Two recipes from my family's cookbook of favorite family recipes. The first recipe is for a homemade poppy seed cake with stripes of chocolate-cinnamon streusel. (It's the streusel which really makes it special.) The second recipe starts with a cake mix to make a moist and lemony poppy seed cake. (The cake-mix cake is so easy, kids can definitely help pull it together!) Both are keepers!
A "scratch golfer" shoots par or better then jots quick notes onto a "scratch pad". To "scratch the surface" is just the beginning while "scratching a plan" brings one to an end. To "raise some scratch" is to gather cash.
Why then is someone who cooks and bakes with basic ingredients a "scratch cook"? Tis a puzzle!
Scratch cooks like me are taken aback when not-so-scratch recipes taste great. Last spring, my friend Ann sliced a moist, lemony cake as the sweet ending for our book club. We savored each bite, pressing tines to plates to gather the last crumbs.
To my surprise, Ann’s recipe came from the pages of my own family’s cookbook!
At home, I checked the cookbook and sure enough, there are two recipes for two entirely different poppy seed cakes. The recipe that Ann chose starts with a cake mix but the other comes from my dear Auntie Gloria, it's made from scratch.
But no puzzle here, both cake recipes are winners!
WHAT MAKES THE HOMEMADE POPPYSEED CAKE SPECIAL? Despite its plain appearance, what makes the Homemade Poppy Seed Cake special is inside the cake. It's the layers of "streusel" – a sweet chocolate-cinnamon mix.
WHAT MAKES THE CAKE-MIX POPPY SEED CAKE SPECIAL? My favorite seven-year old twinzz made their dad's birthday cake themselves. They were so proud! Sure, I helped. But a cake mix's simplicity gives kids an important sense of accomplishment in the kitchen. (This lesson didn't come easily to this scratch cook, I resisted for a long while. I tell the story with Southern Belle Lemon Layer Cake, yes, it's a cake-mix cake too.)
But this cake-mix cake's moistness and fine crumb are really appealing, it's really really good. That means that this "make-everything-from-scratch cook" has no qualms about making or serving this wonderful cake!
The cake-mix poppy seed cake also uses a lot fewer poppy seeds, making it more affordable if poppy seeds are expensive where you are.
"... more than delicious." ~ Sara
"... the closest to my grandmother's recipe that I have found in 30 years!" ~ Anonymous
HOMEMADE POPPY SEED CAKE
Time to table: 3 hours
Makes 1 full-size Bundt cake, easily halved for a half-size Bundt pan
- 3/4 cup (120g) poppy seeds
- 1/4 cup (65g) milk
- 3/4 cup (180g) sour cream
- 1/2 cup (1 stick, 114g) salted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup (95g) vegetable shortening (Crisco)
- 1-1/2 (300g) cups sugar
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 280g or fluffed to aerate before measuring
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 4 large egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional but helps provide "loft")
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
PREP About an hour before starting, get out the butter to soften. Separate the eggs too, just leave them on the counter. When ready to start mixing, heat oven to 350F/175C. Spray a Bundt pan with cooking spray, preferably Baker’s Joy.
POPPY SEEDS In a small bowl, stir together poppy seeds, milk and sour cream.
WET INGREDIENTS In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream butter and shortening until light and fluffy. With the mixer running on low speed, add the sugar in a slow stream, then the egg yolks one at a time. Increase the speed to medium-high, then beat the batter for 8 to 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the beaters every 2 minutes.
DRY INGREDIENTS In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and baking powder.
EGG WHITES In a large, clean glass or metal bowl, whip egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.
COMBINE Reduce mixer speed to low. Alternating, blend flour and poppy seed mixtures into the butter. What's that?! Try this. First mix in 1/3 the flour, then 1/2 the poppy, then 1/3 the flour, then the last 1/2 of the poppy and finally the last 1/3 flour. (Better? Oh good.) Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter.
CHOCOLATE-CINNAMON STREUSEL In a bowl, stir together streusel ingredients.
TRANSFER With two spoons, one to scoop and one to scrape, scoop 1/3 batter into the Bundt pan, gently leveling the batter to fill the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle 1/2 streusel mixture onto the batter. Scoop another 1/3 of the batter into the pan, then the remaining streusel and finally the remaining batter.
BAKE Bake for an hour or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes, turn the cake onto a rack to cool completely.
TO SERVE In today's visual-rich world (think of the gorgeous lifestyle photography from cooking magazines and food blogs that probably fills up your Instagram and Facebook feeds), a plain cake looks really-really-REALLY plain. So for a birthday one year, I added an icing to one of these poppy seed cakes to "jazz up" the appearance. But really, icing isn't necessary and detracts from the clean poppy seed flavors. I suppose you could sprinkle powdered sugar over top, though. My favorite way to "enhance" this cake? A scoop of vanilla ice cream!
ALANNA's TIPS In grocery stores, poppy seeds are priced like black pearls. Instead, buy bags of poppy seeds for a couple dollars at an international grocery. You don't "have" to own a standing mixer to make the Homemade Poppy Seed Cake but it does help. To use a hand mixer, as I have many times, it does help to "mise en place" (that means to get all the bowls together, that is the poppy seeds, the dry ingredients, the streusel, the egg whites) before starting to mix. To save washing the beaters, whip the egg whites before mixing anything else. In fact, even when using the standing mixer to make the cake, I switch to a hand mixer to whip the egg whites. Experienced bakers will tell you there's a specific technique for "folding" egg whites into a batter. There is, of course, but don't stress about technique. Just use a flat spatula or my favorite "spoon-spatula" to gently – the key word is "gently" – incorporate the egg whites into the heavier batter. The goal is to deflate the egg whites as little as possible while "loosening" the heavy batter. Work slowly and yes, again, gently. Once I tried using with half almond flour, the center fell, more time was needed to finish baking, not yet a perfect substitution!
EASY LEMON POPPY SEED CAKE
Time to table: 3 hours
Makes: 1 full-size Bundt cake
Heat the oven to 350F/175C. In a large bowl, “dump and mix” a box of lemon or yellow cake mix, a small box of instant vanilla pudding, four large eggs, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1 cup warm water, 1/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup poppy seeds. Pour into a well-greased Bundt pan and bake for an hour. Cool 10 for minutes, then turn onto a cake plate. While the cake is still warm, if you like, drizzle the cake with a glaze of 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice mixed with 6 tablespoons powdered sugar. Yes, it's really that easy! No wonder we like cake-mix cakes!
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