Monday, June 21, 2010

Poppy Seed Cake

It's easy to get excited by new flavors. When I first tasted pimenton, the smoked Spanish paprika, I snuck it into whatever dish I could manage (and in case you're wondering, not everything in the world benefits from a whiff of smoke). My first taste of the almost piney preserved lemons knocked me out, and the fusty edge of za'atar led to a serious run on flatbreads in our household. Discovering new tastes makes dinner more exciting, and opens a window to the rest of the world. But it's so much more, almost like discovering a whole new color: the palette expands in ways you wouldn't have thought possible. It's amazing. Except for one little drawback: sometimes in our oh-my-gosh-taste-this enthusiasm, we forget about the simple pleasures we used to know. Like poppy seed cake.

I can't recall the last time I ate a poppy seed that wasn't affixed to a bagel. Which is a shame, because poppy seeds are surprisingly lovely, much more than you'd expect from their ho-hum reputation. Up close, their black color is actually a deep dusky blue, and their round sillhouette is more of a kidney shape. And their flavor is nutty, with a fun bit of crunch. They also contain a good amount of oil, which gives cakes like these a moist richness.

This recipe comes from The Baker's Cafe, where I had the pleasure of working throughout high school and college. Although I ate staggering amounts of all sorts of pastries during my shifts, this poppy seed cake was one of my favorites. It's rich and moist without being too sweet (so as to balance out my inevitable slices of chocolate cake), with a bit of tang from sour cream and a ridiculously generous full cup of nubby poppy seeds. The oil-rich seeds keep it moist for several days, but it will freeze well if you need to keep it longer than that. It's perfect for enjoying with a cup of tea or glass of milk. I'm usually a fan of sneaking some puckery lemon into everything I make, and many poppy seed cakes recipes offset the mild cake with some juice or zest. This bundt cake doesn't, but I find I like it more--the better to taste the poppy seeds.

Poppy Seed Cake

adapted from The Baker's Cafe Cookbook
yields one 9" bundt or tube cake

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 generous pinch salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

In a bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one by one, beating after each addition. Blend in the sour cream, extracts and poppy seeds, mixing until well combined. Fold in the dry ingredients, and mix until barely combined. Pour into the prepared pan, and bake 45-60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan (on a rack, preferably) for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a plate.


  1. Made the recipe yesterday and loved it!!!! Genius recipe. Finally, enough poppy seeds to satisfy a poppy seed lover. DH loved it too.

    Made it in two 8-cavity mini-loaf pans, baked for 20 minutes.

    Thanks again for this special recipe. Darienne

  2. I'll bet it made adorable loaflets. And I'm glad you appreciated the hefty dose of seeds -- we just finished off the last of ours last night.

  3. Beautiful! I love the amount of seeds, too- if you're going to use poppyseeds, use poppyseeds! I'd up the almond flavor just a bit, since poppy almond is my addiction, but I will be trying this recipe soon!

  4. I haven't made a poppy seed cake in years... they're so good!

  5. I recently made this cake and have been meaning to tell you how delicious it is! I absolutely love it, as does my family. I increased the almond extract a little since I am crazy about that flavor. Thanks for the great recipe.

  6. Hi Deena -

    Am visiting friends out in Pt. Reyes, CA and wanted to make this recipe for them because it's such a fabulous cake and I make it back in NYC fairly often. Didn't have the recipe on me so googled "Baker's Cafe Poppyseed Cake" and lo and behold your site (and the recipe) came up!

    Then had to see who this person was that was so fabulous to post it and discovered that we worked together for a bit back in Katonah! So hello and thank you! Enjoyed your blog...

  7. @Anonymous glad to bring beloved recipes to my fellow BC alums! But which long-lost co-worker are you?