Back when I was learning how to bake, around 1970 or so, I was always on the look out for good recipes. Especially
cakes and quick loaves. I made one every single week and my boyfriend would take some to work, or I would make a cake for company coming over. I wanted cakes that garnered praise and not a crumb left on any plate. One of the most elusive cakes was poppy seed cake, the kind you could buy a slice in a Jewish deli, have on a Jewish holiday like Purim, or have at someone’s grandmothers’ house for brunch. One day I was visiting a friend and his girlfriend was talking about making a poppy seed cake, THE poppy seed cake, and an ice cream pie in a graham cracker crust. I was ready to make both for the first time.
I was used to poppy seeds since they are on Challah bread we used to buy in the delis when I was a kid and we made roast beef sandwiches on Sunday night when all the grocery stores were closed. I had such an addiction to East Coast Kaiser rolls, I brought a bag back to California last time I visited relatives and ate them until they were dry crumbs. They are good sprinkled in
noodles with butter. They are a filling in Christmas breads, strudel, and kolache hand pastries. They are at home in European cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisine as they are in Indian cooking, especially Bengali dishes (my friend makes fried eggplant with poppy seed regularly).
It looks like poppy seeds was one of the first ingredients since they are even part of ancient Minoan and Egyptian cooking. I was intrigued to find out my dear humble blue-black poppy seeds were indeed from the opium poppy, a side venture to growing the flower for opium production. Of course the opium is from the sap of the green pod and the poppy seeds are from the dried flower pods. There are lots of poppy flowers, even the California state flower is the bright orange wild poppy that lines the highways in spring. But only the exotic, infamous opium poppy is the flower where from we get the edible seeds.
It turned out that the classic poppy seed cake of all ages is the recipe on the can of Solo brand poppy seed filling, especially for cake and pastry fillings, available in every grocery store in America. This is the cake that is said to be many a Slovak family recipe. Jewish cuisine calls it Mohn Cake.
I went and bought the can, made the cake, and lo and behold, yes it was the poppy seed cake of my dreams…dark with poppy seeds and with a texture like a pound cake from the sour cream (the secret ingredient for many a stupendous cake) and butter. It is constructed in the classic method of creaming the butter and sugar, then adding the sour cream, egg yolks, and flour mixture, last adding the beaten egg whites, which will give the texture. I usually beat the egg whites first in the clean mixing bowl, then transfer to another bowl, then make the cake without washing the bowl. Otherwise you have to remove the batter and wash the bowl and dry it carefully to whip the whites before folding in. I add a bit more vanilla, but other than that, its perfect. And good grief, don’t fiddle with the recipe and certainly no lemon. I have made my own poppy seed fillings since I am Hungarian and for us poppy seeds are a kitchen staple, but the canned filling is what you want for this cake.
In the 1970s I always used the angel food cake pan, as Bundt pans were not widespread available yet, but the cake does nicely in the fluted pans and looks ever so good. It is good without any embellishment, but if you make in layers you can put the cream cheese frosting, like they do at the Tassajara bakery and Slavic style restaurants, and even then it is a smash hit for a birthday cake.
Even if you hardly ever bake, you can make this cake. Here it is for you. Any season, any occasion.
Classic Poppy Seed Butter Cake
Makes one 10-inch tube cake, 12 to 14 servings
- 1 cup (2 sticks-oh yeah you read that right) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup dairy sour cream
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 can (12 1/2 ounces) Solo Poppy Seed Cake and Pastry filling
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Confectioners sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan or 10-inch tube pan and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add poppy filling and beat until blended. Beat in egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and sour cream and beat just until blended. Stir flour, baking soda and salt until mixed, and add to poppy mixture gradually, beating well after each addition.
Beat the egg whites in separate bowl with electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold beaten egg whites into batter. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.
Bake 55 to 65 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Remove from pan by inverting onto a wire rack and cool completely. Never cut warm; don’t cheat, otherwise you will ruin the crumb. Dust with confectioners sugar just before serving. Serve with ice cream or fruit compote. Great toasted plain or as a bed for strawberries and whipped cream.
Cake can be frozen for up to 6 months.
Recipe copyright Solo Poppy Seed Filling
text copyright Beth Hensperger 2017
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.