Basic Lemon Cake Recipe (Poppy Seeds Optional!)

A lemon cake recipe that makes muffins, quick bread, or a bundt cake. A sweet dessert idea that uses basic pantry ingredients & lemon zest. Poppy seeds are optional!

lemon poppy seed muffins with glaze

I know you may be confused by the “lemon cake” title of this post after you’ve seen the above picture of lemon muffins…but up today is an easy, versatile recipe that can be used for a bundt cake, muffins, mini muffins, or quick bread. 

lemon poppy seed muffins on cooling rack

One of my favorite sayings is “simple is best.” That is especially true with this basic lemon cake recipe. There are no unusual ingredients and you should have everything right in your pantry, except maybe the lemons. 

As always when I use citrus in a recipe, the best part is the actual zesting. The lemon zest and juice add such a bright and fresh taste to this batter, that the time it takes is definitely worth it. 

lemon cake batter in muffin tins

Lemon Cake Recipe Tips

  • If you make muffins, resist the urge to fill the vessels too full. If you put too much batter in the vessels, the muffins overflow and the end result is a not-very-pretty flat muffin. One generous scoop works perfectly.
  • Don’t over bake. Remember that baking times are always just a guideline, and that every oven is different. 
  • Remove the muffins from the pan quickly, because they will continue to bake if you leave them in the pan to cool.
  • This lemon cake recipe makes a hefty amount of batter. If you want smaller batches of muffins or quick bread, cut the recipe in half. 
  • The poppy seeds are completely optional, but they do add a nice texture and pair beautifully with the lemon zest. Feel free to add more poppy seeds than this lemon cake recipe calls for, as it is a relatively small amount. 
  • The glaze is a very light topping, but if you wanted to leave it off, just a dusting of powdered sugar would be delicious.

lemon poppy seed muffins using lemon cake recipe

Recipe Variations

  • Lemon Mini Muffins: Bake in a mini muffin pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Makes 48 mini muffins.
  • Lemon Bundt Cake: Bake in a prepared bundt pan at 350 degrees F for 45 – 55 minutes or until knife inserted in center of cake comes out clean. 
  • Lemon Quick Bread: Bake at 350 degrees F in small loaf pans for 25 – 30 minutes. Watch closely at the end so bread does not get too brown. My small loaf pans measure 5.5 inches x 3 inches x 2.25 inches.

lemon cake recipe made into muffins pin with text

basic lemon cake recipe muffins fi

Basic Lemon Cake/Muffin Recipe

A lemon cake recipe that makes muffins, bread, or bundt cake. A sweet dessert idea that uses basic pantry ingredients & lemon zest. Poppy seeds optional!
5 from 3 votes
Course: Bread, Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Servings: 24 regular muffins
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes


For the Batter:

  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks softened)
  • 2 cups Sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Milk
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds (optional)

For the Glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cups Powdered Sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Zest and juice three large lemons. Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl or bowl of a standing mixer, add butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
  • Beat on medium speed for two minutes.
  • Add milk, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Mix to combine well.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and poppy seeds.
  • Add flour mixture to butter/sugar mixture in three increments, mixing very well in between. Make sure to scrape sides of the bowl.
  • Prepare a 12-vessel muffin pan with Baker's Joy or paper liners.
  • Using a two inch scoop, add a generous scoop of batter to each vessel.
  • Bake at 400 degrees F for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 minutes more.
  • When done, tops of muffins should not be brown but they should be slightly firm to the touch.
  • Cool five minutes in pan and them remove to a cooling rack.
  • Prepare glaze by mixing together powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, and 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.
  • Leaving muffins on the cooling rack, place rack on a cookie sheet. Drizzle glaze over cooled muffins.


Muffins will stay fresh for up to two days, loosely covered, at room temperature. 
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My favorite baking pans:

For a semi-homemade version of lemon cake, click here: Lemon 7 Up Bundt Cake.

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