Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake (grain-free, dairy-free, nut-free, paleo)

Spring is finally here! I just want to soak up each and every moment of sunshine we have, as it's been a particularly dark and rainy last couple of months. This healthy gluten-free lemon poppy seed cake will surely brighten any day! Serve it for Easter brunch or as part of a Mother's day breakfast. It's not particularly sweet, but definitely bursting with lemon flavor. It's quite easy to make and free of many of the common allergens, except eggs. The lemon-honey glaze on top seals in moisture and adds even more lemony flavor. I think you and your family will enjoy it. My children just love this cake!

This grain-free, paleo cake recipe is actually an adaption of the Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin recipe from my new Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook. A few years ago (in 2014) I was asked by the Institute for Functional Medicine to create a Lemon Poppy Seed Cake recipe for a special banquet dinner event held during the their annual conference that year. This is the recipe that I created and that was served to hundreds of IFM members that evening (in individual miniature bundt cake form with fresh berries on top)! My friends and family have been making this recipe since....and now I'm finally sharing it with you. Enjoy!

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

This cake is delicious served with sliced fresh organic strawberries and freshly whipped coconut cream (or whipped organic heavy cream if you tolerate dairy). You can also bake this cake in two 9-inch round cake pans and create a layered cake if desired. If you plan on serving the cake with breakfast or brunch then make it the night before. The texture of this cake actually improves the next day! If a 9x13-inch cake is too much for you then you can easily cut this recipe in half and bake it in an 8x8-inch pan. This cake recipe does better when baked in a glass pan. In these photos I used an enamel-lined metal pan (metal tends to bake faster and hotter with more of a tendency to burn so you need to watch it carefully).

Dry Ingredients:
1 cup coconut flour (120 grams)
1 cup tapioca flour (115 grams)
¼ cup poppy seeds (34 grams)
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 to 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (packed)

Wet Ingredients:
12 large organic eggs (2 ¾ cup)
¾ cup pure maple syrup
¾ cup melted virgin coconut oil
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)
1 to 2 teaspoons organic lemon flavoring (optional)

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons raw honey
1 teaspoon tapioca flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with coconut oil.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Set aside.

Place all of the wet ingredients into a blender and puree until smooth. Slowly pour wet ingredients into the dry while whisking vigorously so the coconut flour doesn’t clump up. Alternatively, use a stand up mixer with the whisk attachment. The batter will appear thin (coconut flour absorbs large amounts of liquid as it bakes).

Bake for 30-35 minutes.

To make the glaze, whisk the lemon juice, honey, and tapioca flour together in a small bowl. Immediately spread the glaze over the cake as it comes out of the oven. Let cake cool completely and then serve. 

  • It is important to use a good brand of coconut flour (they all behave differently in baking). I like to use Nutiva (which you can find at Costco) or Let's Do Organic brands. Also be use to measure correctly. Just a little too much coconut flour can create vastly different results! I've weighed my flours for you so if you own a kitchen scale you can use those measurements. If you don't own a scale just be careful not to add too much coconut flour. 
  • Use a nice, mild flavored brand of coconut oil. I like Nutiva or Dr. Bronner's. There are some cheaper brands of coconut oil that have a horrible flavor (in my opinion) that can affect the end result....your beautiful cake! 
  • Always zest your lemons first, before cutting them in half and squeezing out the juice! I use a fine Microplane grater placed over a plate to zest my lemons. 

About the Author

Alissa Segersten holds a Bachelor's of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University. She is the founder of Whole Life Nutrition, the mother of five children, a whole foods cooking instructor, professional recipe developer, and cookbook author. She is passionate about helping others find a diet that will truly nourish them, and offers elimination diet recipes, healthy gluten-free recipes, paleo and vegan recipes, as well as tips for feeding your family a nourishing, whole foods diet. Alissa is the author of two very popular gluten-free, whole foods cookbooks and guidebooks: The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook and Nourishing Meals. She is also the co-author of The Elimination Diet book. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram!


  1. I wonder if this would work well as cupcakes?

    1. From above "
      This grain-free, paleo cake recipe is actually an adaption of the Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin recipe from my new Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook."

    2. Yes! You can make cupcakes using this recipe. You'll want to lower the baking time to approximately 20 minutes total. 😊

    3. I made this into mini cupcakes and they worked out beautifully!

    4. So glad to hear they turned out well as mini cupcakes too. Thank you for the feedback Barb! 😊

  2. Can I use arrowroot powder instead of tapioca for the cake? Will arrowroot work just as good?

    1. Yes, arrowroot powder works very well in the recipe and is interchangeable with tapioca flour. 😊

  3. I had lots of fresh eggs and lemons so I made this tonight. Used 1/2 recipe in a 9" round metal pan with TJ's coconut flour and Costco coconut oil and no poppy seeds. It came out great!! I made the full amount for the glaze since I wanted lots of lemon flavor.

    1. Hi JB,

      Thanks so much for your feedback! Poppy seeds are not a necessary ingredient so they are easy to leave out (then you get a lovely lemony cake)! Yay! Thank you for giving feedback on the brands of flour and oil! I think Costco partnered with Nutiva so their oil is actually Nutiva's but labeled with their Kirkland brand (so it has the same great flavor)....but somebody correct me if I'm wrong!

      I've never tried Trader Joe's coconut flour. Good to know it works. I found Bob's Red Mill gives the cake a strange texture.

      Good idea on the glaze! I will have to try doubling it next time for the full 9x13 cake. 😊

  4. Can I use potato starch instead of the tapioca flour?

    1. Hi Leigh,

      You cannot replace tapioca or arrowroot 1:1 for potato starch. You would need to use less potato starch as it absorbs more liquid compared to tapioca or arrowroot.

  5. Hi Ali! I made your cake and it turned out fantastic! My husband and children really enjoyed it. I only had about 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds, next time I will try more. My gluten-eating husband could not believe how good the texture and flavor of the cake was. No sugar? No gluten? Yes! Slowly I'm helping him to see that you don't need those foods, and can still eat delicious things. Thank you for all of your wonderful recipes. -Rita

    1. Hi Rita,

      Thanks so much for your feedback! So glad your family enjoyed it so much. :)

  6. I made this cake as a layer cake on Easter. It was fantastic and beautiful! I places thinly sliced strawberries between the layer and added whipped coconut cream to top it off! Everyone loved it!!

    1. Hi Deb,

      Thank you for the feedback! I bet the cake was beautiful! :)

  7. I'd love to make those, but I cannot digest coconut products well. Is there a substitute for the coconut flour?

    1. Hi there,

      No, sorry there is not a replacement for the coconut flour. It absorbs a lot of moisture, so the recipe would need to be entirely reformatted using different flours.

  8. Hi Ali, do you know much about substituting duck eggs for chicken eggs? I know they are higher in fat and the whites are smaller/yolks are bigger than chicken eggs. I'm sure in a regular glutinous cakes it does not make much of a difference but we all know gluten-free baking is very finicky. Not to mention the ingredients are expensive and you hate to waste them making a wrong move. Thanks in advance!

  9. Oh yes, I forgot to ask-how long does this cake keep and is it best to room temperature or refrigerated? We don't have a large family so I was thinking about freezing some...?? Thank you!


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