Orange Poppy Seed Pound Cake

Orange Poppy Seed Pound Cake

I missed my brother’s birthday last week. I’ve attended every one of his birthday celebrations until this year. I suppose 23 out of 24 is still pretty good, but I wish I could have been there. My dad sent me a picture of my two younger brothers sitting side-by-side on a restaurant booth at the birthday dinner. They’re are all grown up now, transformed from ornery boys into strapping young men. My burly baby brother is even sporting a new mustache. I’ll let it slide.

When we were little, I couldn’t appreciate our age differences. I was the smarty-pants older sister and I called them out on all their dumb mistakes. I really regret that I didn’t offer more supportive words when they did things right. If I could go back in time, I’d tell my younger self to let my brothers be boys. LET THEM BE BOYS.

poppy seeds and orange sugar

IF I had been able to make the five hour drive home for my brother’s birthday, I would have made him this cake. It’s not too sweet so I think he would like it. My obsession with the concept began the moment I laid eyes on Melissa Clark‘s blood orange olive oil cake recipe while sitting cross-legged on a hotel bed in Atlanta with In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite. Blood oranges, olive oil… in a cake. Bonus points for yogurt.

poppy seed mix and oranges

I noticed that Melissa’s recipe called for the same amount of flour as my honey whole wheat banana bread recipe and started wondering if I could substitute honey for the sugar. She referenced the original source of her recipe, Dorie Greenspan, so the next thing you know I’m googling Dorie’s recipe on my phone and taking notes on the differences in proportions. What liquid would I decrease to make up for the addition? How much yogurt and oil and orange juice should I use? My head started to hurt from all the math so I eventually gave up and went downstairs.

My subconscious wouldn’t let the idea go, though. At home several days later, I came across A Cozy Kitchen’s grapefruit-thyme pound cake, which reminded me of that Ina Garten yogurt cake I’d bookmarked ages ago. And what do you know, that recipe is so similar to Dorie’s French yogurt and olive oil cake. Then I’m googling all of them at once, tabs galore, and go figure, Deb has made them all. I was zooming into her pictures to see the crumb for each recipe and still wondering about replacing the sugar with honey and which citrus flavors and I realize, I am totally crazy. LET IT BE CAKE.

How to make Orange Poppy Seed Pound Cake

So I let it be cake, and I ended up with what I like to call, “orange poppy seed pound cake”. The longer name would be “orange, poppy seed, olive oil and yogurt loaf cakey-bread”. This cake has the dense texture and light sweetness of pound cake.The subtle herbal notes of the olive oil hide behind the pervasive orange flavor in the poppy seed-studded crumb. It’s a simple cake that doesn’t required an electric stand mixer (none of my recipes do). You might notice that my loaf didn’t poof up in the middle, but I loved the resulting dense texture.

The cake is a combination of all the recipes referenced. The basic proportions came from Ina’s recipe, but I used orange juice in the loaf like Melissa, rubbed the orange zest into the sugar like Dorie did with lime, and took Deb’s suggestion of adding 1/3 cup poppy seeds to the batter. I used olive oil instead of Ina’s vegetable oil; I think you could substitute coconut oil for the olive oil for a more tropical flavor.

As usual, I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour. Whole wheat pastry flour is finely milled soft white wheat that is still 100% whole wheat and unbleached. It doesn’t have much of a wheat-y taste to begin with, but orange helps cover up the flavor of whole wheat, so I dare anyone to detect it here.

orange poppy seed pound cake batterCookieOrange Poppy Seed Pound Cake Recipe

If you want to debate the healthfulness of this cake, I suppose that how “healthy” this cake will be for you depends on your definition of the term. This cake is most certainly better for you than a traditional pound cake, which—fun fact—calls for a pound of flour, pound of butter, a pound of sugar and a pound of eggs. If you try to avoid gluten, dairy and sugar, perhaps this cake is not for you. However, I do have a recipe for vegan chocolate cake, and a maple-sweetened tea cake. And if you’re gluten-free, might I offer you some cookies instead?

