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 Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 35 mins
Cooling and Assembly 50 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 55 mins
4.8 from 13 votes

Guys, I hit the jackpot. The cake jackpot, that is. This Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake is possibly the best cake I have EVER made (vegan and non-vegan), and I am SO excited to share it with you. Especially because it would make the perfect cake for Mother’s Day!

Why you’ll love this Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed 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.

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

4.8 from 13 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 mins
Cook Time: 35 mins
Cooling and Assembly 50 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 55 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Baking
Diet Vegan
Keyword: lemon, nut-free, poppy seed, soy-free
Serving size: 16

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  • 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.

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62 comments on Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

  1. Lucia

    Could I use gluten-free flour instead?

  2. Lori

    5 stars
    Made this for my mommy for Mother’s Day. Another winner 😎. Thanks Nisha!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Lori, So glad to hear you enjoyed this recipe. We hope your Mom did too ;)

  3. JoJo

    If we wanted to use cow milk, would it still be 400mL? My family is vegetarian so wanted to see if I could still make this!

    Can’t wait to make this cake for my mom for Mother’s Day!

    1. Taylor

      I’ve tried a bunch of her recipes repeatedly, with and without modifications. I’ve learned that she takes into account so many different things when refining her recipes, so I wouldn’t recommend subbing and trying to find almond milk :)

  4. Afsan

    3 stars
    The cake looks beautiful! I made this cake ‘2* 8 inch’ with much less sugar. For the cake 1 cup sugar and for the frosting only 1 1/2 cup powder sugar is already very sweet (for my taste). For a lighter frosting i would go with less butter and cream cheese as well. Thanks for inspiration. I learn a lot from your blog! X

  5. Lauren

    5 stars
    I made just made the cake part of this recipe as I had left over raspberry jam filling. This cake was amazing! I made in a bundt pan and turned out beautifully with a ribbon of jam in the middle. My non-vegan family loved it and had no idea it was vegan until I told them. This will be a go to in my house.

    1. Nisha

      That’s so lovely to hear, Lauren! I bet it was so pretty in a bundt pan and I love the sound of a ribbon of jam in the middle! Thanks for sharing :)

  6. Crystal

    5 stars
    This cake and tres leches are tied for my #1 favorite cake. Words cannot describe what I felt taking my first bite of this cake. I’ve never made a cake before, let alone a vegan one, so it was so fun to combine all the fresh ingredients and assemble the final product.

    Nisha you are a genius and you are turning me vegan! Thanks so much for the clear instructions.

    1. Nisha

      Hi Crystal, you are too sweet! So happy that this cake was a bite of heaven for you and yay for making more vegan recipes!

  7. Angela

    5 stars
    This was amazing! We couldn’t stop talking about how delicious it was. My family is not vegan and this was truly undetectably vegan. I used flora plant butter and kite hill cream cheese for the frosting and it was dreamy. Two notes: 3 cups powdered sugar is just right for sweetness and don’t be scared of the ginger in the jam!

  8. Matt

    4 stars
    This was an ok cake. I didn’t have any berries so I didn’t do that part. I found it too chewy and it didn’t have very much of a lemon flavor… in my opinion.

    I think the next time I make it I’ll use cake flour and double acting baking powder (instead of just baking soda) because the all purpose flour made a chewy cake rather than light and fluffy. I also want a more lemon flavor so I’m thinking of making a lemon glaze to pour over the perforated cake before the frosting, like a lemon pound cake.

  9. Matt

    This is a Show Stopper. Holy moly! It’s absolutely perfect for this amazing weather we’ve been having in Southern California. Thank you for sharing this.

  10. Jennifer Sumner

    5 stars
    I just made the Lemon Poppy seed cake as a Bundt cake (cooking 20 minutes longer) as I don’t have cake pans. It really is good with all the trimmings, I had made the Instant pot version from the cookbook two days ago and it was terrible, like lemon poppy seed gummy bears. It was the first of all your recipes I’ve tried that really didn’t work out. I wasn’t crazy about the Tahini brownies but the latest ones with aquafava were fabulous.

  11. Marisa Howard

    Hello! My milk wouldn’t curdle, any tips? Can it be made without curdling it?

    1. RPL Team

      Hi Marisa – that should be fine, some milks (for example, oat milk) don’t curdle as much. Hope this helps!

    2. Crystal

      I used oat milk and it didn’t curdle as much, the cake still turned out great!

  12. Laurie Weber

    5 stars
    The cake was AMAZING… Super super yummy!!!!

  13. Chelsea Laura

    5 stars
    Exceeded expectations 10/10, thank you so much for this recipe!

    My family and friend loved it. I loved how moist the cake was, LOVED the jam and the overall combination of flavours. <3

  14. Ale

    5 stars
    Everyone loved this!!!! The frosting may have been too sweet, but the cake itself, so delectable!!

  15. Paula Woodhouse

    5 stars
    I baked this cake for my birthday & it didn’t disappoint! It was so delicious. My family loved it., especially my husband! Thank you!

  16. Nina James

    Too much work but looks delicious. Not a baker. Email me when you decide to make and ship these! [email protected]

  17. Kelli Evans

    I just made this and it was amazing. No one even knew it was vegan. Instead of 2 – 8 in rounds do you think I could half the recipes and make a loaf?

  18. Alyssa

    I’ve never made a cake before, which makes the fact that this turned out so AMAZING even better! This recipe is literal perfection.

  19. Valentina

    This was one of the best cakes I’ve EVER made! I got a perfect bake after 30 min and I used square shaped pans b/c it’s what I had on hand. Turned out perfect! The cake texture was super moist. I didn’t have the courage to cut the layers, also didn’t have the time to refrigerate to make that part of the process easier – next time! It turned out SO YUMMY and I will definitely make it again!

  20. Valentina

    Is there something I can use in place of chia seeds? I just realized I’m out! Sesame seeds? Hemp seeds?

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Valentina, the chia seeds are what help gel the jam, so sesame or hemp seeds wouldn’t work. You can try making a slurry out of cornstarch or arrowroot powder and cold water and adding it to the berries during the last minute or two of cooking – it will help thicken the berry filling up.

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