Lemon & Poppy Seed Cake (National Trust Version)

September 20, 2017

Author Notes: This recipe and headnote have been reprinted, with permission, from Sweet: Desserts from London's Ottolenghi (Ten Speed Press 2017).

"However ambitious and discerning Helen's palate, this light lemon cake is the one she'd take with her to a desert island if she could only choose one. It's much simpler than many of the other cakes she loves, but it's the one she returns to again and again. There's something safe and reassuring about it, which would comfort as the waves came crashing down around the island.

It's why we've called it, affectionately, our National Trust cake. However unpredictable the weather, however disastrous the outing, however much fun has not really been had on the family-day out, there's something wonderfully reassuring about the predictability of the cake you'll have in the café, along with a cup of tea. It's one of life's great certainties.

You can make this in a standard 8 1/2 x 4 1/3-inch/900-g loaf pan, as we do here, or, if you have them, nine mini-loaf pans (3 1/2 x 2 1/3 x 1 1/2 inches/9 x 6 x 4 cm) also work well. If you are making the mini loaves, shorten the baking time to 25 minutes.

This will keep for 3 days in an airtight container."

Makes: 1 standard loaf or 9 minis
Prep time: 50 min
Cook time: 55 min


  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 grams) sour cream
  • 5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • Finely grated zest of 3 lemons (1 tablespoon)
  • 1 1/3 cups (170 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (90 grams) confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
In This Recipe


  1. Heat the oven to 325° F (160° C). Grease the loaf pan(s) and line with parchment paper, then set aside.
  2. Place the eggs and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place and whisk on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until pale and frothy. Add the sour cream and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture has combined.
  3. In the meantime, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stir in the poppy seeds and lemon zest, and set aside.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a bowl, then use a rubber spatula to fold this into the egg mixture before folding in the butter, poppy seeds, and zest.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the loaf pan(s) so that it rises three-quarters of the way up the sides. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not open the oven door to check the cake during the first 45 minutes of baking.
  6. To make the glaze, whisk the confectioners' sugar with the lemon juice in a bowl.
  7. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven, spreading it over the top so that it sinks in and creates a nice coating. Set aside to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan. Leave to come to room temperature before serving.

More Great Recipes:
Cake|American|Seed|Sour Cream|Lemon Juice|Lemon|Dessert

Reviews (61) Questions (3)

61 Reviews

Hina K. January 20, 2019
Has there been an update to this recipe? I made it when it was first posted and I could have sworn it called for heavy cream but now it says sour cream.
Eh444 January 20, 2019
Yes, it definitely used to say heavy cream
Eh444 January 20, 2019
See Authors comments below regarding heavy cream vs sour cream
Samtuller December 7, 2018
tammany November 11, 2018
Quick question on sour cream vs heavy cream: It seems like many people had success (albeit after a bit of extra mixing) using heavy cream. Can I sub heavy cream for the sour cream? I ask bc I will use up the extra half cup of heavy cream but extra sour cream just sits around my fridge until it becomes a moldy mess. I just don't use it very often. (Or is there a sour cream hack - like clabbering milk? - that I need to know about??!! Tell me please!!) Thanks!!
Author Comment
Helen November 11, 2018
Hello, where are you based? Just asking because the cream, even heavy cream in the US is much thinner than here in the UK, and affects the liquid content of the cake. The cream we used is closer in consistency to the sour cream, so if you are based in US, sour cream is a better bet. If Aus/NZ, heavy cream is fine. You could freeze the remaining sour cream and add to sauces/soups another time. Another tip, make sure your melted butter is not hot when you fold it into the batter. Cool to room temp before use. Hope that is helpful.
tammany November 11, 2018
Helen - thank you! I'm in the US so using thinner heavy cream. But I didn't know I could freeze sour cream - and that is what I will do! That way I have another half-container ready for the next batch of lemon & poppy seed cake. And thanks too for the butter tip - I'll make sure it's room temp.
Eh444 June 5, 2018
Just made this cake...it was absolutely DELICIOUS! A permanent place in my repertoire. I cant wait to bring this out at an afternoon tea and watch the reaction to this humble lemon cake!
geugca May 6, 2018
The corrections on the book call for sour cream instead of heavy cream. A whisk instead of a paddle attachment on medium speed. Has anyone made this cake with these changes?
Candy V. March 14, 2018
I’m a little confused after reading the comments. If I’m in the US, should I be using large or extra large eggs?
sunnycooksandhow February 14, 2018
I made this to bring to a dinner party and it was a hit! This was an easy cake to put together and I like the ingredients are accessible. 2 lemons was enough to get me to 1 tbsp of zest. My cake rose quite beautifully and did not sink. I'll be making this again because it makes a great loaf for gifting!
Bill January 13, 2018
http://crownpublishing.com/sweetupdate Some of the bakers problems here might be due to the errors made by the publisher in the US. Calls for whisk no paddle attachment in Step 2.
Gal February 27, 2018
Bill is correct. In February 2018, Penguin Random House sent the following email with an "Important Information for the North American Edition of Sweet"

"We would like Penguin Random House readers who purchased the North American edition of Sweet to be aware that a number of errors occurred during the book publisher’s editorial process when converting ingredient measurements and oven temperatures to American equivalents. While we are in the process of producing the corrected edition of the book, which will be available in mid-March, we want to ensure that our readers are aware of the corrections to the current edition, which are detailed in this document.

