Skip to main content

Poppy Seed Cake Recipe from Mary Beth Sharkey

When I was a little girl my Mother would make this cake only once a year and always at Christmastime. I grew up looking forward to that one slice a year.
  • Author:
  • Updated:
lemon poppy seed cake recipe

From the kitchen of Mary Beth Sharkey comes this staple recipe in poppy seed cuisine. Multiple flavor profiles and a depth of texture positions the poppy seed cake from the rest. This Poppy Seed Cake recipe should be in everyone’s collection of best Christmas recipes. There’s a little more ingredients than some of our other Christmas recipes, but we promise those extra steps and elements are well worth it. Invite Mary Beth into your kitchen and dive into a classic cake recipe for the senses. 

From Mary Beth Sharkey

My recipe is Grandma's Poppy Seed Cake. When I was a little girl my Mother would make this cake only once a year and always at Christmastime. I grew up looking forward to that one slice a year. My mother was given the recipe by her mother, whose handwriting is on the index card you see in the scanned document. I never tasted my Grandmother's version and when I was younger my Mother passed away, so I very thankful to have those memories and this wonderful tie to the past. 

best poppy seed cake recipe

Poppy Seed Cake Recipe


  • ½ cup poppy seeds 
  • 1 ½ cups of milk 
  • 3 cups of flour 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder  
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla 
  • ¾ cup oleo, i.e. 1 ½ sticks butter, softened  
  • 3 eggs 
  • 2 ¼ cups sugar 
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

Poppy Seed Cake DIRECTIONS

  1. Soak poppy seeds in milk for 1 to 2 hours
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Grease and flour a bundt or angel food cake pan.
  4. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Sit aside.
  5. In an electric mixing bowl, cream butter and eggs. Add vanilla and blend just until mixed.
  6. Add sugar to the blended butter, eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth.
  7. Blend in the poppy seed mixture.
  8. Add dry ingredients, about one cup at a time mixing until well blended.
  9. Place in greased and floured pan and bake for 1 hour or more testing at the 1 hour mark.
  10. Allow to cool on cake rack for 15 minutes and remove from pan.
  11. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving if desired.
poppy seed cake recipe

Do I have to soak poppy seeds before baking?

Yes. And there are a couple of reasons why you are going to want to soak poppy seeds before baking. Poppy seeds have an extremely tough outer coating which protects the part of the seed holding all the flavor. That unique, nutty flavor won’t be released until the outer coating has been softened and the seed baked at a high temperature. There’s one exception to this rule: you can get that same flavor by grinding the poppy seeds.

What’s the best way to soak poppy seeds? Using the water, milk, or oil from the recipe (that’s key) soak the poppy seeds thoroughly. That now becomes your poppy seed mixture. The recipe above calls for 1 to 2 hours. The warmer the milk or water, the quicker that process will take place (some recipes call for 30 minutes, but I’d go at least 1 hour). But be careful with the temperature of your liquid when mixing it with the ingredients because it can change the chemical process during mixing.

Whether or not you soak the poppy seeds effectively will make or break the depth of flavor in your food.

cake with poppy seeds

What can replace poppy seeds in a recipe?
  • Don’t replace poppy seeds in a recipe unless you have to. I can think of only a couple of legitimate reasons why one would even entertain the idea: food allergy and/or you’re worried about a drug test in the near future (by the way…that’s not a myth). With that said, there are only a handful of poppy seed substitutes.

    · Sesame seeds work great because of their flavor is the closest to a poppy seed, especially if you lightly toast them before using them.

    · Chia seeds may not be texturally similar to the poppy seed, but they still maintain a similar taste to make it a worthwhile substitute. They work extremely well in dry ingredients like cakes and muffins. You won’t want to pre-soak like you do poppy seeds.

    · Hemp seeds are another tasty alternative to poppy seeds. Although they have that nutty aroma and flavor like the poppy, texturally they’re not as akin, so you’ll want to grind them to break down those textural elements to make as best a poppy seed substitute as possible.

    · Nigella seeds are another popular alternative to poppy seeds, but these are used more in Indian dishes and recipes. They do have a nutty taste, but there is a hint of onion. So…you may not want to use it with sweet goods.

    Scroll to Continue

    Recommended for You

    · Flax seeds are another viable option, especially if you’re looking for a similar texture, crunch and flavor. The biggest difference obviously being the color.

    The best part of substituting any of these seeds for poppy seeds? The substitution ratio is 1:1. Yay!

    How do you make a lemon poppy seed bundt cake?

    The recipe above is a solid foundation if you want to make a lemon poppy seed bundt cake. There’s just something marvelous that connects the flavors of lemon and poppy seed. Something magical in our palate happens when the essence of citrus and nuts combine.

    With that said, easily convert this poppy seed cake recipe into a lemon poppy seed cake: adding two tablespoons of lemon zest to the dry ingredients (mix well) and then adding ¼ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice to the poppy seeds right when you begin to soak them in milk. You’ll want the milk, poppy seeds, and lemon to curdle.

    If you want to add a frosting to the cake, try this sweet lemon lime citrus frosting from one of our cupcake recipes. 

    poppy seed cake

    Our Best Christmas Recipes Inherited From Our Families

    This holiday season we're featuring the BEST CHRISTMAS RECIPES that have been inherited from the women in our families. Our team over here at is sharing our very favorite, most nostalgic, holiday recipes and we've invited some of our friends across the internet share their family recipes as well. Here are 21 Christmas Recipes guaranteed to bring the holidays into your home and kitchen. 

    mary beth sharkey poppy seed cake

    Speaking of the things we inherit from the women in our family. Let's talk DNA for a minute! Did you know that if a member of your family (even extended family like aunts and cousins) has been diagnosed with cancer UNDER THE AGE OF 50 that there is a chance that a gene mutation may be present in your family? The good news? There's a simple DNA test that can let you know if you've got that same gene. Myriad Genetics’ Hereditary Cancer Quiz helps you to assess whether you might be a good candidate for testing. This quiz can help you get the information you need to discuss your risk of cancer with your healthcare provider. Take the Myriad Hereditary Cancer Quiz HERE.

    About Mary Beth Sharkey

    Mary Beth Sharkey is a wife, mother of three sons, and creator of all things home and family. You can follow her at, on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter

    More From Todays Mama…

    Best Christmas Recipes 

    Bajan Sweet Bread Recipe 

    Lemon Poppy Seed Bread 

    This is a sponsored post written by on behalf of Myriad Genetic's myRisk Hereditary Cancer Test.

    myriad myrisk

    The Mama’s Guide to Christmas Recipes

    Christmas. All the things. Are you ready? One of the most exciting aspects of Christmas is the food and treats. We have the recipes we love. The recipes we don’t. We all have our favorites and make no mistake, the foods and goodies we surround ourselves at Christmas time enhance the Christmas spirit and make this special holiday memorable. Today’s Mama wanted to share all of the Christmas recipes, tips, secrets, and hacks we’ve come to love and enjoy. To learn more about why we love Christmas and the foods it brings, check out our extensive guide to Christmas recipes

    Mamas Guide To Christmas Recipes


    Pound Cake-1

    Sour Cream Pound Cake Recipe

    How to get the best tasting sour cream pound cake with less than 6 ingredients. Plus...3 tricks to amp up the flavor and reduce common pound cake mistakes.

    Image placeholder title

    Traditional Kings Cake Recipe

    If you have a hard time saying goodbye to Christmas, keep the fun going by celebrating Three Kings' Day with this kings cake recipe.