Making Lemon Tea Bread

Whaddya know. I made lemon tea bread without poppy seeds and the sky didn’t fall in. I don’t know when in human history lemon and poppy seeds became inseparable, but I wish a mad scientist would build me a fusion-powered DeLorean so I could go back in time and stop it. This tea bread is rich, tangy and tender with a crispy, almost candy-like crust. Best of all you don’t have to pick anything out from between your front teeth after you eat it. Start yours by assembling your ingredients, preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and greasing two 9″ x 5″ loaf pans. Line those suckers with parchment paper.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle. I know. I bought those half stick things by mistake. What an inconvenience. So much unwrapping. Here I’m doubling the recipe in case you’re thinking this looks like a lot.

Cream that on medium high until it’s light and fluffy. This is where almost all your leavening power is going to come from so pay attention to this step. You want some good fluff here, which will mean lots of seeds bubbles poked into the butter by the sugar granules. Once that’s done add your eggs with the machine running, one at a time.

Beat all that until it’s fairly homogenous.

Scrape. Yes it’ll look a little curdled. No worries.

Whisk together your dry ingredients…

…and with the machine running on medium-low, add a third of the flour.

…followed by half the butter milk.

Stop the machine and scrape.

Add another third of the flour and continue like that until everything is incorporated. Don’t forget the scraping, that’s a critical part of any quick bread.

When the batter is finished, add the lemon juice…

…and fold that in. Adding the lemon juice late keeps curds from forming in the buttermilk. It also provides an excuse for a very thorough final scrape. Which I endorse fully.

Now pan your batter. Here I forgot to line my pans with parchment. The awful truth here: I was in a hurry and only greased these thinking I could get away with it. I forgot that this was an unusually sticky tea bread and four of my five 1-pounders stuck mercilessly to the bottom and broke when I tried to de-pan them. I now have a very large four-pound bag of lemon tea bread crumbs in the freezer waiting to be used for other purposes.

The second batch I did properly and the loaves came out beautifully after 60 minutes in the oven. I rotated them top to bottom and back to front at the 40 minutes mark to ensure even browning.

Pretty nice, right? Looks just like lemon pound cake, which, really, is what this is.

25 thoughts on “Making Lemon Tea Bread”

  1. Poppy seeds are the spawn of the devil.

    Your original recipe says 350F. (400F would have worked better.)

    I made this last night. I succumbed to a different devil and added 1/4 tsp baking soda. As-is the recipe made two 7×3″ loaves (which I gave away) and two of those little 1-lb loaves (I gave one away and one is in the freezer.) I did get to taste it, and it’s a very nice cake. You can really taste the buttermilk, which I love, and it’s lemony (I did use a bit more lemon than called for) and very tender.

    Have a wonderful Christmas!

    1. Oh that was a typo. 400 is way too hot for these. So what did the soda do? Add volume do you think?

      And thanks. Hope you’re having a happy Hanukkah!

      – Joe

      1. The soda might have added some volume, mine domed a bit more than yours. But they did not brown anywhere near as nicely as yours, even with the soda. I thought the difference in temperature might account for that, but I guess not. I will try again without soda, they’re very nice gift cakes. They come together quickly and they’re good. I love the buttermilk.

        Happy holidays to all!

  2. Along the lines of that southern tradition of crumbled cornbread and buttermilk, try those lemon tea bread crumbles in a bowl with slightly warmed coconut milk and a sprinkling of coconut for breakfast 🙂

    1. I just don’t like to spit and eat at the same time. It’s disgusting.

      Anyway, you have a lovely Christmas yourself, CfDU!

      – J

  3. I love the nutty crunch of poppy seeds, but I have been served rancid ones too many times, unfortunately.

    1. Ah yes, that happens as well. I love a poppyseed filling when it’s good, though. I don’t mean to badmouth them, truly.


      – Joe

  4. I may try this recipe; I’ve made similar “style” of coffee cake in the past (or pound cake for that matter) but the top always turned out more brown than yours (yours was perfectly golden brown). I did check the oven temp. Any insight?

