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Purim Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze Recipe


Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze

Why do we eat poppy seeds on Purim? The tradition finds roots in the intermarriage between Queen Esther and her husband Ahasuerus, the king of Persia. Esther was Jewish, King Ahasuerus was not. When Esther came to live in the king’s palace, tradition says she became a vegetarian in order to avoid eating food that was not kosher. She got her protein from nutrient-rich seeds, nuts, and legumes.

Many Jewish families celebrate Purim with a vegetarian meal in honor of Esther, which includes items like chickpeas, nuts, and — you guessed it — poppy seeds! This poppy seed cake has dairy in it, making it a good choice as the sweet ending of a vegetarian kosher meal. It’s pretty rich, so I’ve used low-fat dairy to take some of the guilt out. I highly recommend the warm lemon glaze; it takes this cake to a whole new level of yum.


  • 1 cup poppy seeds
  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

For the lemon frosting glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the warm lemon glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 or 10-inch Bundt cake pan (12-cup capacity) and set aside.

If you like a less crunchy cake with a more pronounced poppy seed flavor, grind the seeds in a coffee grinder. If you prefer a crunchier texture, leave the seeds whole.

In a small saucepan, combine poppy seeds (whole or ground), milk, and honey. Stir till combined and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Let mixture boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat and let stand for 20 minutes.

Place poppy seed mixture into a mixing bowl along with butter and sugar. Beat on high until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Add egg yolks to the mixture and beat again on high. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla, and sour cream and beat until blended.

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add wet ingredients to dry, using an electric mixer to beat everything together until well combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure all dry ingredients are fully incorporated.

In a separate clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the poppy seed batter. Pour the batter into the Bundt pan. Bundt pan depths vary, so make sure the batter fills the pan three-quarters full or less. Do not fill beyond three-quarters full or your cake might overflow during baking. Use a spatula to gently push the batter to the outside of the pan, pushing slightly up the walls. This will help to get rid of any air pockets that might interfere with the pretty details of the pan. Smooth the batter on the top so it is flat and even all the way around the pan.

Bake cake in preheated oven for 55-65 minutes. When the edges darken and pull fully away from the sides of the pan and the cake browns all the way across the surface, it’s ready. You should be able to insert a toothpick into the thickest part of the cake and have it come out clean. The top of the cake might be a bit domed. If it bothers you, you can trim it down with a knife to flatten (and snack on the freshly baked trimmings). Yum!

Let the cake cool for exactly 10 minutes, and then invert it onto a flat plate. Tap the Bundt pan gently to release the cake. If your cake sticks, use a plastic knife to carefully loosen the cake around the center tube and sides. Allow cake to cool completely.

I have a few topping options for this cake. You can pick one, two, or all three toppings… using all three makes this pretty decadent. If you’re only picking one, pick topping #3. Toppings #1 and #2 are pretty, but #3 takes this cake to a whole other level of deliciousness.

Option #1: Dust the cake with powdered sugar. To keep things neat, I like to do this part on a wire cooling rack with a piece of parchment paper underneath to catch extra sugar. You can simply do it on a plate if you prefer. Put 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar into a handheld mesh strainer or sifter. Sprinkle sugar onto the top of the cake by tapping the strainer or sifting to release an even shower of sugar around the surface of the cake. Pretty, simple, yummy.

For the lemon frosting glaze:

Option #2: Again, it's best to put the cake on a wire cooling rack with a piece of parchment paper underneath to catch the drippings. Mix together powdered sugar and fresh lemon juice in a small mixing bowl to form a tangy frosting with the texture of thick honey. Pour the icing into a Ziploc bag, guiding the icing towards one of the lower corners of the bag. Cut the very tip of that corner off the bag. Drizzle the icing onto the cake in a zig-zag pattern by squeezing the Ziploc bag gently to release the glaze. Allow icing to dry completely before serving — this usually takes about 30 minutes.

For the warm lemon glaze:

Option #3: My favorite topping of the three! In a small saucepan, combine powdered sugar, lemon juice, and water. Warm up the glaze till it’s heated through and bubbling around the edges. Pour a few tablespoons of hot glaze over the warm cake slices just before serving. Oy. Vey. (Photo courtesy of Tori Avey)