Orange poppy seed pound cake slice

Orange Poppy Seed Pound Cake
5.0 from 5 reviews
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
Lightened-up orange poppy seed pound cake cheers up chilly days. Made with whole wheat pastry flour, olive oil and yogurt, this pound cake is healthier than most. Serve slices as is, or add a scoop of ice cream for dessert or yogurt for breakfast.
  • 1½ cups whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat flour
  • ⅓ cup poppy seeds
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 medium organic orange, to be zested and juiced
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 8½ by 4¼ by 2½-inch loaf pan. (Ina suggests lining the bottom of the pan with parchment paper cut to fit. I didn't do this but the cake did stick to the bottom a little bit.)
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Pour the sugar into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Grate all the zest from the orange (should yield about 2 teaspoons zest). Rub the zest into the sugar until the sugar is orange and fragrant.
  4. Slice the orange in half for juicing. In a liquid measuring cup, measure out ¾ cup yogurt and squeeze in about ¼ cup orange juice to yield 1 cup total liquid. Whisk the yogurt and orange juice, eggs and vanilla into the sugar mixture.
  5. When the mixture is well blended, gently whisk in the dry ingredients, just until incorporated. Switch to a spatula and fold in the oil, making sure it's all incorporated. The batter will be shiny. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.
  6. Bake the cake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the top is golden and the sides start to pull away from the sides of the pan; a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.
  7. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife between the cake and the sides of the pan to loosen. Unmold the cake by placing a large plate upside down over the loaf pan and carefully turning them over. Let the cake cool to room temperature right-side up.


  1. says

    I am going to miss my sister’s birthday this year as well (she is turning 24 this sunday)! I have done every birthday (besides her first as she is one year older) except for this one. She recently moved to Quebec and I live in France. Maybe if I protect the cake enough I could send her one. Thanks for sharing!

  2. says

    I love your story about your brothers. It’s so hard to be away from family. This cake is just beautiful. I love simple cakes like this with complex flavors. Your photos are gorgeous too! So, basically, I really love your site! :)

  3. says

    YES. I’ve been meaning to make a loaf cake for a few days now, and this one looks perfect! I love the idea of combining crunchy poppyseeds with bright citrus juice. :)

  4. says

    Yum! I’ll admit, I was kind of excited at the prospect of a recipe using honey for the sweetener… maybe I’ll test it out and let you know how that goes. I think this would be great for an Easter get together!

  5. says

    Love all the inspirations that led you to this cake! I can practically smell the orange, and yes please to the poppy seeds! I think honey would work well, you’d just have to cut back on your liquid. I just made a bundt cake with honey and it turned out well.

  6. says

    funny, i just made an orange poppy seed cake too. only mine is made with a ton of butter!!! i gotta try this olive oil one! speaking of olive oil cakes… i found a rosemary olive oil cake at 101 cookbooks (from kim boyce’s recipe) and am absolutely in love with it!!! i think you will too!

    • says

      I’m so into orange and poppy seeds now! Thanks for letting me know about Heidi/Kim’s recipe, Margarita, I’m googling it now.

  7. says

    This cake looks so amazing! I love pound cake and lemon poppyseed bread, so I’m going to have to try this orange version! Also, my 20 year old baby brother went off to college and grew a beard. He is a redhead. It was not pretty.

  8. says

    Ooh this sounds so lovely! I love love love citrusy things these days – probably because I’m DYING for warm weather to come and citrus reminds me of sunny days (which are few and far between over here!) Your story about not being able to get the recipe off your mind and thinking about quantities sounds like the story of my life… once I get an idea in my head, it just won’t go away until I make it!

  9. says

    You know, I too spend a lot of time “researching” recipes when really I should just get in the damn kitchen! I love what you’ve done here though. I’m a sucker for a good lemon poppy seed cake and I think orange would be such a lovely substitute!

