Citrus Poppy Seed Cake

Citrus Poppy Seed Cake has a triple citrus punch from lemon, lime and orange. The tender cake has a bright burst of flavor from citrus syrup as well as a crunchy citrus glaze.

a sliced poppy seed cake on a marble plate.

The formula for Perfect Citrus Poppy Seed Cake

This recipe is basically a citrus-poppy seed pound cake. The classic pound cake recipe is equal parts (by weight) of flour, sugar, eggs and butter. At this link you can learn all about the the “baker’s formula” or “baker’s percentage”.

Compared to the basic pound cake recipe this is a little heavier on eggs than flour because I wanted a slightly spongy texture for the cake.

Of course I used my favorite reverse creaming method as I do for all butter cakes. The result is a light and tender cake that still has the rich buttery flavor of a pound cake.


ingredients for making citrus poppy seed cake in glass bowls.

Ingredient Notes

  • Cake Flour – Low protein cake flour makes a more tender and soft cake crumb. I don’t recommend substituting all purpose flour in this recipe.
  • Eggs – There is a fairly high proportion of eggs in this recipe for a slightly spongy texture. Whipping the whites separately softens and lightens the cake crumb.
  • Poppy Seeds – For the best results, don’t skip the step for soaking the poppy seeds. You can learn more about soaking the seeds in the special informational section below.
  • Citrus – I like the combination of orange, lime and lemon. But you can use all lemon, all orange, all lime or any combination.

Process photos for making this cake

See the recipe card for detailed measurements and instructions.

poppy seeds soaking in milk. Dry cake ingredients with citrus zest in a bowl.
  • Pour milk over the poppy seeds and stir to combine.
  • Set the seeds aside to soak for 3 hours.
  • Drain the seeds and discard the milk.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients with the citrus zest.
Folding poppy seeds into cake batter.
  • Cream the dry ingredients with the butter and beat until aerated. Add the egg yolks.
  • Add the soaked poppy seeds.
  • Fold the batter together until the seeds are evenly distributed.
  • Fold in the whipped egg whites.
poppy seeds cake before baking. Bowls of syrup and glaze. Glazing a cake.
  • Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake.
  • While the cake bakes, combine the citrus juice with powdered sugar to make a glaze and with granulated sugar to make a syrup.
  • As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, drizzle half the syrup over the cake. After 10 minutes flip the cake out of the pan and drizzle with the rest of the syrup.
  • Drizzle the glaze over the cake and allow it to set.

Why do we soak poppy seeds before baking?

Recipes that include poppy seed often start with “soaking the seeds”. Some recipes call for the seeds to be soaked in milk, some have you steep them in boiling water, and some just use them dry.

In order to decide if the soaking step was necessary, I soaked one batch of seeds in milk, one in boiling water and used one batch dry from the jar. Here are the results:

  • The dry seeds were very crunchy and fairly bland.
  • The seeds steeped in boiling water were a little softer and more flavorful than the dry seeds.
  • The seeds soaked in cold milk were the softest. The milk-soaked seeds had the strongest flavor, with a distinctly peppery aftertaste which I like.

More recipes likes this

a slice of poppy seeds cake on a white plate.
a slice of poppy seed cake on a white plate.
Print Recipe
4.67 from 3 reviews

Citrus Poppy Seed Cake

Love lemon poppy seed cake? Try Citrus Poppy Seed Cake for 3 times the citrus punch.
Prep Time30 minutes
Bake Time35 minutes
Total Time1 hour 5 minutes
16 servings
Save Recipe



  • 2 ½ oz poppy seeds (½ cup)
  • 4 oz whole milk (½ cup)
  • 6 ¾ oz cake flour (1 ½ cups, see note)
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • 9 oz granulated sugar (1 cup + 2 tblsp)
  • 1 lemon (finely rated zest)
  • 1 lime (finely rated zest)
  • 1 orange (finely rated zest)
  • 8 oz unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 6 large eggs (separated, room temperature)

Syrup & Glaze

  • 2 oz orange juice (¼ cup)
  • 1 oz lemon juice (2 tblsp)
  • 1 oz lime juice (2 tblsp)
  • 4 oz confectioner’s sugar (1 cup)
  • 3 oz granulated sugar ( cup)


  • Soak 2 ½ oz poppy seeds in 4 oz whole milk for at least 3 hours. Drain and rinse. Discard the milk.


