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When the dazzle of the holidays has faded and January begins to fully assert herself, thank God for citrus. The bright color and sharp taste of citrus fruits is one of the few things I look truly anticipate in the often-gloomy winter months. In other words, it’s the perfect time for lemon poppyseed cake.
I have a lemon poppyseed loaf in my cookbook, but I’ve been on an almond flour kick lately and wanted to bring that to the party this time — almond + lemon is a beautiful combination, and almond flour produces baked goods that are remarkably tender and long-lasting. I also wanted a loaf that would perfectly fit a Pullman pan for some sexy square slices, because let’s be honest — we all need a little excitement this time of year.
This recipe takes inspiration from Melissa Clark’s version of Lindsey Shere’s famous almond cake. I loved her use of a DIY almond paste because even though I have a very well-stocked baking pantry, even I never keep almond paste on hand. I do, however, always have almond flour, icing sugar, and egg whites around so there you go!
Partway through researching and planning out this recipe I also realized Tartine has a lemon-almond poppyseed tea cake in their first cookbook; and its proportions are remarkably similar to Shere’s/Clark’s. I’m not sure if there’s some shared inspiration there or just a matter of great bakers thinking alike, but it’s worth mentioning.
From my own lemon-poppyseed recipe development in the past I knew that the triple threat of lemon zest, lemon oil, and lemon soak (with fresh lemon juice, please!) was key to a lemon flavor that sings. If you’re always disappointed with not enough lemon flavor, do not skip the lemon oil. It is worth the investment and easy to source online or at baking supply stores. We also do not skimp on the poppyseeds because I don’t understand lemon poppyseeds that contain 1 or 2 tsp of seeds per loaf. Three full tablespoons, plus more for garnish if you like.
You’ll also be rewarded if you let this loaf cake rest overnight before tucking in. I know, it’s a lot to ask. But that bit of patience allows the syrup to fully soak in and make for a perfectly tender and m-m-moist loaf that will last you a week, if you let it.
- I scaled this recipe specifically to fit my 9x4x4 pullman pan. Without having tested it I am fairly certain it will fit in a standard 9×5 loaf pan (it will be too much batter for an 8.5×4.5). If you do use a regular 9×5 loaf pan, just leave ~3/4″ at the top (this loaf doesn’t rise too much) and bake off any extra batter as cupcakes, and check for doneness a little sooner as the increased surface area may shave a few minutes off the bake time. And let me know if you try it!
- Pro tip: even if your recipe only calls for citrus juice, always zest the fruit beforehand! Store the zest in an airtight container in the freezer and your future self will thank you.
- Always store your poppyseeds in the freezer and check that they’re still good before baking with them. They go rancid remarkably fast.
Lemon Almond Poppy Seed Loaf
Makes one 9x4x4 pullman loaf | Inspired by Baked to Order, Lindsey Shere/Melissa Clark via the New York TImes, and Tartine
For the lemon almond poppy seed loaf:
- 125g almond flour, preferably blanched and superfine
- 125g icing sugar
- 4g (1 tsp) kosher salt (I use Diamond Kosher)
- 1 Tbsp lemon zest (from about 2-3 lemons; save the lemons for the syrup and glaze)
- 1 large egg white plus 6 large eggs, at room temperature and divided
- 3/4 tsp pure lemon oil (I use Boyajian)
- 3/4 tsp pure almond extract (I use Nielsen-Massey)
- 225g granulated sugar
- 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature and cubed
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 125g all-purpose flour
- 27g (3 Tbsp) poppyseeds
For the lemon soaking syrup:
- 50g lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 50g granulated sugar
For the lemon glaze:
- 120g icing sugar, sifted
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- Poppyseeds, for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven and prepare the pan: Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Lightly spray a 9x4x4 pullman pan and line with parchment paper, leaving 2-3 inches of overhang on the long sides for easy removal.
Mix the batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the almond flour, icing sugar, salt, and lemon zest. Mix on low for 30 seconds to combine. Add the egg white, lemon oil, and almond extract. Continue mixing until all the dry ingredients are moistened and the mixture is beginning to clump but not a cohesive mass. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle attachment.
With the mixer still running on low, slowly add the granulated sugar a spoonful at a time. This is to help keep the almond paste from clumping too much and ensure the ingredients are evenly distributed. Once all the sugar has been added, continue beating on low until the mixture resembles wet sand and does not have any large lumps, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle attachment.
With the mixer still running on low, add the butter a couple cubes at a time. Once all the butter has been added, add the baking powder. Turn up the speed to medium. Mix until light, fluffy, and creamy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle attachment once or twice during mixing.
Crack all the eggs into a measuring cup with a spout and lightly whisk to combine. With the mixer on medium speed, stream in the eggs a couple tablespoons at a time, letting each addition absorb before adding the next. Patience here will help the batter emulsify properly and ensure a beautifully even crumb. Once all the eggs have been added, yep, you guessed it — scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle attachment.
With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and poppy seeds. Mix just until the flour has disappeared. Use a flexible spatula to gently fold the batter several times to ensure it’s evenly mixed. Make sure to thoroughly scrape the bottom of the bowl where pockets of flour like to hide. The batter should be thick and homogenous.
Scrape about a third of the batter into the prepared pan. Use a small offset spatula to smooth the batter evenly into all the corners of the pan. Repeat twice more until all the batter has been added. Tap the pan firmly on the counter several times to settle the batter any dislodge any air bubbles. The pullman pan should be fairly full; this is normal.
Bake until the loaf is deeply golden and springy to the touch, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 60-70 minutes. A digital thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf should register 200F.
Make the Lemon Soak: While the cake is baking, combine the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and pour into a heatproof container.
Soak the cake: When the cake is done, transfer the pan to a wire rack. Use a skewer to poke holes all over the top and brush generously with the lemon soak. Wait for about 5 minutes for the liquid to absorb, then brush on more soak, aiming to use about half the syrup. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then carefully turn it out of the pan onto a clean piece of parchment paper set on a wire rack. Poke the bottom (now top) of the loaf with the skewer and brush the remaining syrup over the top and sides of the cake. Don’t be afraid to use all the syrup.
Let the cake cool completely before glazing. (For best flavor, I like to wrap the unglazed loaf in plastic once cool and rest overnight at room temperature, then glaze the next day right before serving.)
Glaze the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together the icing sugar and salt. Add 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and whisk to combine. Add more lemon juice as necessary to obtain a thick but pourable glaze. Pour the glaze over the top of the loaf, using a small spoon to nudge it over the edges in places. Sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired. Let the glaze set for 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.