Lemon Poppy Seed Snack Cake

BY : PUBLISHED : March 1st, 2013 UPDATED: November 12th, 2021

This lemon poppy seed sheet cake is soft and moist with a zesty citrus flavor and a slight crunch of poppyseeds. However, it’s also healthier than regular lemon poppy seed snack cake with less sugar and fat while being egg-free and dairy-free – meaning you can enjoy it any time of the day!

completed lemon poppy seed cake in four squares on a white platter

Zesty Moist Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Sheet Cake

When a piece of cake is up for grabs for breakfast, you’ve officially caught my interest! This lemon poppy seed snack cake (aka lemon sheet cake) is moist, zingy, and contains less sugar and fat than regular cake, meaning it can be enjoyed for breakfast, a snack, in lunchboxes, or for dessert! It’ll become a go-to recipe all summer (and year-round) and your kids will thank you for it!

For anyone that loves the combination of zingy/zesty and sweet, then lemon is a perfect addition to your sweet recipes. So along with berry lemon scones, berry lemon smoothie, creamy lemon popsicles, lemon pudding, and even cucumber watermelon lemonade – now it’s the turn of this vegan lemon poppy seed cake – sheet cake/snack cake style. 

This lemon snack cake is sweet without being overly so and can optionally be topped with a lemon glaze for extra flavor. As cake recipes go, this is super simple too – just mix the wet then dry ingredients, pour into your cake tin and bake to perfection! All you need is just 9 simple ingredients, including several baking basics. 

Even better, while this recipe is naturally egg-free and dairy-free, it is also super versatile. Adjust the amount of citrus based on how tart you’d like the vegan lemon cake to be, swap out the lemon for lime or orange or even mix in some optional extras like berries or tea. There are tons of ways to enjoy it, making it a great addition to parties, potlucks, and gatherings!

That being said, simple lemon poppy seed is more than impressive enough on its’ own and something we haven’t nearly explored enough (yet) on PBOAB, apart from this cake and this brussel sprout slaw with lemon poppyseed dressing. The seeds add a slight crunch and just enough flavor to elevate lemon snack cake to new heights; you won’t regret it!

Want more delicious vegan cake recipes to try? Why not try this chocolate cake, carrot cake muffins, or pineapple upside-down cake!

The Ingredients and Substitutes

  • Lemon: I recommend using fresh lemon for this recipe as you’ll be using the juice and zest. Feel free to increase the amount if you prefer things particularly tangy. 
  • Oil: Use any neutral oil. I used vegetable oil, but coconut oil would also work.  
  • Sugar: Regular granulated sugar is all that’s needed. 
  • Applesauce: Applesauce not only acts as a sweetener but is also a great egg replacer for this vegan lemon cake. Use unsweetened applesauce.
  • Vanilla: Natural vanilla extract will yield better results, but any vanilla extract will work. 
  • Flour: All you need is regular All-purpose flour. The recipe hasn’t been tried with all-purpose gluten-free flour, so I can’t guarantee results. 
  • Baking soda: This leavening agent helps to add lift to the vegan lemon cake. 
  • Poppy seeds: The combination of lemon and poppy seed is an absolute classic. However, you could also omit these seeds and/or sub them with another add-in (keep reading below)
  • Salt: Just a ‘pinch’ helps balance the sweetness and enhance the overall flavor of this lemon snack cake. 
  • Lemon glaze: While optional, I strongly recommend making a glaze for this lemon poppyseed snack cake with a combination of powdered sugar and lemon juice. 

Did you know that you can make your own powdered sugar using the granulated sugar of your choice (Regular or an unrefined option like coconut sugar) and a coffee/spice grinder? Just grind into a powdered consistency, and voila!

ingredients for lemon poppy seed cake spread out on a white surface

Optional Add-ins:

  • Zucchini: If you want to add extra nutrients to your lemon poppy seed cake, zucchini is an excellent addition to baked goods. I recommend using 1 cup of shredded zucchini (not squeezed) in place of 1 cup of water (minus 2 tbsp).
  • Berries: Raspberries and blueberries pair very well with lemon baked goods, and the same goes for this lemon snack cake. I recommend adding around ½ cup of berries to the cake. 
  • Earl Grey: Simply add the leaves from two tea bags into the cake batter, and voila! You could also use regular black tea, but I find that lemon earl grey cake tastes fantastic!
  • Chocolate: Perhaps not as traditional, but you can also add some of your favorite dairy-free dark, milk, or white chocolate chips/chunks to the cake. Alternatively, swap out the lemon glaze for a melted chocolate drizzle. 
  • Cream cheese frosting: If you want more of a decadent frosting, you can create a quick vegan cream cheese frosting using vegan cream cheese, powdered sugar, and lemon juice. 

How to Make Lemon Poppy Seed Cake?

Keep scrolling to the recipe card for the complete list of ingredients and recipe instructions!

