This dense, tender Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake makes a simple, delicious dessert or accompaniment to an afternoon cup of tea.

This Dorie Greenspan Tea Cake Recipe appeared in the New York Times and was published just when our freezer supply of poppy seed muffins had dwindled. It was kismet.

Sliced lemon poppy seed loaf on a ceramic tray

Why You’ll Love This Lemon Tea Cake

  • The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan who’s an extraordinary baker!
  • It’s a scrumptious, versatile cake with a lovely crumb and loads of poppy seeds.
  • Flavored with fresh lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla plus the subtle nuttiness of the poppy seeds, this loaf makes a memorable treat!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Tea Cake?

A British tea cake can refer to a slightly sweet bun, a cookie, or a loaf sweetened with dried fruit. The broad term refers to any cake that can be served with tea.

Why are they Called Tea Cakes?

Originally served in Britain, tea cakes were an accompaniment to afternoon tea, though they’re typically more of a cookie than a quick bread. They do not use tea as an ingredient.

What Size is a Tea Loaf Pan?

Dorie’s recipe calls for an 8 1/2-inch, rectangular loaf pan. This sized pan is used frequently to bake a loaf of yeast bread, quick bread, or a loaf cake. 

What's the Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder?

Baking soda needs an acid in the recipe to help leaven, or assist with the rising, of baked goods. Baking powder contains an acid and just needs to mix with a liquid for leavening to occur.

You may need both if the amount of baking soda in the recipe neutralizes the acid in the recipe, but isn’t enough to also provide proper leavening. Adding a bit of baking powder (along with the baking soda) will supply that bonus leavening power. Using both also assists with browning.

Note that Baking Powder has a much shorter shelf life. It will often expire and lose potency when it’s in your pantry. It is not used in baking as frequently as soda, so either replace it or test before using it (see how in the tips below).

Two slices of poppy seed tea cake on a square white plate with a red handle knife in front of the rest of the loaf on a ceramic tray

Tips for Making this Tea Cake

  • As always read through the recipe thoroughly before starting. Do you have a fresh lemon for juice and zest? Is your baking powder fresh?
  • PRO-Tip: Baking powder is not used as frequently as baking soda and often expires and loses potency as it sits in your kitchen cabinet. Check the expiration date and if it’s close to expiring, replace it. You can check to see if it’s active by mixing a spoonful in a cup of hot water. If it’s fresh, it will bubble vigorously.
  • Check your poppy seeds for freshness as well. They have a high oil content and can go rancid. Test by tasting a few.
  • PRO-Tip: A trick I learned from Dorie Greenspan is to rub the lemon zest into the sugar with your fingers. This releases the oils from the zest and infuses the sugar with flavor!
  • Prep your loaf pan well by lining the bottom with a rectangle of parchment, then spraying with a baking spray like Baker’s Joy (an oil and flour spray). Or just butter and flour the pan, tapping out any excess flour.
  • Tent the loaf with foil if the top starts getting dark before it’s completely cooked
  • Use a toothpick to check for doneness. Insert the toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, the quick bread is done.

How to Make Lemon Quick Bread

  1. Preheat your oven and prep the loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients.
  3. PRO-Tip: In another bowl, rub together the sugar and the lemon zest. This releases the lemon oil and infuses the sugar with citrus flavor.
  4. Whisk the liquids into the sugar, then  add the flour in 3 additions, then the butter in 2 additions.
  5. Stir in the poppy seeds and scrape the batter into the pan.
  6. Bake as directed. Test with a toothpick for doneness.
  7. Cool on a rack, then remove from the pan to a cooling rack to finish cooling after 5 minutes.
Sliced lemon poppy seed loaf on a white ceramic tray

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2 slices of lemon poppy seed bread on a square white plate with a red handle knife

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake Recipe

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours
Yield 10

A sweet, simple loaf cake flavored with lemon and packed full of poppy seeds

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • Zest of one lemon (finely grated)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup poppy seeds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Spray an 8 1/2 inch loaf pan with non-stick baking spray (like Baker's Joy) or butter and flour. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
  4. Put the sugar in a large bowl, add the lemon zest, and rub the zest into the sugar to release the lemon oil.
  5. Whisk the eggs into the sugar vigorously, one at a time.
  6. Whisk in the lemon juice, vanilla, then the heavy cream until smooth.
  7. Using the whisk, mix in the flour mixture in 3 additions.
  8. Add half the butter, mix with the whisk, then whisk in the rest of the butter.
  9. Stir in the poppy seeds with a silicone spatula, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
  10. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until the loaf rises, cracks across the top and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  11. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then carefully remove to a cooling rack to finish cooling.

Notes

Eggs incorporate better at room temperature. If your eggs are cold, place them in a bowl of hot (not boiling) water to help them get the chill off.

If your poppy seeds are ancient, they may be rancid. Taste before using if they're old.

This recipe is adapted from Dorie Greenspan via the New York Times.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

10

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 318Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 105mgSodium: 158mgCarbohydrates: 42gFiber: 2gSugar: 26gProtein: 6g

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