Cuisine Fiend

poppy seed cake

Wed, 17 August, 2016


Poppy seed cake

NO – you can’t get high on poppy seed cakes. It’s the green, unripe pods and the poppy straw which are a source of opiates, not the ripe heads that contain seeds.

YES – poppy seeds do have some pain alleviating and sleep aiding qualities, to quite an insignificant extent. But then it may well be ascribed to a placebo effect, considering their traditional connotations.

DEBATABLE – whether eating poppy seed bagels or muffins can make you fail a drug test. Depends on the test and the amount you’d eaten.

But it certainly doesn’t make you invisible. This is the most interesting of the poppy seed myths, a witch-recipe claiming that wine that poppy seeds have been soaking in will make you invisible. Or so you shall think, having drunk enough of that wine…

Urban and peasant legends aside, those tiny black seeds deserve a legendary status in baking and pastry making, instead of just being warily sprinkled on a bread loaf or scantily scattered across a lemon drizzle slice. Eastern Europe and the Middle East are much more intrepid using poppy seeds – rightly so, as they make exceedingly good pastry filling (see Hamantaschen, Mohnstolen, Strudel). They also make quite an incredible tasting cake, the one below.

What can I say? One of the best ever (and I’ve baked a few…). Moist and buttery, even the vanilla flavour comes through which is unusual. I’ve baked it in the Bundt round tin and that works well as it eliminates the squidgy, gummy centre issues – centre being non-existent (see raisin cake for the same solution). The recipe is from NY Times Cooking collection – and theirs is one of the very few newsletters I actively anticipate.

poppy seed cake


  • 125g (1 cup) poppy seeds
  • 240ml (1 cup) whole milk
  • 225g (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 400g (2 cup) caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 250g (2 cup) plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • icing sugar, for dusting


1. Put the poppy seeds in a small pan with the milk and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and leave to cool, for about 20 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Butter and flour a Bundt tin or a large loaf tin.

3. Beat the butter with sugar until creamy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and the vanilla extract, still beating. Pour in the poppy seed mixture and beat until smooth. Mix the flour with the baking powder and salt and add to the butter mix gradually, until all is well combined.

Poppy seed cake batter

4. With the clean mixer paddles or a balloon whisk or attachment, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks. Transfer them to the main batter and gently fold in. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 1 hour, until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Baking poppy seed cake

5. Cool in the tin for 15-20 minutes, then unmold and cool completely before dusting generously with icing sugar.

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