Everyone needs a reliable Poppy Seed Cake recipe in their culinary toolkit and this one is a good basic variation on the Maida Heatter version.
Nothing, however, can quite beat my first “Poppy Seed” cake. I only assisted in the preparation of this fraud but it provided a valuable lesson in exploring the limits of improvisation.
It was some family gathering – don’t remember the occasion – but people were multiplying at my grandmother’s house and food was rapidly running out. My aunt started to rattle through the cabinets looking for something, anything, that could be offered up to the hungry when she caught sight of a box of cake mix. “That’ll do” she said. “Now go get some eggs and corn oil and we can get this stuff going.” By the time I got back to the mixer with the supplemental ingredients my aunt had opened the cake mix.
What’s what?” she said.
“That stuff in the cake mix. It’s moving.”
“Don’t be silly Carine. It’s not moving it’s just settling.”
“Yeah, but what is it, cause it kinda looks like weevils.”
“Well,” she said, “I believe you might be right about that.”
“So now what’ll we do?”
At that point she took a long drag on her Kent and stared contemplatively at the bowl of suffocated weevil mix and declared, “I think we just need to go with it.”
“Go with what?”
“The mix. We’ll just use it as is.”
“As what? Bug cake?”
She looked at me with pity. “No, Carine. Not bug cake. Poppy Seed Cake.”
“You’re gonna serve people bugs and tell ’em it’s poppy seeds? For real?”
“I’m not going to tell them anything and neither are you. They’ll just assume that it’s poppy seed cake and everything’ll be fine.”
At that point she fired up the mixer, minced the orange slice that she’d removed from her Old Fashioned, dropped that in, then poured a couple of tablespoons of the actual drink into the churning insect vortex, and presto! Old Fashioned Poppy Seed Cake was born. Not even the maraschino cherry went to waste as it ended its life garnishing the top of the cake.
It was a great success. Everyone remarked on its “unusual flavor” (thank you Bourbon and Angostura bitters) although one of my uncles suggested that it “could do with more poppy seeds next time.” My aunt just smiled and promised to remember.
So my take away from this experience is that the eatable and the entomological can happily co-exist – as long as nobody finds out.
- 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
- 1½ cups sugar (reserve ¼ cup for the egg whites)
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup sour cream
- ⅓ cup poppy seeds
- 1½ tsps. vanilla
- 1½ tsps. almond extract
- grated rind of 2 medium lemons
- 2 tsps lemon juice
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. baking powder
- pinch of salt
- ¼ cream of tartar
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Butter & flour a tube pan.
- Cream butter well, then add 1¼ cup sugar and cream well.
- Add egg yolks one at a time incorporating well after each addition.
- Mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
- Add 1 cup of the flour to the butter/sugar/egg mixture.
- In a separate bowl, mix the sour cream, poppy seeds, vanilla, almond extract, lemon rind. and lemon juice.
- Add to the butter/sugar mixture along with the remaining flour. Set aside.
- In another bowl beat the egg whites till foamy, then add the sugar and cream of tartar. Beat till stiff but not dry.
- Now fold the whites into the batter, fill pan, and bake for about 55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
You can substitute full fat yogurt for sour cream and cake flour for the all purpose flour but the final product lighter and less dense.
Baking time will be less if you divide the batter between two loaf pans.
This is great alone or with vanilla ice cream. However, if you want a simple glaze get some powdered sugar and add vanilla and/or almond extract and a little lemon juice all to taste. You can also sprinkle a little extra poppy seed and lemon rind on top of the glaze.