Home > Cake, Citrus > A Cake for My Man – Lemon Poppyseed “Bird Day” Cake

A Cake for My Man – Lemon Poppyseed “Bird Day” Cake

As I have mentioned countless times before, I am not much of a baker. But as birthdays demand cake, and cake necessitates baking, the advent of Dustin’s birthday this past weekend meant that I would have to face my fears and measure, weigh, level and blend my way to (hopefully) cake-y success. I asked my man what type of cake he wanted for his birthday and true to form he shrugged and said, “whatever.” At this point we were already several hours into the actual Birth-day, sitting in the car, on the way to partake in Dustin’s chosen activity for this “big day” – climbing. D was about half way into a lemon poppy seed muffin that we had bought at a local coffee shop before heading out. I posed to him the idea of a simple lemon poppy quick bread with powdered sugar sprinkled on top and got an enthusiastic response.


As I had never made a lemon poppy seed cake before, I went to my go to source to see if I could find a recipe. Deb, of Smitten Kitchen, has long been an inspiration to me, her world famous blog, and the writing therein were a major driving force behind my decision to start a blog of my own. As many Smitten Kitchen readers know, Deb has something of a soft spot for cakes. In fact, the recipe section of her blog categorizes cakes into two separate types – Celebration Cakes, and Everyday Cakes. To some this lemon poppy quick bread, which was part of her simpler cake collection, may seem like a bit of a cop out for a birthday cake for the main man in my life. But as I read Deb’s description of this cake, a cake that she had tasted once, in a NY cafe, and then spent years reminiscing and gushing over, I was sold on making it.

And let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that this cake lives up to Deb’s glowing remarks. In fact it is quite certainly the best lemon-scented, poppy-seeded baked good I have ever had. The level of poppy seed goodness contained in this cake goes far beyond what is normally included in a lemon poppy confection; and the actual lemon flavor comes, not from sour lemon juice, but from the strong smell, and slight taste of lemon zest. The eight – yep count them – eight, yolks and one egg do NOT make this cake taste egg-y in any way, rather they make it so brilliantly rich and complement the cakes buttery notes beautifully. And if you are worried about letting the whites go unused I can assure you that there are countless ways to make those reserved whites shine. From meringues to omelets, egg whites are used on their own in a variety of recipe. One of the best things about this cake is that it is great the next day and travels well, meaning that you can take leftovers to work, or share your baking success with friends on a fall a picnic. No matter how you choose to enjoy it, this cake is definitely well worth the effort and is a great recipe to add to your repertoire.

Poppy Seed Lemon Cake
Originally from a Food and Wine recipe by Kurt Gutenbrunner, but found online courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

2/3 Cup Sugar
8 Egg Yolks
1 Lg. Egg
1 1/2 TBSP Lemon Zest
1/2 C. Flour
1/2 C. Cornstarch
Pinch of Salt
2 Sticks Unsalted Butter, Melted and Cooled to Room Temp
1/3 C. Poppy Seeds

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Butter a bunt pan liberally. Also spray the underside (the duller side) of a piece of aluminum foil with cooking spray (I like the organic canola spray from Trader Joes) and set aside.

Sift flour, cornstarch, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the sugar and eggs (yolks and whole egg) in the bowl of an electric mixer over med-high speed for about 8 mins. The mixture should be fluffy at the point and a bit lighter in color. Beat in the zest. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture to the yolks.

Add butter and poppy seeds and continue to mix on low until just combined.

Pour the batter into the pan and cover tightly with the foil. Bake in the oven for 35-45 mins or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the bunt pan, and a tester comes out clean. Discard the foil and allow the cake to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 mins before turning it out of the pan onto the rack to finish cooling.

If your cake sticks a bit, like mine did, put the entire pan in the freezer for 4 or 5 mins and then try inverting it again gently. The freezing will cause the cake to contract in the pan and hopefully loosen it from the sides enough for it to come out in one clean piece.

Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy!

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