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Poppy seed cake

Updated: Mon, 9 August, 2021

Buttery, dense with poppy seeds softened in milk, in the comforting Bundt shape - what's more homely than a traditional poppy seed cake?

poppy seed cake

Poppy is a weird and wonderful plant, attracting all kinds of right and wrong attention. From ordinary wild red flowers growing in the fields of wheat, through the symbol of remembrance, all the way to narcotic substances: opium, morphine and heroin.

The association of poppy with Remembrance Day is somewhat sinister. The only plants that would grow in the raked soil of battlefields were poppies, with their symbolic blood-scarlet petals. So it’s not surprising they became interpreted as memorial for the lives lost in the wars.

After the sombre note, more light-hearted poppy connotations. There are some curious myths associated with the poppy seeds, some urban and some really ancient. Are they all loads of tosh?

traditional poppy seed bundt cake

Can I get high on poppy seed cake?

NO – you can’t get high on poppy seed cakes. Blue poppy seeds used in baking do not contain the narcotic alkaloids.

It’s the green, unripe pods and poppy straw which are a source of opiates, not the ripe heads that contain seeds.

Do poppy seeds have pain relieving qualities?

YES – poppy seeds do have some pain alleviating and sleep aiding qualities, to quite a significant extent. There are many supplements and herbal remedies with extracts from poppy seeds which claim to help insomnia or anxiety.

But then it may well be ascribed to a placebo effect, considering their traditional connotations.

Can I fail a drug test after eating poppy seeds?

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

Interesting to note though that federal prisons in US don’t allow inmates to eat any poppy seed products!

Will poppy seeds make me invisible?

Sadly, it certainly won’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. I suppose having drunk enough of that wine, strange things might happen…

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 in using poppy seeds and rightly so, as they make exceedingly good pastry filling (see Hamantaschen, Mohnstolen, Strudel).

They also make quite an incredible tasting cake, the old-fashioned one with the recipe below.

old fashioned blue poppy seed cake

How to make the traditional poppy seed cake?

If you use just a sprinkling, you can add them dry to the cake batter; they will soften as the batter bakes. But if they are to be the integral part of the cake, replacing some or most of the flour, they need softening before baking.

In some recipes they get ground before or after cooking; this one is pretty straight-forward as we soak the poppy seeds in hot milk – that’s enough to soften them as the ratio of the seeds to flour is not enormous.

It’s the old-fashioned way of making a cake though as well, with separated eggs, the butter and sugar start-up and the egg whites beaten stiff separately and lightly folded into the yolk batter.

It’s baked it in the Bundt round tin and that works well as it eliminates the squidgy, gummy centre issues as the centre is non-existent in a Bundt tin (see raisin cake for the same solution).

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. The recipe is from NY Times Cooking collection and it’s very, very close to the traditional German or Polish poppy seed cake recipes.

butter cake with milk soaked poppy seeds

More poppy seed recipes

Lemon and poppy seed cake: that’s an easy, non-threatening poppy seed cake (joking). A sprinkle of poppy seeds into the lovely lemon loaf cake makes a fantastic crunchy texture.

Blueberry poppy cake is like an open pie made from a buttery sponge cake – curious, and wonderful, with a fresh blueberry filling in the middle.

We could not forget the poppy-seed filled Christmas classic, Mohnstollen. That is a little more intricate, involving yeast dough, but it’s a must for poppy seed lovers.

And similarly, hamantaschen are traditionally filled with syrupy, raisin-enriched poppy seed filling. Those Jewish biscuits served at Purim are simply gorgeous.

poppy seed cake

Servings: 12Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Rating: (2 reviews)


  • 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 tsp vanilla extract
  • 250g (2 cup) plain flour
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 2½ tsp baking powder
  • icing sugar, for dusting


1. Place 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.

soaking poppy seeds

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

3. Beat the butter with sugar until creamy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and the vanilla extract, still beating.

4. Pour in the cooled poppy seed mixture and beat until smooth.

5. Mix the flour with the baking powder and salt and add to the batter gradually, until well combined.

poppy seed cake batter

6. With the clean mixer paddles or a balloon whisk attachment beat the egg whites until stiff peaks. Spoon into the batter and gently fold in, trying not to deflate the egg whites.

poppy seed batter in bundt tin

7. 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.

poppy seed cake before turning out

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

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Your comments

Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Irene - I'm so pleased you enjoyed it! It's possible the poppy absorbed the milk but the batter should be quite thick.
2 years ago
Delicious. I had to add an extra 1/2 cup of milk as my mixture was too thick. Maybe the poppy seeds soaked up too much of the milk. I'm not sure. However, the cake just so good. Easy recipe to follow.
2 years ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Anne - sorry about it, it could be indeed smaller oven with different heat distribution or a different tin which retains heat better.
3 years ago
Anne Smetona
@Google search
I left it for one hour but it was too much time I'll check at 45 min...but cake is delicious stove is small , maybe the heat is different .?
3 years ago

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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