Lemon and poppy seed cake

You could call it my opium cake.

I prefer the more genteel descriptor: lemon and poppy seed.

It’s a delicious cake, made all the better when, straight from the oven, you douse it in a lemon glaze that seeps all the way through. It’s a lovely addition to afternoon tea. In fact, it reminds me of Ellen, my step-grandmother and her porcelain tea cups with matching saucers. She kept them for special occasions in a glass-fronted china cabinet in the living room. I was besotted. So much so, I’ve bought a cabinet all my own.

As for the opium, I’ve always known those tiny, kidney-shaped seeds are extracted from the opium poppy. What I didn’t know is there’s a black market for them. Well, for the unwashed ones. Apparently, in large enough quantities they’re a dependable source of the opium alkaloid morphine. What’s more, I’m told if you ingest these little gems just prior to a drug test — washed or not — you’re sure to test positive. I had to purchase a bag full from my dealer at the Queen Vic market this morning. I am reassured that my supply was thoroughly washed, though I might avoid giving that urine sample ‘til Monday.

My mum has a recipe for this cake in her old book, though I was inspired more by Helen Goh’s version with some small variations of my own.

Here’s what you need:

  • 10-20 grams of poppy seeds (depending on the potency required)
  • Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
  • 80 grams of butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 200 grams of castor sugar
  • 120 mils of crème fraîche (or double cream … whichever you prefer)
  • 175 grams of plain four
  • 1 ½  teaspoons of baking power
  • A pinch of salt

Here’s what you do:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180c, or 160c if it’s fan-forced.
  • Grease and line a cake tin of your choice. A 20 cm round free-form tin works well, but a 22 cm loaf tin does the job too.
  • Melt the butter, then add to it the lemon zest and poppy seeds and set aside.
  • Whisk the eggs and sugar in an electric mixer at high speed until pale and creamy. Around 3-4 minutes should do it.
  • Add the cream and continue mixing at high speed for 2 more minutes.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder and salt and fold gently into the egg mixture with a spatula.
  • Finally add the butter mixture and fold through gently until it’s all well combined.
  • Pour the cake mixture into your prepared cake tin.
  • Place it in the oven and bake for around 45 minutes.
  • While the cake is baking, mix together the juice of one lemon with 100 grams of sifted icing sugar to create a runny transparent glaze.
  • Once the cake is cooked (a skewer inserted into its centre should come out clean), take it from the oven and immediately pour the glaze over the cake. Allow it to stand in the tin for around 30 minutes.

Once your cake has cooled a little, remove it carefully from the tin onto a nice plate. Serve it whenever you’re ready. With tea. In porcelain cups. On saucers. Ellen would be pleased.


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