Top | Rose's Heavenly Cakes

Lemon Poppy Seed-Sour Cream Cake

(recipe, Rose Levy Beranbaum)

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A combination of sour-cream batter filled with bursts of fresh lemon, this is my signature cake, grown up into a larger, ever more flavorful version. It is breathtakingly delicious — buttery and tender and melts in your mouth. I love the little crunch of poppy seeds, but the cake is also fabulous without them. For the best flavor, complete the cake a day ahead.


    1. 2 large eggs, at room temperature
    2. 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
    3. ¾ cup plus 1 Tbsp. sour cream, divided
    4. 1¾ tsp. pure vanilla extract
    5. 2½ cups (or 2 cups plus 3 Tbsp.) cake flour (or bleached all-purpose flour), sifted into the cup and leveled off
    6. 1¼ cups (8.7 ounces) superfine sugar
    7. 1½ tsp. baking powder
    8. ½ tsp. baking soda
    9. ½ tsp. salt
    10. 5 tsp. loosely packed lemon zest (from 2 large lemons), finely grated
    11. ⅓ cup (1.7 ounces) poppy seeds
    12. 14 Tbsp. (1¾ sticks; 7 ounces) unsalted butter, at 65 to 75 degrees
    Lemon syrup
    1. ½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. (4 ounces) sugar
    2. The juice of 2 large lemons (6 Tbsp. or 3 fluid ounces), freshly squeezed


    1. Preheat the oven: Twenty minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees if using a dark pan).
    2. Prepare the pan: Coat a 10-cup Nordic Ware Elegant Heart Pan or a metal fluted tube pan with baking spray and then with flour.
    3. Mix the liquid ingredients: In a medium bowl, whisk the whole eggs, yolk, ¼ cup of the sour cream, and the vanilla, just until lightly combined.
    4. Make the batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, lemon zest, and poppy seeds on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and the remaining sour cream. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1½ minutes. The mixture will lighten in color and texture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
    5. Starting on low speed, gradually add the egg mixture in two parts, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Using a silicone spatula or spoon, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface evenly with a small metal spatula.
    6. Bake the cake: Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a wire cake tester inserted between the tube and the side comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven. Shortly before the cake is finished baking, make the lemon syrup.
    7. Make the lemon syrup: In a 1-cup or larger microwavable glass measure (or in a small saucepan over medium heat), heat the sugar and lemon juice, stirring often, until the sugar is dissolved. Do not allow it to boil. Cover it tightly to prevent evaporation.
    8. Apply the syrup and cool and unmold the cake: As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, place the pan on a wire rack, poke the cake all over with a thin skewer, and brush it with about one-third of the syrup. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Invert it onto a 10-inch cardboard round or serving plate. Brush the top and sides of the cake with the remaining syrup. Cool completely and wrap airtight.


    Culinate editor's notes: You can, of course, use unbleached all-purpose flour and ordinary granulated sugar and still produce a perfectly delicious cake. And don't skip the lemon syrup; because it soaks throughout the cake, it's essential for making (and keeping) this cake moist. Because the syrup is so sweet, you may wish to reduce the amount of sugar called for in the cake batter, down to a minimum of 3/4 cup.