Mar 1, 2010

Lemon Poppy Seed Sour Cream Cake

When Mendy suggested that I try to plan cakes appropriate for various Jewish holidays, he told me that something with poppyseeds with be good for Purim. As I got ready for this cake, I tried to remember what I knew about Purim--not much, Esther, Haman, (and hamantashen), ...well, not much, really. The Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton says the poppyseed association comes from the fact that Esther "subsisted for three days on poppy seeds and chickpeas while she found the courage to tell her husband, the king of Persia, that his vizier Haman was plotting to annihilate the Jews." I also found reference to A Poppyseed Purim, which is described as a "lighthearted look at the story of Esther." Maybe it's just me, but the plot to annihilate the Jews doesn't seem to lend itself to a lot of lightheartedness. Still, Esther was very clever, and that's worth celebrating. As are poppyseed pastries, including this cake.
I decided that since it was such an easy cake, I would be scrupulous in everything, including taking the butter's temperature. (I noticed that Woody did that when he was testing a cake in my kitchen. He also takes the ambient air temperature in the kitchen using his Thermapen before he starts). I learned that it takes hours out of the refrigerator for my butter to reach 65 degrees F.).
This is the recommended heart-shaped pan. I borrowed it from Woody. I was about 50% relieved that I didn't have to buy another pan for my emporium and about 50% sad that I didn't get to buy another pan for the same.
The batter is an easy butter cake. Although Jim dutifully took pictures of the process, there is really nothing particularly interesting to record. I like seeing the poppy-seeded batter in the heart mold. If you don't like poppy seeds, by the way, you can cut down on the amount (1/3 cup is a lot of seeds) or omit them entirely. (In that case, of course, it would be dumb to call it a poppyseed cake. And it would no longer be a good Purim cake. But whatever you want to do is fine with me.)
Once you put the cake in the oven, there's plenty of time to leisurely make the lemon syrup. You've already denuded the lemons with the peel for the cake, so you might as well use the juice too. In fact, I love recipes that use both the zest and the juice, so I don't end up with a hard-as-a-rock de-zested lemon in my refrigerator that I have to throw away).
The moment of truth: the mold comes off and you check to see whether half the cake remains stuck to the pan. Here, there were only a few bits here and there.
I loved brushing the cake with this sweet-tangy, very lemony syrup, even though at one point I thought my overly enthusiastic brushing might knock the cake apart. I started wielding the brush more daintily, and there were no more threats of collapse.
If it weren't for the intricate heart-shaped pan, this would be a very plain cake, which is one reason it might be worth buying the pan. (I know, I know--it's a sickness!) The other reason is that it makes very pretty, smallish slices, so you can feed a lot of people, although, since they come back for seconds, I guess it's not that many.
I took this cake to work and people gobbled it up. Although I told Jim I'd bring him a piece, I forgot until it was too late, and he was a little bit surly about the fact that this is the first cake he hasn't been able to taste. Since he didn't get a bite, I hate to be too enthusiastic about the cake, but it is awfully good. Sometimes less is more, and this simple, basic cake is one of those times. I think this was a new taste experience for people who have only had store-bought lemon poppyseed cakes or muffins--when they asked me why the lemon taste was so good, I said it was because it came from real lemons, not from artificial lemon extract or lemon cake mix. It takes a few minutes longer, but it's so worth the time to get out your lemon zester to make this delicious cake that tastes like all the good things that are in it: butter, sour cream, poppy seeds, and lots of lemon.

Ngoc: "Is it hard to make? I want the recipe so I can have it every day."
Sean: "It's good, but I would have liked a glaze with it."
Tony: "Just the right amount of lemon."
Annette: "Very fresh tasting. Sometimes lemon can be overwhelming in cakes, but this isn't."
Cyndi: "Awesome. I have an old favorite lemon poppyseed cake recipe, but this is better. I love the lemon zest in the cake."
Jim: "I wouldn't know."


Mendy said...


Looks great Marie!

What the Book of Esther actually says is that Esther fasted for 3 days days before going to the king. There is a fast before Purim every year to commemorate this called "Ta'anit Esther" - The fast of Esther.

Thank you so much for scheduling holiday-appropriate cakes! It really gives the cake baking meaning as well as ease the burden of what to plan for the holiday.

Nicola said...

Gorgeous cake. Can everyone just bake in just a plain old bundt tin? I can stand the beauty no longer! That heart pan is so pretty - I am at least grateful that I live in the UK, where these things are not quite so easily sourced! Otherwise my cupboards would be exploding.

Oh, poor, poor Jim! If you were at home, I would have couriered him over a slice of my cake... but alas, you are lapping up the sunshine. Maybe next time I bake it, because, for sure, this cake will be on high rotation in this kitchen.

