For best results, store the cooled cake tightly covered at room temperature. Take it from me, this cake won’t last long so double the batch and stash one in the freezer for a rainy day. To freeze a loaf cake, cool the cake completely and wrap in two layers of plastic wrap. I recommend freezing the cake before glazing.
Defrost the cake at room temperature overnight and then drizzle with icing just before serving.
You can also freeze individual slices of the lemon loaf. They’ll defrost faster than the whole loaf making them the perfect grab-and-go breakfast for busy mornings.
Nope. I love the flavor of Meyer lemons but regular lemons will work too. You can use any citrus you like in fact. Limes, oranges, or grapefruit would all be delicious!
This cake was created for a 9 x 5 ” loaf pan but if you double the recipe, it should bake up nicely in a 10 to 12 cup bundt pan. This recipe also makes great muffins!
I love the added flavor and crunch from the poppy seeds but you can absolutely make it with fewer poppy seeds or omit them altogether.
Yes! This cake keeps well and is the perfect make-ahead treat. Once the cake is baked, let it cool completely and then store it tightly covered in a cool, dry place. Wait to glaze the cake until just a few minutes before serving.
Absolutely. I adore this cake as is, but if you are a fan of a simple syrup glaze I suggest boiling 1/4 cup of water with 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Once boiling, remove the pot from the stovetop and stir in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Brush the syrup on top of the warm loaf and allow the cake to cool completely before adding the vanilla glaze.
A light and fluffy Meyer lemon poppy seed cake filled with fresh citrus flavor that will keep you coming back for another slice. Topped with a thick vanilla glaze, this quick bread is the perfect breakfast treat!
For the Cake
- 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup plus 1 tbsp (213 g) granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest, loosely packed
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (205 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 1/2 cup (123 g) plain greek yogurt, room temperature
For the Glaze
- 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
- 2–3 TBSP whole milk
- 1–2 TBSP full fat greek yogurt (to thicken the glaze)
For the Cake
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Spray a 9 x 4 inch loaf pan with cooking spray and line with a piece of parchment paper that covers the bottom and extends past the short sides of the pan. You will use these as handles to pull the loaf out of the pan once it has cooled slightly
- In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes)
- Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each egg is added
- Scrape down sides of bowl as needed
- Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla. Mix until combined
- With the mixer on low, add some of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and then alternate with the greek yogurt, ending with the flour mixture
- Remove from mixer and stir in poppyseeds with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula
- Mix until barely incorporated. Do not over mix
- Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 55-60 minutes until golden brown and toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean
- If cake is browned too quickly towards the end of the baking time, cover the top with a piece of aluminum foil
- Remove from oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes
- Using the parchment paper handles, carefully lift the cake from the pan and set aside to cool on a wire rack
For the Glaze
- Once the cake is cool to the touch, whisk together the confectioners sugar and milk in a small bowl
- Spoon the glaze over the top of the cake allowing some to drizzle down the sides
- Sprinkle top with an additional 1/2 tsp poppy seeds if desired
If more lemon flavor is desired, replace whole milk with fresh lemon juice in the glaze.
Store cake tightly wrapped in a cool, dry place for up to 3 days.
May be frozen for up to 3 months.
Keywords: lemon poppy seed cake, lemon poppy seed loaf