Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

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This Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake is light, moist and tender, and a complete show stopper. A fluffy vegan layer cake with layers of tangy blackberry ginger jam and a decadent vegan cream cheese frosting. Perfect for holidays and special occasions!
Prep 30 minutes
Cook 35 minutes
Cooling and Assembly 50 minutes
Total 1 hour 55 minutes
4.9 from 37 votes

Zingy, sweet, and bursting with lemon and poppy seed flavor, this is such a fun cake for spring and special occasions.

Why you’ll love this cake

To be perfectly honest, I am not a huge fan of cake. I know that sounds crazy coming from someone who lives for dessert, but hear me out. Traditional cake is often dry and dense, and not very interesting from a texture or flavor standpoint. I’d take brownies, cookies, tarts, or pies over cake any day.

Except for THIS cake. I would happily bake and eat this cake every day if it wasn’t a surefire way to give myself early-onset diabetes. It’s light and fluffy, and moist and tender, and is definitely neither dry nor dense. Recently, my friends and I were talking about our favorite cake flavors, and I honestly couldn’t name one. I just said chocolate cake because, well, I love chocolate.

I’m happy to report that I now have a definitive favorite cake flavor: Lemon Poppy Seed, all thanks to this insanely delicious cake. Lest you think that I’m the only person obsessed with this cake, let’s just say that my partner, who is also a cake-skeptic, ate two (generous) pieces in in a period of seven minutes. Also, I brought a huge 13×9 pan of leftovers to the office, and the entire pan was gone in 15 minutes. So, yeah, this cake is a real crowd pleaser.

Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

Now that I’m done tooting my own horn, let’s talk about what’s inside this cake! There are three main components to this cake: the Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake, the Blackberry Ginger Jam, and the Cream Cheese Frosting. Each layer is sufficiently important to merit its own section.

Layer 1: Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

First, the lemon poppy seed cake. The ingredients for this cake are remarkably simple and minimal: just 9 ingredients (excluding salt). A couple notes on ingredients here. And yes, we’re going to geek out on food science for a minute.

This cake calls for baking soda only, no baking powder. if you’re a baking aficionado, you may know that recipes that call for baking soda require some sort of acid. That’s because the combination of acid and baking soda is what creates carbon dioxide, which then causes the cake to rise. Baking soda is considerably stronger than baking powder, and the generous amount used in this recipe (2 teaspoons) is what’s partially responsible for this cake’s extraordinarily light and fluffy texture.

If two teaspoons of baking soda sounds like a lot, keep in mind that we are using A LOT of acid – 1/2 cup of lemon juice to be precise. Because this cake uses a relatively high amount of baking soda, you want to make sure you use the full amount of lemon juice. Otherwise, you’ll have an excess of baking soda leftover after the reaction, which will lend the cake an unpleasant soapy taste. Also, please use FRESHLY SQUEEZED lemon juice. Since this is a lemon cake, you must use fresh lemon juice to get that lovely, bright lemon flavor; no plastic bottles of juice!

Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

My second ingredient note concerns the extra virgin olive oil. As this is a vegan cake, there will be no butter. Even before becoming I vegan, I preferred baking cakes with oil over butter (or mixing the two) because cakes baked with oil tend to bake up with a lighter, more even crumb and stay tender and moist compared to cakes baked with butter, which tend to dry out more.

If you’re curious about the science, it’s largely due to two factors. First, oil weighs less than butter, resulting in cakes with a lighter texture. Second, while all oils are 100% fat, most standard butters (at least in the U.S.) are only 80% fat and contain a significant percent of water; that water intensifies the gluten found in flour, resulting in denser, drier cakes.

Lastly, this cake in particular is best made with oil because it should be refrigerated (due to the cream cheese frosting). When butter cakes are refrigerated, they tend to firm up and dry out.

Since the only source of fat in this cake is the olive oil, I do recommend using a high-quality, fruity extra virgin olive oil. The light but buttery, slightly fruity flavor of a good extra virgin olive oil works magically with the lemon juice (just as it might in a lemon vinaigrette).

Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

Layering the cake

Now for something less food science-y and more practical. I wanted this to be a show-stopping layer cake, which is why it has four layers. I waited until the two cakes (baked in 9-inch round cake pans) had cooled to room temperature and then wrapped them in plastic wrap and refrigerated for a few hours. Wrapping and refrigerating cakes makes it easier to slice them in half. To slice them, you’ll want to use a long serrated knife (Martha Stewart shows you how it’s done). Or you can get back into the food science game and use dental floss to slice the cake in layers. Yes, dental floss.

Admittedly, this whole process requires patience and good knife (flossing) skills. If you want to skip this step, and just make this into a two-layer cake, feel free to leave the two cakes unsliced and lather on the jam and cream cheese frosting.

Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

Layer 2: Blackberry Ginger Jam

What can I say about this Blackberry Ginger Jam? It is so delicious and so easy to make. It’s so good that I would recommend making a double batch so you have extra jam to serve with breakfast throughout the week (it’ll stay good in the fridge for up to 10 days).

Feel free to use frozen blackberries, but I’ve started to see blackberries pop up at the grocery store and they have been oh-so-sweet! I love the zingy, slightly spicy notes from the fresh ginger, especially in contrast to the sweetness and richness of the cream cheese frosting.

lemon blackberry cake - sliced (brighter0 (1 of 1).jpg

Layer 3: Cream Cheese Frosting

This last layer, the Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting, is what takes this cake from indulgent to straight out decadent. It is thick and rich, sweet and slightly tangy, like any good cream cheese frosting. It is by no means healthy, so please don’t fool yourself into thinking that it is!

If you are looking for a delicious dessert but trying to keep things on the lighter side (relatively speaking), you can omit the cream cheese frosting and the cake + jam combo will still be super delicious. Alternatively, you can make all three layers, but make only half the amount of cream cheese frosting. Another option is to use less powdered sugar in the frosting, as long as you’re okay with a runnier frosting.

A few notes to ensure you have a smooth texture and perfect cream cheese taste. First, you’ll want to bring your vegan cream cheese and butter to room temperature before mixing them. You can speed up this process by cutting each into small pieces instead of just leaving them on the counter in their packaged containers. Second, you’ll want to sift your powdered sugar (after you measure it). This ensures your frosting will be smooth and not have any weird clumps. Finally, my preferred cream cheese for a realistic cream cheese frosting taste is the Tofutti cream cheese. No, it’s not healthy, I know. But it tastes just like cream cheese (even better, in my opinion).

Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

Final notes on this cake

As I mentioned earlier, you’ll want to store this cake in the refrigerator due to the cream cheese frosting. If you omit the frosting, you can store it at room temperature (be sure to cover it tightly regardless of which method you use).

I used two 9-inch cake pans, and baked these cakes for 32 minutes. If you are using 8-inch cake pans, they will be a bit thicker (less surface area), so you will likely need to bake them for a few more minutes.

If you’re looking for a more traditional lemon layer cake, this new Vegan Lemon Cake is an absolute dream with a fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. 

Finally, if you make this Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake, be sure to leave me a comment below and tag me with your creations on Instagram!

Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

4.9 from 37 votes
This Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake is light, moist and tender, and a complete show stopper. A fluffy vegan layer cake with layers of tangy blackberry ginger jam and a decadent vegan cream cheese frosting. Perfect for holidays and special occasions!
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Cooling and Assembly 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Baking
Diet Vegan
Serving size: 16


Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

  • 3 cups (~380g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (~280g) organic cane sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest (about 2 medium lemons)
  • 1 2/3 cups (~400 mL) unsweetened almond milk (for nut-free, use oat milk or soy milk)
  • 1/2 cup (~120 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 3 medium lemons)
  • 1/2 cup (~120 mL) extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons poppy seeds