And thanks for the Purim background. I knew next to nothing about being a Jew, but that is rapidly changing... well, at least the food side of things!

NancyB said...

I like seeing what the heart pan looks like--the slice of cake in the cookbook was no help. :)

Hanaâ said...

I love the heart-shaped cake. Makes it so much more interesting that a regular Bundt cake (which is why I used). I feel so bad for Jim though. He has no idea what he's missing. Marie, you have to make this cake again so he can try it. It's my favorite non-choc cake from the book so far (the whipped cream cake is a close second) :o)

evil cake lady said...

Poor Jim! Since this one is so quick and easy maybe when you come down from your Hawaii high you could make another one. This really is a delicious cake, but then again anything with a sour cream batter base from Rose is one of my favorites.

jini said...

poor poor jim.....the saddest story yet. i suppose you can bake it again some day since it was so very good and he can have a taste. maybe two tastes.
i do love lemon poppyseed cakes, and i might need that cute pan too.

doughadear said...

Such a pretty heart shaped pan! Does Woody have every single pan in the book? Do you know I couldn't find a heart shaped pan for Valentines Day? Maybe I didn't look hard enough.

I love poppy seed cake and this one looks especially lovely and lemony.

Melinda said...

OK, Jim, lots of women here feeling sorry for you!
Cake looks very showy in the heart pan. I think we need that pan!
(Nicola...we could time share a pan!)

Jenn said...

Oriana - Amazon has several heart shaped pan. I know Rose recommended Wilton brand. I don't know if you can get it in Canada though.
Marie - if you cut butter into smaller pieces, it's faster to get to 65 degrees. Also lay the little cubes next to each other (instead of on top of each other).

Hanaâ said...

At the risk of having someone throw a stale piece of bread in the direction of my head :o)... I use my microwave to get my butter to roomtemp. I have this cool feature called the "power level". At 20% power, it takes about 40 seconds for the butter to be ready to use in my microwave. So I'm no longer afraid of recipes that call for roomtemp butter :o) I can't take credit for this little time saver. I read it somewhere in Cook's Illustrated or one of the ATK books. They say to use 40% power but mine works better at 20% without risking "melting" the butter.

Vicki said...

He took pictures of the cake he didn't get to taste? Oh heavens!!!
Perhaps his own batch of cupcakes?

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

can we ask for anything more...marie a great baker and brilliant writer, jim with his perfect photos...and yes this cake is indeed really really worth making! well...i wouldn't put anything in the book that wasn't but THIS.....marie said it need for me to extoll its virtues any further.

faithy said...

Marie your cake looks wonderful! :) I baked the cake before and it was delicious!

faithy said...

This is my fave cake in the book. Simple & yet so packed with flavor. And no poppy seeds for me since our authorities here are very strict about it. It's banned so that makes it a contraband item. I googled and found out that one of our local food blogger had the authorities visited her home...yup, that serious!

Monica said...

Told you that poppy seeds are part of opium! Imagine being visited by the authorities for a cake!

Marie... I love the pan and like you I'm trying so very hard to keep the shopping at arms length. But, when I saw the pan, I was like drooling.

Hanaa, I too HAD a super duper microwave that brought my butter to the room temperature (the button actually said BUTTER RT) God I miss that microwave! Now I have a chea- y one that barely warms the food and I tried to bring the butter slowly to Room temp and got a melted mess. So I cut it up in pieces and wait, wait, wait.....

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

i learned two important things from all your postings plus i really enjoyed all the comments and great photos.

what i learned is that my iphone has a timer. can you believe i was scheduling events in order to have a reminder go off instead of using the timer feature.

also, that new pan raymond introduced us all too is so stunning i'm having trouble returning to any other pan. it reminds me of a giant rosette. and doused with powdered sugar it is shear magic!

i'm dying of curiosity what you all will think of the chocolate apricot roll next week. it's not as quick and easy as the lemon cakes but i think worth the extra effort.

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

Fantastic job Marie - I loved your 50/50 comment about the heart pan. I completely agree!


Patricia @ ButterYum said...

Oops, I forgot to mention that I like to put bring my butter to room temperature by placing the butter, unwrapped on the counter directly under my halogen under-cabinet lights. It speeds to process a bit. To speed it along even faster, I cut the butter into pats and arrange them in a single layer on a plate.


Patricia @ ButterYum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bungalow Barbara said...

Thanks for choosing such a great cake! We loved it. If you weren't in Hawaii (lucky dogs) I'd say come on down to Madison and have some more!

Alpha Baker Joan said...

This cake is so gorgeous in its pan, and looks so delicious that I am afraid I must succumb to my weakness and try to find it tomorrow. Hanaa has convinced me that the whipped cream cake should be my next, and this one after. Can't wait.