    My vote is for trifle for the lemon crumbs.

    P.S. Glad to see a recipe with a full cup of buttermilk — otherwise many times recipes require only a few tablespoons and leave the rest as.. leftovers.

    1. Hey Claire!

      Yes that buttermilk give it a nice tangly flavor. I love it as well. As for the browning, maybe putting the loaves on a lower rack would help as well. If you see them starting to darken early you can always lay a little tin foil over them in the oven. That will put the hammer down on the browning.

      And trifle…now THERE’s an idea!


      – Joe

      1. Hi Joe,
        Just wanted to let you know that I tried this tea cake recipe with fabulous result! yes, the top was still a bit browner than I wish, but the cake was tangy and moist and a hit with my dinner guests! I also added a few sprigs of thyme courtesy of our potted herb garden. Thank you for sharing the recipe, my very best wishes to you and your family.


  5. Hi Joe,
    This is lovely! My husband LOVES lemon tea cake (no poppy seeds please!). I will try this over my holiday work break.

    I wish you and the Pastry Family a wonderful, joyous, and peaceful Christmas!

    All the best to you and yours,

    P.S. And a Happy New Year as well! 😀

  6. I love poppy seed filling a lot but not at all with lemon. OTOH, my wife’s favorite biscotti is a lemon anise seed. Some lightly crushed anise seeds really make the cookie. She make them in large batches because there is always a demand from friends & relatives for more.

    1. Yow, does that ever sound good. I might have to try that over the holiday!

      – Joe

  7. Hi Joe,

    It’s me again. Looking for some answers to the following questions (or perhaps your readers may chime in as well):

    * Is the 9-by-5 loaf pan interchangeable with the professional 1-pounder loaf pan? (I noticed the measurement of the 1-pounder is a tad smaller than the 9-by-5 but I wonder if this makes a significant difference). I own a 9-by-5 and in need of a replacement, I like the sharp corners of the 1-pound professional loaf pan and the look of the finished cake baked in it.

    * I’m looking to change the flat beater of my KitchenAid mixer (15+ years old? the burnished coating has been “eaten away” from use) — the one I use is the burnished-metal kind but now I also noticed there is the enamel-coated kind. Is there any advantage of one v.s. the other?

    Many thanks for any input.


    1. Claire, I highly recommend the USA Brand baking pans. They are very nice. Non-stick so you really can bake without any greasing if you choose and easy to clean. Not dark so no sensitive problem there and good weight and balance. I use them exclusively now. I have found a few store brands like KAF and Sur La Table will have their own that is similar (probably made the same place!). I think 8×4 is considered a 1-pound here (vs. 2-pound in 9×5) and I’ve found if the recipe is for 2 – 9×5 pans I can do 3 8×4 nicely. Just watch the baking time it will be less given smaller mass and pan. I can’t wait to try this recipe! Even sans poppy seeds. I was going to mention another healthier option (so they say) of chia seeds. I’ve seen them interchanged with poppy seeds but they are supposedly healthier. And poppy seeds do have a bad rep. A friend years ago told me she had to avoid using them when she took baked goods to a guy she visited in prison. Seems the little seeds might trigger a positive drug test. Though I’ve heard since that is a fallacy. Not sure. Maybe Joe can tell us. 🙂

      1. Never thought about the prison thing, Linda! I’ll need to remember that for when I bring things to friends on the inside. Not that I have many at the moment….but given the rough-and-tumble pastry crowd I hang with, that could change at any moment.


        – Joe

  8. Use those crumbs to make an icebox cake with layers of lemony goodness. I did this with a failed chocolate Baci di Dama recipe. Speaking of which, could you do a post on converting a non-chocolate recipe to a chocolate one? I was playing with a non-chocolate recipe trying to add chocolate by using Dutched and regular cocoa, baking powder, no baking powder. It was a mess.

    1. Hey Anna!

      Yes that’s always a challenge, mostly because cocoa powder is so absorbent. It generally throw the consistency off. But tell me, what specifically would you like converted to chocolate? That might be a good place to start.

      – Joe

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