    • says

      Hey Lindsay, it’s a Fiestaware loaf pan in turquoise. It bakes a beautiful loaf of bread, doesn’t it? I got mine at a local store in Kansas City called Pryde’s for about $30, I think they are usually a little more, but I’ll use it forever.

    • says

      I’ve always loved lemon and poppy seeds, but now I’m really into orange with poppy seeds! Hope you’ll give the flavor combo a try soon.

  10. says

    I was the same way with my two younger brothers. It is just the nagging older sister gene, it is so hard to control sometimes! This cake looks lovely. By the way I have made those GF cookies three times since you posted the recipe. I absolutely love them!

    • says

      I’m glad you can related, Stefanie. The older sister in me is still too critical, but I try to keep it under control! So glad you’re enjoying the chocolate chip cookies.

  11. says

    lovely photographs + love the copious amounts of poppy seeds in this cake. Oil always makes cakes moister for longer, I like subbing some of the butter for oil in cake recipes if the cake won’t all be eaten right away.

  12. says

    Love reading about the memories of you growing up with your brothers — i miss my family so much, since we don’t get to see each other often. So i can definitely relate :)

    Yummy cake!! And a very Happy Birthday to your brother!

  13. says

    Holy cow, that looks delicious– though it would be hard not to be with the influences of Ina (her yogurt cake is one of my top favs), Melissa, Dorie (just made her lemon poppy muffins again) and Deb (met her last month at a book signing in Denver which was lots of fun)…but nice work putting it all together :) I CAN”T WAIT to make this (and you know I’m serious when I use CAPS!). And on a personal note, as a mother of two young boys, I will remember that refrain, “Let them be BOYS.” Great post.

  14. says

    Love poppy seed pound cake, and the orange sends it over the top for me. This sounds like such a delightful recipe.

    And your pup is just ADORABLE! :-)

  15. Clara says

    Do you know if greek yogurt would work rather then whole milk yogurt? It is what I have on hand. I also love the idea of using honey rather then white sugar.

    • says

      Hi Clara, I’m not 100% sure if Greek yogurt would work, but I bet it would. If you want to try substituting 1/2 cup honey for the sugar and reducing the oil a bit… it might work. I’ll have to experiment to know for sure!

      P.s. my brother goes to OSU!

  16. Stacey says

    Kate, thank you again for another great recipe. Made it last night and it is delish. I just happened to have an organic orange that had been slated for your latest couscous recipe. I decided to go the sweet route instead. :)

    • says

      Thank you, Stacey! I’m so glad you’re enjoying my recipes. Always nice to hear that they are being put to good use out there. :)

  17. Leah says

    I love the idea of this cake and hope one day you will post it using honey instead of sugar! Enjoy your cake! :)

  18. says

    Such a great looking bread/cake! I love how you adapted it from some of my very fave cooks…Ina, Deb, Dorie, and you Katie-ified it and came up with your own creation. It’s gorgeous! I made a yogurt cake last fall with blueberries and lemon & remember seeing some of those links when I was doing my research!

    • says

      Good question, Nat. I don’t have much experience with chia seeds. I think they might absorb too much of the liquid in the cake, but I’m really not sure!

  19. says

    I was so inspired to make this but I used what we had around. A small champagne mango and lime were added, leaving out the orange. Delicious! Thank you:)

  20. says

    I made this the very instant I read it (because it just happened to be a rare three-year-old naptime and I was hungry!). I made mine grapefruit instead of orange. And had to use butter rather than yogurt. But I loved it. Thanks for the inspiration!

  21. says

    This is looks utterly scrumptious- for brighter color, I may go with a blood orange. Thanks, as always, for the recipe inspiration!

  22. Tracy says

    Made this last night after about a week of thinking about how it would taste. Brought it to work because it would have been too much temptation to keep at home. It is almost gone if that tells you anything. Couple of people commented how delicious it was and another person said she heard it getting rave reviews. It is better the second day. And it’s definitely a keeper! Thanks so much for sharing this.