  1. First, preheat the oven and grease the baking pan. 
  2. Then, combine all the wet ingredients (lemon juice and zest, oil, applesauce, vanilla) and sugar in a large bowl, and mix until well combined. Then add the water and mix again. 
  3. Then add the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt) and stir until just combined. The batter can have a few small lumps; that’s okay. Just be careful not to overmix the batter, as it can impact the rise and texture.
  4. Carefully fold in the poppy seeds. Then pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes, or until the edges are golden and beginning to pull away from the pan sides. To check the cake is ready, insert a toothpick into the center – it should come out clean. If it’s still wet, bake in further 5-minute increments until ready.
  5. Prepare the glaze (if using) by combining the powdered sugar and lemon and mixing. Add more lemon/sugar until you reach the desired consistency if needed. 
  6. All the lemon poppyseed cake to cool for at least 15 minutes (but entirely is best) before drizzling with the lemon glaze- enjoy!

completed lemon poppy seed cake in four squares on a brown board

How to Store?

Store the lemon poppy seed sheet cake covered at room temperature for several days (2-3) or in the fridge for 5-7 days in an airtight container. 

To freeze the vegan lemon sheet cake, it’s best to do so with slices that are un-iced. You can either lay the slices on a large baking sheet or stack them up with pieces of parchment paper between. Freeze until solid and transfer to an airtight freezer-safe container/bag. Freeze for up to three months. 

To thaw, you can allow a piece to rest on the counter for several hours or in the fridge overnight. 

How to Serve Lemon Sheet Cake?

This lemon poppy seed snack cake can be enjoyed as-is (with or without glaze) or made into more of a snack/dessert with optional ‘extras,’ including:

  • Yogurt or cream and berries: Use your favorite dairy-free yogurt or whipped coconut cream and pair it with some fresh berries. Raspberries and blueberries pair exceptionally well with lemon. 
  • Ice-cream: For more of a hearty dessert, add a small scoop of vegan ice cream over the chilled or warmed lemon poppy seed cake slice. 

completed lemon poppy seed cake in four squares on a brown board


Can I use another citrus instead of lemon?

While it might not be as ‘classic,’ you can technically use several types of citrus for this lemon snack cake. Lime, orange, and even blood orange all make for great cake flavors. 

Can I use a sugar-free sweetener in place of sugar?

In general, when it comes to baking, sugar does more than just add flavor; it also helps achieve the correct texture. For that reason, I can’t guarantee great results when using a sugar alternative. However, you may be able to substitute the granulated sugar for something like granulation monk fruit sweetener or erythritol. You can also use a powdered sweetener for the glaze. However, adjust the amount based on how ‘sweet’ they are. 

Recipe Notes and Tips

  • Don’t overmix the batter: I know it seems odd not to make sure that cake batter is 100% smooth, but overmixed cake batter will have a weaker structure, leading to a fragile cake (which already has less structure as it’s egg-free). It can also impact texture, changing from fluffy and light to more chewy/gummy. 
  • Measure flour carefully: I recommend using the spoon and level method. Spoon the flour into the measuring cup then the back of a knife to level it off. DON’T simply scoop the cup into your bag of flour all you’ll end up with too much flour and a denser cake. 
  • Slicing the lemon sheet cake: This cake makes an excellent option for gatherings as there are so many ways to slice the cake – slice it into squares or bars of different sizes. You can even cut bite-sized pieces to be part of a dessert platter. 

Other Ways to Enjoy Lemon

Photos by Alfonso Revilla

completed lemon poppy seed cake in four squares on a white platter

Lemon Poppy Seed Snack Cake

Do you love lemons? You're going to absolutely adore this lemon-flavored baked good! This cake is moist, delicious, and full of amazing lemon flavor!
5 from 23 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Total Time 45 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 16 servings
Calories 260 kcal
DIET Vegan


  • 1 ½ cups of granulated sugar
  • ½ cup of vegetable oil
  • Juice and zest of 2 small lemons
  • ¼ cup of unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla
  • 2 cups of water
  • 3 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • cup of poppy seeds
  • 1 cup of powdered sugar
  • 4 to 5 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch pan.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, applesauce, and vanilla until well combined. Add water and mix thoroughly.
  • Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and stir until just combined. (Your batter may have a few small lumps and that's okay. You don't want to overmix.)
  • Fold in the poppy seeds.
  • Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 35 minutes or until the edges are golden and begin to pull away from the pan. Take a toothpick, insert it into the middle of the cake and make sure it comes out clean. If it doesn’t bake in 5 minute increments until it does.
  • In the meantime, prepare your glaze by simply whisking together the powdered sugar and lemon juice. Start with 4 teaspoons, and if it’s too thick, add another one.
  • Allow the cake to cool completely (or at least 15 minutes if you just can't wait!) before drizzling with glaze. Enjoy!


Calories: 260kcalCarbohydrates: 45gProtein: 3gFat: 8gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 285mgPotassium: 45mgFiber: 1gSugar: 27gVitamin A: 1IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 35mgIron: 1mg
Keyword apple sauce, cake, dessert, lemon, lemon cake, lemon juice, lemon zest, poppy seed, powdered sugar, vegan, vegan cake, vegan dessert, vegetarian
Tried this recipe?Please tag us at @PlantBasedonaBudget! 🙂

About Honor

Loves baking, gardening and preparing delicious, compassionate meals for her vegan family of four.

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