For those who purchased the North American first edition, we are offering replacement copies when the new printing is available; please email [email protected] to request a copy of the new printing".
Tasha December 19, 2017
any thoughts on freezing (adding glaze to the defrosted loaf?)
shecky2000 December 15, 2017
This recipe calls for a paddle attachment on the mixer but I only have a hand mixer with the traditional beater type blades. Will that work just as well, or would it be better for me to mix by hand with a wooden spoon or such? Thanks in advance for the advice.
Idalu December 15, 2017
Yes it will.
shecky2000 December 15, 2017
Many thanks, Idalu!
Joycelyn December 10, 2017
For anyone wondering about bleached flour being banned in the UK, read the link.

Also, link to an explanation on the difference in egg size, UK versus US, from Ask Nigella.

JosieD December 9, 2017
Help! I’ve made this cake twice and each time the Center has fallen after a 55-60 minute bake. Does it just need more time in the oven or am I doing something else wrong?
Joycelyn December 10, 2017
Might be as simple as how you measured your flour. If you scoop and level you'll end up with more flour than fill and level.

For best baking result, invest in a digital kitchen scale ( they're not that expensive ) and you'll see a noticeable difference ( as in success ) in your baked goods.

MarkP March 21, 2018
I weighed the flour but had similar results with the center collapsing. Any additional advice appreciated.
Author Comment
Helen November 5, 2018
Hi Mark, sorry I have just seen this. Is it possible that your melted butter was too warm when you folded it into the cake batter?
Matt K. January 18, 2019
Mine collapsed too. I weighed the ingredients. The butter had a fair amount of time to cool. What temp should it be?
Regine December 9, 2017
Irecall once doing a British recipe that asked for 3 medium eggs so I used 3 large (US) eggs since medium eggs in England are equivalent to 3 large eggs in the US.
soupcon December 8, 2017
For those of you having difficulty with this recipe there are two issues. The first is that it is illegal to sell bleached flour in England/Europe so use unbleached flour. The second is the eggs. Egg sizes in England/Europe are different. Their large size eggs are the equivalent of extra large eggs in North America. Now see if the recipe works.
Joycelyn December 10, 2017
Don't think it's so much the bleached versus unbleached as long as the flour being used in US is AP flour, or in UK, Plain flour. Both work the same with the only difference being the "colour" of your finished baked cake/cookies and such. One ( the bleached ) being whiter in colour, the other ( unbleached ) being somewhat off white in colour but certainly not offputting in colour.

As for US versus England/Europe egg sizes, agree 100%
Regine November 30, 2017
This cake is really good. I made it several times. The last time though (and I think I will continue doing this), I experimented by separating the eggs, beating the egg white portion with 1/4 cup of the sugar until stiff, an then folding it into the rest of the batter. While the recipe as is is already very good, doing this makes the cake a big higher and lightens the texture. Also, I find that if you want to further minimize the slight bump on the cake, lowering the oven temperature makes the top flatter. Last time I baked this cake, I lowered the temperature from 325 and baked cake for 1 hour. I also skip the poppy seeds because I don't really like them.
Marta November 16, 2017
Could I bake this in a muffin plan and make individual muffins? Or a bundt pan? An did yes, how big should the pan be?
Milehighlori November 1, 2017
Delicious and quick to assemble. As suggested, I lessened the sugar to 3/4 cup. This recipe is a keeper.
Idalu October 27, 2017
Lovely cake, nice texture. I reduced the sugar to 3/4 of a cup and after I added the cream it looked very liquidy and I was a bit worried but once I added the floor it looked better and once cooked even better. I poured the glaze on half of the cake only and I actually prefer it without. Will make again.
Naomi W. October 26, 2017
Let me tell you how terrific this cake is..... amazing - not too sweet and the texture is from heaven. If you love lemony lemon cake this is the ONE.
ellen October 17, 2017
I just made this & it is fabulous- but how can you really go wrong with butter & heavy cream? I even got distracted by my podcast & ended up adding the melted butter to the mixer & then folding in the flour by hand at the very end- still with excellent results.