Striped Lemon Poppy Seed Bread

December 22, 2021
11 Ratings
Photo by Carolina Gelen
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour
  • makes 1 loaf
Author Notes

Instead of a sprinkle of shy poppy seeds hiding in a fluffy lemon loaf, this recipe boasts dramatic layers. It’s inspired by a famous poppy seed paste found in many Eastern European desserts I grew up with. This paste, also called mohn, is a mixture of poppy seeds, sugar, and a binder like milk or egg. It’s used for kolaches, babkas, hamantaschen, crescent rolls—the options are endless. So why not layer it in a tender lemon quick bread? (On that note: Yes, this is one of those situations where quick bread essentially means cake—but don't let that stop you from enjoying it for breakfast.)

Make sure to taste the poppy seeds before using them. The ones I used for my first test were rancid, and I didn’t realize that until I tasted the baked loaf. Check the production date to make sure the poppy seeds are as fresh as can be. Because this recipe uses a large quantity, see if you can find poppy seeds in a bulk package, like on To achieve the lemoniest flavor, don’t skip massaging the lemon zest into the sugar. Lemon peel contains a fragrant, aromatic oil, much more complex than lemon juice, and the abrasive texture of the sugar helps draw out all that flavor. The best way you’ll get a bright yellow quick bread without food coloring is organic, pasture-raised eggs—they’ll bring a lemony yellow hue. —Carolina Gelen

What You'll Need
  • Poppy Seed Layer
  • 76 grams (⅓ cup) whole milk
  • 192 grams (1⅓ cups) poppy seeds
  • 99 grams (½ cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from about ⅓ lemon)
  • Lemon Quick Bread
  • 198 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
  • 200 grams (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs
  • 57 grams (¼ cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 230 grams (1¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Soak
  • 57 grams (¼ cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • (Optional) Glaze
  • 227 grams (2 cups) confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed
  1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper. Set the loaf pan on a sheet pan to catch any drips.
  2. Make the poppy seed layer: Add the milk to a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Mix in the poppy seeds, sugar, and vanilla. Simmer for 7 to 10 minutes, constantly stirring, until the mixture reaches the consistency of wet sand—somewhat spreadable but still crumbly. Let cool to room temperature (you can transfer the mixture to a wide bowl to speed things up). Once cool, stir in the egg and lemon zest.
  3. Make the quick bread batter: Combine the sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a bowl where you’ll use a hand mixer) and rub together with your fingers until fragrant. Add the butter and beat on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the lemon juice, milk, and salt (don’t worry if it looks curdled). Add the flour and baking powder and lightly mix the two with your fingers or a fork. Now mix on low to fully incorporate, until there are no more dry streaks.
  4. In the lined pan, using a spoon or offset spatula, evenly spread a third of the batter (you can eyeball it). Using your fingers or an offset spatula, delicately spread half of the poppy seed mixture on top—try not to swirl the two mixtures in the process. Spread half of the remaining batter on top, followed by the remaining poppy seed mixture, followed by the remaining batter.
  5. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until bouncy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with no raw batter (some poppy seeds are okay). If the quick bread starts to brown too much toward the end, you can loosely tent the top with tin foil.
  6. While the loaf is baking, make the soak: Stir together the lemon juice and sugar until the sugar has dissolved.
  7. As soon as it’s out of the oven, pour the soak over the hot loaf. Let cool for 20 to 30 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  8. If you’re including the glaze, add the confectioners’ sugar to a bowl. Whisk or stir in a tablespoon of lemon juice in at a time, until the icing is smooth and reaches the consistency of melted chocolate. Pour the icing on the loaf and allow it to harden, then slice and serve.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • stevemr
  • Sarah Gladieux
    Sarah Gladieux
  • izabel
  • Karolina
Carolina is a resident at Food52. She's also one of the hosts of Choose Your Own Recipe Adventure, our YouTube show where our Food52 readers pick the ingredients and techniques for a brand new recipe. Carolina recently immigrated to the U.S. from Transylvania, a place she spent most of her life. She continues to get inspired by the classic Romanian and Hungarian foods she was raised on, creating approachable, colorful, and fun recipes. For more cooking ideas and candid moments, check out her Instagram @carolinagelen.

10 Reviews

stevemr March 3, 2023
While we enjoyed eating these, there's a structural problem. Because there's nothing binding the poppy seed filling to the pastry, there's a tendency for the layers to break apart. Still tasty, and if you carefully put a slice on a plate and eat it with a knife and fork, it might not be an issue, but if you pick it up and eat it while holding it in your hand, expect it to fall apart.
izabel July 5, 2022
My Polish family adored this! Took a shortcut and used canned poppy seed filling instead (masa makowa) as I had a few cans laying around in the pantry. I used about 500-550g, and the 'stripes' worked out brilliantly. This recipe very well transported me back to my childhood in Eastern Europe, genius idea Carolina!
Karolina January 17, 2022
It is perfect! I've made it twice already as my friends are raving about it. I used 200g ground poppy seeds (therefore more milk was needed). When making it for the first time, I've had only 4 eggs, so used 3 for the batter and 1 for the poppy layer and it came out perfectly fine too. My loaf pan was 30x12 cm (12x5inches) and it was full.

Thanks, Carolina!
[email protected] January 16, 2022
LOVE THIS!! I'm usually a horrible baker, but this recipe turned out great! I love the big poppy seed layers! Reminiscent of Eastern European poppy seed pastries! I skipped the soak and glaze and it was sweet enough for me!
mpheland17 January 12, 2022
As soon as Carolina posted this on Instagram I had to try it! My only change to the recipe is to simply use less poppy seeds. After making the poppy seed mixture, I was fearful of what the texture was going to be. So, I simply used 100g of the mixture per each poppy seed layer and it came out amazing! This is a must try!
Sarah G. January 15, 2022
So you’re saying make the recipe as is but measure out the poppy seed layers to 100g instead of dividing it in half for two layers? Is that correct?
mpheland17 January 15, 2022
Yep! I realized it would be too many poppy seeds for my liking after I had already made the mixture, which is why i only used half of it. Half of the total mixture came out to be about 200g, so i used 100g for each layer!
Sarah G. January 15, 2022
Awesome! Thank you :) I think I’ll give that a try today when I make it!
tangie1118 January 11, 2022
Ok I wanted to love this and made it as soon as I saw it in instagram. But biting into a mouthful of poppyseeds is just not appealing and almost inedible. Sorry Carolina! Looks super cool though
halolegions January 9, 2022
We just made the recipe & it tastes great. However, it seems like twice as many poppy seeds as needed. After each slice of bread, we were left with a mound of sugar-coated poppy seeds that had fallen out of the bread.