Blackberry Ginger Jam

  • 3 cups fresh or frozen blackberries (~425 - 450g)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger (use a bit more for a more prominent ginger flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons or ~112g) vegan butter, softened to room temperature
  • 8 ounces (~227g) vegan cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 3 - 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease and line two 9-inch round cake pans (or 8-inch round cake pans) with parchment paper to make removal easy.
  • Zest the lemons until you get two tablespoons of zest. Then juice the lemons until you get 1/2 cup of lemon juice.
  • Stir together the almond milk the lemon juice and set aside until it curdles like buttermilk.
  • In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar until really well combined. Pour in the curdled buttermilk, olive oil, lemon zest, vanilla and poppy seeds. Use a large wooden spoon to mix the batter, just until the ingredients are combined. Avoid over mixing the batter, as it can cause the cake to become denser in texture.
  • Pour the batter evenly between the two pans (I use a kitchen scale to weigh each pan to evenly distribute the batter). Arrange the cakes in the middle rack of the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until the center is set, and a toothpick inserted comes out with only a few moist crumbs. I baked mine for 32 minutes (you will need to bake them for a few minutes longer if using 8-inch cake pans).
  • Remove the cake pans from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool completely before inverting them onto the cooling rack.
  • To make the Blackberry Ginger Jam: Add the blackberries, ginger, maple syrup, and lemon juice to a small saucepan over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil. After 2-3 minutes, use the back of a wooden spoon or a fork to break down and mash the berries. Cook for 7-10 minutes or until the jam has reduced and thickened a little bit. Remove from the heat and then stir in the chia seeds to thicken. The jam will also thicken as it cools.
  • To make the Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting: To a large mixing bowl, add the softened butter and cream cheese. Beat on low speed with an electric handheld mixer (or stand mixer) until smooth and creamy. Beat in the vanilla and lemon zest for a few seconds. Gradually add the sifted powdered sugar in 1 cup increments, and mix on low speed until the icing is thick and spreadable. If your frosting is too runny, place the bowl in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
  • To assemble the cake: If you are making this into a traditional layer cake, you’ll need to slice each cake layer in half, horizontally, so you end up with four cake layers (see notes above underneath “Layering the cake” for tips). Spread 1/4 of the frosting over the first cake layer using a frosting spatula or silicone spatula, then spread 1/4 of the jam on top. Repeat with the remaining three cake layers. If you have any leftover frosting, lightly spread the frosting on the outside of the cake. If you don’t want to make this into a four-layer cake, simply add a generous amount of the frosting and jam on top of the first cake, top with the second cake, and then repeat.

Calories: 545kcal | Carbohydrates: 96g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 1g | Sodium: 420mg | Potassium: 114mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 73g | Vitamin A: 329IU | Vitamin C: 10mg | Calcium: 99mg | Iron: 2mg

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103 comments on Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

  1. Rukma

    5 stars
    This was a total success for a birthday cake. Everyone loved it and it’s so easy and quick to make!!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Rukma. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  2. Madison

    Hi! Can you omit the poppy seeds? This looks like a beautiful recipe, but a friend can’t have them. Thank you!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Yes, you can omit the poppy seeds.

      We hope you enjoy the cake, Madison!

  3. Shelly

    5 stars
    My lovely niece made me this cake for my birthday the other day and I must say its the best present!!!!! I have already put my order in for every year! She made the frosting using 3 cups of the sugar and it is perfect.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Aw, that’s awesome to hear, Shelly! What a nice niece you have :) Thank you for sharing!

  4. Preeti

    5 stars
    Hi there! I was interested in making this cake for my boyfriend’s birthday. Is it okay to stick it in the fridge the night before?

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Preeti, yes definitely! We hope you two enjoy it :)

  5. Abuzar KoKo

    3 stars

  6. Chitra

    5 stars
    I made this for my daughter’s bday this week and she absolutely loved it! We all did! Thank you so much for this mouthwatering recipe! It was so simple but so tasty!! It’s a keeper!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Chitra! It makes us happy to know that everyone loved the cake :)

  7. Nareesa

    5 stars
    This was one of the most delicious cakes ever!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We appreciate your feedback and support, Nareesa. Thank you for leaving a review!

  8. Michelle

    Hi can this be made with gluten free flower

    1. Nisha

      Hi Michelle, we haven’t tested this recipe with gluten-free flour, unfortunately. We don’t like to give recommendations unless we’ve tested the substitute ourselves, especially with baking, as small changes can result in big changes.