  • Preheat oven to 350 °F. Thoroughly butter and flour a 12 cup bundt pan.
  • Combine 6 ¾ oz cake flour, ½ teaspoon table salt, 8 oz (1 cup) sugar and finely grated zest from 1 lemon, 1 lime, 1 orange in a mixing bowl. Mix on low speed to combine the ingredients. Add 8 oz unsalted butter and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl thoroughly.
  • Increase the speed to medium and cream for 2 minutes until the mixture lightens. Scrape the bowl and beater blade. Add 6 egg yolks and the drained poppy seeds to the batter and mix to combine. Set the batter aside.
  • In a clean bowl, whisk 6 egg whites to soft peak. Slowly add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Increase the speed to medium high and whisk to medium peak.
  • Fold the whites into the base in 3 batches, mix just until no more steaks of white are visible.
  • Pour the batter into the pan and spread to an even layer. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the cake springs back when lightly touched or a toothpick inserted in the cake comes away clean.


  • While the cake is baking, combine 2 oz orange juice, 1 oz lemon juice and 1 oz lime juice. Remove 2 tablespoons of the juice and mix it with 4 oz confectioner’s sugar to form a sooth glaze.
  • Combine the remaining juice with the 3 oz granulated sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved in the syrup.


  • As soon as the cake comes out of the oven drizzle half of the syrup over the top of the cake. Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes in the pan.
  • Invert the cake onto a cooling rack set over a sheet pan. drizzle the remaining syrup over the cake and allow it to absorb.
  • As soon as the syrup is absorbed, drizzle the glaze over the cake and smooth it over the edges. The glaze will dry as the cake cools. Once the glaze is set, transfer the cake to a serving platter.

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If measuring the flour by volume use the “dip & sweep” method. That is, dip the measuring cup into the flour bin, overfill it, then sweep away the excess.
The cake will keep at room temperature for several days.


Serving: 1slice | Calories: 283kcal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.5g | Cholesterol: 93mg | Sodium: 102mg | Potassium: 106mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 22g | Vitamin A: 467IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 91mg | Iron: 1mg
Have you tried this recipe?Mention @eileen.bakingsense or tag #bakingsense!

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Recipe Rating


    1. Creaming the butter and sugar adds air to the batter and whipping the egg whites does also. There is no chemical leavening in the recipe.

  1. Would the cake turn out just as great if it was baked into muffins? Curious. I don’t have a bundt pan so I will experiment with muffin and loaf. I’m excited and soaking my poppy seeds tonight!

    1. I would think it would bake just fine as muffins. As you can see in the photos, I baked some batter in small bundt pans with good results. Let me know how it works out.

  2. Could you please resend me your latest blog listing that long list of foods and chef’s websites? Love every posting you send…amazing recipes and amazing photography.

    1. Hi Mary Ellen! I’m not sure which list you’re asking for. Do you get emails from Baking Sense?

    2. Do you mean the list of recipes and blogs at the end of my Asparagus Tart post? If you go to the home page of the blog and scroll down you can click on that post and you’ll see the list of other blogs at the bottom of the post. It’s a group of bloggers who get together every Sunday to have a virtual “Sunday Supper” that follows a theme. If that’s not what you are looking for let me know.

  3. I baked this cake because I was intrigued with the soaking method plus the citrus! It was amazing!!
    Everyone loved it! Thank you for sharing!!!

    1. Hi Sharon. I’m so glad everyone enjoyed the cake. I love an excuse for a kitchen experiment and to test if all the steps in a recipe are necessary. The reverse creaming method also makes a difference in the cake texture. Thanks for reading!

  4. Hi Janice, I think we must have the same health issues–since I too need triple the citrus!

    I just checked out your blog and I love it!

  5. My life needs triple the citrus. You know, for health reasons 😉
    Plus I love poppy seeds! Your poppy seed soaking experiment was really interesting!