Made with baking pantry staples, sour cream, and poppy seeds, this Poppy Seed Cake is light and moist, with a sweet but nutty flavor and a little bit of texture thanks to the poppy seeds. This classic recipe is perfect for brunch or a light dessert year round, and great for anyone celebrating the Jewish new year Rosh Hashanah.
Perfect Poppy Seed Cake Recipe
Poppy seed cake is one of those desserts that is not nearly as popular as it should be – it seems to be one that parents and grandparents loved that’s being forgotten. So I’m here to bring it back because it is a simple classic cake, good anytime, all year round. My mom always made it for the Jewish new year.
Poppy seeds are a traditional ingredient in Jewish cooking, often seen on challah bread instead of sesame seeds and also in Hamantaschen cookies and rugelach. Poppy seed cakes are popular throughout Eastern Europe and Israel and often enjoyed for Purim, Hanukkah, and Rosh Hashanah.
For those who’ve never had it, poppy seed cake has an airy crumb and is lightly flavored. It’s not super sweet and makes a great dessert to enjoy with a mug of tea or coffee. It also makes a perfect addition to a brunch spread.
What Are Poppy Seeds?
Poppy seeds come from the poppy flower (papaver somniferum). They have been harvested for centuries, dating back to Mesopotamia, and are often used in baked goods, to make poppy seed oil, and poppy seed dressing. They have a bit of a nutty, earthy flavor which tends to pair well with sweet baked goods.
Homemade poppy seed cake comes together with just 9 simple ingredients, most of them pantry staples.
(Scroll below to the printable recipe card for details and measurements.)
- Eggs – Separate the egg whites and yolks as they’re used in different steps.
- Granulated sugar – For sweetness.
- Butter – Creamed with the sugar, adding richness to the batter.
- Vanilla extract – Gives the cake a light flavor.
- Poppy seeds – Adds a nutty flavor and subtle textural crunch to the cake.
- Baking soda – Helps the cake rise and contributes to a light and fluffy crumb.
- Sour cream – Provides necessary moisture and a slight tang.
- Cake flour – Using cake flour means this cake has a super soft texture. I recommend sifting it to prevent any clumps.
- Powdered sugar – For dusting the top before serving.
TIP: Turn It Into a Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
How to Make Poppy Seed Cake
This classic cake recipe is simple but it does require a bit of hands-on time as the ingredients are prepared separately. It’s still easy and worth every second, though!
(Scroll down to the printable recipe card for details and measurements, and don’t miss the video below.)
- Beat the egg whites. Beat the egg whites until almost-stiff peaks are achieved, then slowly add 1/2 cup of sugar. Beat again until stiff peaks are formed.
- Cream the butter. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and remaining sugar until light and fluffy. Add the yolks one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Stir in the poppy seeds.
- Combine the ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix together the baking soda and sour cream. Alternate adding to the butter mixture with the flour. Add 1/4 cup of flour, then 1/3 cup of sour cream, and repeat. Stir until combined and smooth after each addition. Gently fold in the stiff egg whites.
- Bake. Spoon the mixture into a greased and floured 9-inch tube pan. Bake at 350F for 50 to 60 minutes.
- Cool and enjoy. Let cool for 10 minutes, then invert on a cake tray to cool completely. Once cooled, lightly dust with powdered sugar before slicing.
Tips for Success
Here are a few tips for making the best poppy seed cake.
- Use room temperature ingredients. All ingredients used – specifically the eggs, sour cream, and butter – should be at room temperature. This allows them to incorporate better. That said, make sure the butter isn’t TOO soft or it won’t cream properly.
- Do not overmix. As you alternate adding in the cake flour and sour cream, be sure to mix only enough to fully combine the ingredients.
- Do not overbake. Start checking the cake with a toothpick at 50 minutes. If you bake it too long, it will dry out.
Video: Homemade Poppy Seed Cake
Serve your poppy seed cake at room temperature, topped with some powdered sugar. You can also make a simple glaze or icing to drizzle over the top as well, if you prefer an even sweeter option.
Since poppy seed cake is not overly sweet or dense, it makes a great option for brunch alongside a cup of coffee or tea, or can also be served as a dessert in the evening.
How to Store Leftovers
- Storing leftovers. Homemade poppy seed cake will last for up to 3 days at room temperature on the counter. Just be sure to cover it with foil or put it in an airtight container.
- To freeze. If you’d like to freeze it, allow it to cool completely then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and again in foil to avoid freezer burn. Freeze for up to 3 months, then thaw on the counter.
More Easy Cake Recipes:
- Easy Pistachio Cake
- Hummingbird Cake
- Easy Apple Cake
- Shirley Temple Cake
- Kentucky Butter Cake
- Simple Cinnamon Cake
Poppy Seed Cake
- 4 large eggs (egg whites and yolks separated), at room temperature
- 1 & 1/2 cups granulated sugar , divided
- 1 cup butter , room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup poppy seeds
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup sour cream , room temperature
- 2 cups cake flour , sifted
- powdered sugar , for dusting
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch tube pan (or bundt pan.)
- In a medium bowl using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until almost stiff peaks; gradually add in 1/2 cup of the sugar. Continue beating until stiff peaks are reached. Set aside.
- In a large separate bowl, cream together the butter and remaining 1 cup of sugar until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add in egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add in vanilla.
- Stir in poppy seeds until incorporated.
- Combine baking soda and sour cream; add to the creamed mixture, alternating with the cake flour. (Add about 1/4 of the flour first, then 1/3 cup sour cream and repeat until all is used, mixing just until combined and smooth after each addition.)
- Gently fold in the stiff beaten egg whites.
- Spoon evenly into the prepared tube pan.
- Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. (Start checking at 50 minutes so it doesn’t over-bake and become dry.)
- Remove from oven and cool in pan for 10 minutes, then slowly run a dull knife around the sides of the cake.
- Invert cake onto a cake tray and let cool completely.
- Lightly dust with some powdered sugar before slicing.