  9. Heather C

    5 stars
    I am rarely prompted to comment on a recipe, but this cake was so amazing that I have to! Everyone, vegan or not, loved it. Perfect texture and mélange of flavors. Don’t be afraid of the blackberry and ginger combo- I initially was going to omit it, but don’t! The ginger accentuates the blackberry taste (no strong ginger taste) and people could not stop raving about it. It was also easy to make- a plus. A perfect cake in every way.

    1. Heather C

      I want to add that I used Miyoko’s butter and Kite Hill cream cheese.

    2. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thank you so much for your comment and making the recipe, Heather! So wonderful to learn it was a hit :)

  10. Rachel

    5 stars
    Brit here I’ve just served this for a special vegan birthday tea and every one was delighted! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe it is truly special! I used Naturli block as the butter sub, not sure if you have this State-side. It’s expensive but worth it for baking.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Rachel!

  11. Heidi Petersen

    5 stars
    Happy mouths all around! Truly an impressive and incredibly delicious cake. Proud to serve this up to anyone for any reason! Thank you

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Heidi!

  12. Tejal

    5 stars
    Cake turned out to be delicious!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Tejal

  13. Shauna

    5 stars
    I made this cake for Easter and OMG – it is incredible. Even my 4 year old wanted seconds (and said it was the best thing in his life 😂). The only substitute I did was use some homemade blackberry basil jam I had instead of the one in the recipe. Definitely want to try the jam with ginger next time, though. The CountryCrock plant butter is perfect for the frosting!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Shauna. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  14. Courtney Cullis

    5 stars
    I baked this cake for an Easter family get-together and I feel it was the best thing I’ve ever made. The family (all non-vegan) were so blown away, and my aunt even wants it for her next birthday cake. It really was a showstopper! Thank you for an amazing recipe, I’ll definitely make this again when I want to wow a crowd!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Courtney. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  15. Skye

    5 stars
    I made this cake a few years ago and it remains my best cake ever. The lemon flavor was perfect and the blackberry ginger jam was out of this world. Love all of the Rainbow Plant Life cakes! I’m baking the Vanilla Raspberry Layer cake right now so we’ll see if I have a new #1! Patiently waiting for a Rainbow Plant Life Cakebook. Pleaseeee

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Aw, we are so happy to hear that Skye! I’ll let Nisha know, but for now she’s hard at work finishing cookbook number 2 :)

    2. Meenakshi

      The cake looks amazing, the colour, the texture is so tempting! I had a question though : Would seeded blackberries not make the texture hard to eat? Have had a bad history with them :/

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Thanks, Meenakshi! If you’re not a fan of blackberries, you could try substituting with another berry of your choice.

  16. Yuri

    5 stars
    Just delicious! The cake turned out so moist!!! Blackberry and ginger, what a combo! I wouldn’t be never thought of doing that on my own. Like a previous comment mentioned, I used about half the amount of sugar in the batter and turned out just delicious! Perfect balance of sweet and tangy! Love it!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Yuri. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  17. Michelle

    Hi can this cake be made and frozen before decorating in advance please.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Michelle, Yes, you can freeze the unfrosted cakes for up to 3 months. You can find more thorough tips in this post!

      1. Michelle Rathmell

        can gluten free flour be used

  18. Lea

    This looks too delicious for words to be able to do justice…

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hope you enjoy this recipe, Lea!

  19. Sam

    I made this recently for my boyfriend’s birthday, and I have to say, I was blown away by how amazing yet easy to make this (the base cake) was. I had to double check that I wasn’t missing any ingredients like flax seeds, as I couldn’t believe it didn’t need any. I’ve had mixed results with other lemon poppy cake/loaf recipes before so I followed this one to the t, and the result was a light and fluffy, perfectly lemony cake. This is now going to be my go to recipe for anything non-chocolatey!
    The only change I’d make for the next time, would be to use less sugar: this is purely subjective, I don’t think the cake turned out overly sweet, but if you’re making a frosting too, or if you, like me, just like a tad less sweet, then maybe use 220g-ish instead of 280g.
    P.S. This is the first time I used a kitchen scale instead of cup measures, which might be part of why this recipe worked out so perfectly.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      So great to hear about your experience, Sam! Happy this recipe worked out for you :)

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