A lemon poppy seed cake? is it the 90’s again? I guess 90’s nostalgia has a place in food as well as fashion and a lemon poppy seed cake was one of the first things I remember making in the late 90’s when I was getting deeper and deeper into my baking obsession. Funnily I don’t think I have made one since, which is strange as I love the combination but maybe I relegated it to the more mundane, the more run of the mill recipes that once checked off my list im done with, relegate to the back of the cupboard? Regardless, here it is again, made after a request from my boyfriends mum for her birthday I couldn’t find the poppy seeds in time for her birthday so you guys get the full package but she had to make do with just lemon).
For the recipe im using something I’ve had bookmarked for the longest time, from the first Tartine cookbook, yeah I’ve had it bookmarked for a very long time, that book came out in 2006! The reason the recipe intrigued me was the use of almond paste. As a lover of all things almond it’s a little surprising I’ve never used almond paste in a cake batter like this, probably since it’s not exactly easy to come by in the UK, marzipan being the default almond vehicle you find here in supermarkets. Lets just get this straight, this cake is worth finding the paste, the texture it gives is sublime, I would go so far as to say it is my ideal cake texture, moist enough that it doesn’t necessarily need frosting and a cake that stays fresh for at least four days.
For those who may have thought that almond paste and marzipan are the same thing here is a quick primer. Marzipan is generally lower in almonds than its counterpart, its normally composed of sugar and almonds, mostly also come with some egg white and glucose too but it normally only has 25-35% almonds so its a pretty sweet confection. Almond paste is much higher in almonds, normally at least 50%. Generally it also only has sugar and almonds, nothing else needed. Marzipan might be easy to use to cover cakes, or model with but almond paste is better inside a cake as the egg white can dry out the paste making it tough and chewy. Whilst almond paste might not be available in UK supermarkets it’s still pretty easy to get a hold of. Try Ocado, Amazon, or for my favourite Skandi Kitchen also sell it online and in their London store (they also happen to be the cheapest stockist). The one thing to avoid is anything labeled as 100% or pure almond paste, this is actually more of an almond butter and not the same product.
Almond Paste Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
Adapted from ‘Tartine’ by Elisabeth Prueitt
Makes 1 large loaf cake (see note below)
Almond Paste Cake Batter
95g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 heaped tablespoons poppy seeds
5 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g almond paste
200g caster sugar
225g unsalted butter, room temperature
zest of 3 lemons
Lemon Simple Syrup
juice of 2 lemons
100g caster sugar
Candied Lemon Peel
caster sugar (see recipe)
juice of 1 lemon
185g icing sugar
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan) and lightly grease, and line with parchment paper, a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
For the batter mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds, setting aside for the moment. Add the almond paste, in small pieces, into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low speed, with the paddle attachment, for a few minutes to soften. Add in the sugar a little bit at a time, mixing until the almond paste breaks down into a coarse crumbly mixture. If you do this stage too quickly and not allow the almond paste to break down into a coarse crumb, you risk the finished batter having lumps. Add the butter a couple pieces at a time. Once all of the butter has been incorporated and a paste like texture has formed, add the lemon zest and up the speed to medium and cream together for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Adding the lemon zest at this stage rather than folding in with the dry ingredients helps to draw out the oils making the finished cake more flavourful.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating until fully combined before adding another. Once all the eggs have been mixed in remove the bowl from the mixer, add in the dry goods and mix by hand until evenly combined. Scrape the finished batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in the preheated oven for about 45-50 minutes or until the cake springs back to the touch or a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes whilst you make the simple syrup.
To make the syrup juice 2 lemons and add the same amount of sugar, by weight, to a saucepan along with the juice. Cook over medium heat for a couple minutes or until the juice has come to a simmer and the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Carefully turn the cake out onto a wire rack set over a sheet pan or a piece of parchment. I like to use this cake upside down but do as you prefer. Using a skewer or toothpick prick the cake all over and then brush the syrup all over the top and sides of the cake. Allow the cake to cool fully before glazing.
I know topping the cake with the candied zest is gilding the lilly a little but I love the look and the slight bitterness and the texture adds a nice counterpoint to the cake, but feel free to leave it off if you prefer. To make it slice off the top and bottom of the lemon and then cut into wedges. Carefully slice away the flesh of the fruit leaving just the pith and peel. cut each wedge into thin strips. Place the strips of lemon peel into a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, then drain off the water and repeat with about 750ml water, simmering for 30 minutes this time. Drain the water as before but rather than discarding we need to measure how much we are left with. Add the water back into the pan with an equal amount of sugar, by weight, along with the peel (for me this meant roughly 350g sugar). This time we want to simmer the mixture for about 20-25 minutes or until the peel becomes slightly translucent, meaning it has absorbed enough of the syrup is properly candied. During this process be careful not to cook the peel too long as it will become too soft, losing any texture, I like mine to still have a little bite. Strain off the syrup (keep for when you need a simple syrup - great for cocktails) and allow to cool for a couple minutes. Toss the pieces of peel in a bowl of sugar, making sure to coat fully then place onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once fully cooled store in a sealed container in a dark cool spot.
For the glaze mix the juice of 1 lemon with just enough icing sugar to form a thick but pourable glaze, adding a pinch of salt to balance out the sweetness a little. Pour the glaze onto the top of the cake and use a spoon to tease it over the edges so it drips down the side. Top the cake with some of the candied peel (it makes more than you need but if your going to go to the lengths to actually make some you might as well make a little extra). Finish with a little sprinkling of poppy seeds.
Kept covered this cake keeps particularly well, at least 4 days.
Note: The loaf pan needed for this cake is a little bigger than the ones most people will have at home so if this is the case simply use enough batter to fill the pan about 3/4 full and then use the rest to make a few cupcakes, think of them as the chefs testers!