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Friday 16 December 2011

Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

If only I still had some of this cake left...

Despair is subjective. What proves devastating to one person might not even register on the sadness scale of another.

I know this having recently had a long conversation about the film 'The Pianist' with some friends, in which none of us could agree on the most awful scene. I'm not going to talk about that in depth here, because I feel that connecting a movie about the holocaust with lemon-poppy seed cake would be in rather poor taste (and you might all disagree with what I think is the saddest scene, which would probably make me feel argumentative and as though you didn't respect my right to an opinion or ability to have one). So instead, I'm going to relate it to the film 'Pretty Woman', starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, which the more eagle-eyed and elephant-memoried of you will know is my favourite film.

(Is prostitution more palatable than WW2? Well, there's only one way to find out... We're on shaky ground today, friends.)

Back to the subjectivity of despair. On the whole, 'PW' is quite a happy film. You might even call it a rom-com, if you were a film critic in 1992. But it is not without its upsetting moments. Some of them are skirted over, quick as a flash (the death of 'Skinny Marie' for instance, is awarded little time - 'She was a flake, she was a crack-head. Dominic was trying to straighten her out for months.), and some of them linger.

I have a good friend who practically sobs out loud every time Edward and Vivian have big fight at the end and he tells her he has never treated her like a prostitute. ('You just did.')

I personally don't care about that scene though. For by that point my heart has already been broken; it breaks when, at the polo match, Edward, spurred on by jealousy at seeing Vivian (in that gorgeous sundress and hat) laughing and smiling with David Morse, tells Stuckey that she is in fact a prostitute he met on Hollywood Boulevard.

It is at this point that, each time I watch the scene, I break down and my faith in the power of love and its ability to conquer all shatters.

Why do it, Edward? WHY? You already know you love her.

Readers: this is the power of jealousy. The root of all despair! Honestly, Pretty Woman is like a modern day 'Othello'. (But don't tell my secondary school English teacher I said so!)

This does connect to cake. Promise. You want to know how?

Flour. Specifically cake flour. It's only available in the States, and let me tell you, is something that I feel very jealous of indeed. I have a whole book of recipes telling me to use only it, and that unbleached flour (read 'the only flour available in the EU) will not give anything like the same results. Yep: I have my own green eyed monster and he lives in the pantry on the flour shelf. He's caused me some major despair in my time, let me tell you.

I remember at the time thinking that the yellow on white in this photo was beautiful.
Now, I just think 'What the hell did you take that for?'

I did, when in the US on honeymoon, pick up a box of cake flour, and have noticed a difference in the texture of my cakes. (I didn't make it to Hollywood Boulevard, mind you, but I did get my picture taken outside the Reg. Bev. Wil.) But since you, my wonderful UK readers, cannot get hold of the stuff, I have taken it upon myself to adapt the first recipe I made with the cake flour I brought back, to use the plain flour you can get at the supermarket.

Say 'thank you'.

I didn't do a side by side comparison of this cake and the original recipe from 'Rose's Heavenly Cakes'but from memory, the result is almost the same. It's moist and lusciously lemon flavoured, given its soaking with a sharp-tasting lemon syrup after baking; it has a soft, tender crumb, thanks to the cornflour I used to replace some of the plain; it is jam-packed full of poppy seeds which add great interest to each bite.

I love this cake stand!

I do admit that the cake is a little darker than the cake flour version, but plain flour has higher protein content, which explains that right away. There's also the fact that I had to answer the phone and missed the alarm telling me to take the cake out of the oven, which negated my using yogurt instead of sour cream to attempt to further lower the protein levels. But still: a perfect cake nonetheless.

According to those who know about such things, new season lemons are now in the shops. So this is actually a great example of seasonal eating. And a slice makes perfect accompaniment to any film you end up watching while sofa bound. You know which one I'd suggest.

And no. Not 'The Pianist'.

Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

You will need:

3 eggs
200g natural yogurt
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
50g cornflour
250g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt
finely grated zest of a lemon
50g poppy seeds
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature

100g caster sugar
juice of one lemon

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Centrigrade. In a large bowl, mix the flour, corn flour, 250g caster sugar, leavenings, salt, lemon zest and poppy seeds together using a wire whisk. Or you could use a stand mixer.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, all but 3 tbsp of the yogurt, and vanilla together. You just need to break up the yolks, so it should only take about 20 seconds with a fork to do this.
  3. Add the remaining yogurt and the butter to the dry ingredients and mix together using an electric beater or stand mixer until everything is moistened. Scrape the sides of the bowl and then beat on high speed for about a minute.
  4. Add the wet ingredients in two parts, beating on medium for 30 seconds after each addition.
  5. Pour the mixture into a well greased 10-cup (2.5 litre) capacity bundt tin and bake for about 40 minutes, until golden brown.
  6. While the cake is baking, heat the sugar and lemon juice together to make a syrup. Do not let it boil!
  7. When the cake comes out of the oven, immediately make holes all over the top (which will later become the bottom) with a skewer or cocktail stick, and brush over half of the syrup. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes on a wire rack.
  8. Invert the cake onto a serving plate and brush the rest of the syrup on to the top while still warm. For best flavour, make the cake a day ahead, and serve sprinkled with icing sugar in generous slices.


  1. Thank you! It looks really really good!!

  2. Interesting about the flour. What a gorgeous looking cake.

  3. Very nice, good picture and grat idas the poppies

  4. What a beautiful site!! The food is amazin!!☺ Shannon

  5. Love your site, I want to bake it all now!!!

  6. I enjoy reading your blog :)
    Love love love the awesome photos!

  7. You can get extra fine flour in the UK (sainsburys) which I believe is the same as cake flour. I've also seen several blogs recommend adding a small amount of cornflour to your plain flour to make cake flour.


That's what he said.

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