    • says

      Glad to hear it, Tracy! I’m glad you appreciate the flavor combination, too. I was afraid it might seem a little strange to some.

  23. Ginny says

    I made this exactly as written (with regular WW flour, no WW pastry flour available in my area of Mexico). I was hoping it would come out well as I doubled the recipe to have an extra loaf to give away. And……… did not disappoint. The cake is even better than it looks. It’s moist and delicious. The orange flavor is so delicate and goes so well with the poppyseeds. And it keeps well. Even after several days it still nice and moist. I will be making this again.

  24. Cat says

    I made the recipe as is and absolutey loved it, it is refreshing and different. Thanks so much for sharing !

  25. says

    again another delicious looking food! I love the dog in the middle :) I do that once in a while when cooking and taking pictures of my food, my pup or a cat will be begging lol so I snap a picture.

    • Laura says

      I tried coconut oil and it tastes amazing!! The subtle coconut flavor with the orange are such a nice combo! It was hit in my house! Thanks for the great recipe, I will definitely make this again. I think it could do without a little sugar, it’s very sweet, not too sweet but I don’t think you would miss it ;)

  26. Emma says

    I made this cake the other night and my family demolished it. It was absolutely great, and so easily – I will definitely be making it again.
    I used regular wholemeal flour instead of pastry flour because that’s what I had on hand and it worked out fine.
    Next time I might add more orange zest – but that’s just my particular taste!
    Thanks again for such a great recipe :)

  27. David says

    Tried making this for my girlfriend. it was dead simple and tastes amazing. highly recommended. thanks

  28. Heather says

    In looking for an excuse to have the oven on to warm up the house, I went searching for poppy seed loaf cake recipe. I finally found your’s a few pages into my search and I knew it was the one. I had to use a little more orange juice to make up for not quite enough yogurt and a little brown sugar to make up for not quite enough sugar. With those slight adjustments, it still came out perfect! I had to bake a little longer (cold house = cold kitchen), but it ended up with a PERFECT pound cake rise… it even had the most beautiful crack (ha!) down the middle.

    Then I accidentally spent most of the day looking on your blog and have now decided you’re my new food best friend. I can’t wait to try more of your recipes, there’s just so much that sounds delicious I’m having a hard time choosing. :)

  29. says

    WOW! My new favorite bread recipe. I made it last night, it’s all gone, and the oven is heating up now for my second. I made it in a little dutch oven type dish, round maybe 7 inches. I cut it into loaf sizes and it was delicious. I always use whole wheat pastry flour and often have to fuss with trying to get the proportions right because I just won’t use white flour, what a waste of calories! Thank you so much for a great recipe, and I’m sure many more that are totally my style, too! I cut the sugar almost in half and I used two types of oranges. Tonight I will be adding lemon for a little more tartness. I put half a tsp of rose water into it, and cut the poppyseeds down just a little (they’re pricey). Tonight I think I may make a cranberry/mulberry glaze to pour over it! Can’t wait to try more of your recipes!

  30. Kaylee says

    This recipe was fantastic! I used organic whole grain flour and it turned out just fine. I also added some almond extract in addition to the vanilla and glazed it with confectioners’ sugar icing made with almond extract. I will definitely be making it again!

  31. Kristin says

    Just got done making a batch of your double lemon poppyseed muffins for my youngest daughter’s class and saw a picture of this cake. Reminded of my favorite French yogurt cake made with Greek yogurt and coconut oil. Plan to do the same with your recipe only substituting lemon and garnishing with creme fraiche. Tomorrow, I am making a double batch of your double lemon poppyseed muffins as my middle daughter requested them for her school birthday treat.

    • says

      So glad your daughters are enjoying my muffins! You’re right, this cake sounds very similar to your French cake. Hope your variation turns out lovely (I bet it will)!

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