Rochelle's Lemon Poppyseed Birthday Cake

This nice little cake combines the lightness of a sponge cake with the butteriness of a poundcake, and is resolutely lemony. This recipe make three 6" rounds.

Pre-heat oven to 375oF (190oC). Allow all ingredients to come to room temperature. Prepare your pans by buttering them, placing a fitted round of parchment or waxed paper in each, and then lightly flouring. This cake is quite delicate when warm, and we don't want it to tear.

Rochelle's Birthday Cake 2004 Finished cake
inset: detail of frosting showing poppyseeds and lemon zest in the white glaze


Melt, allow to cool, and set aside (don't add yet!)
3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
In your beating bowl, combine “The Wets”
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
grated zest of 2 large organic lemons
1 Tablespoon of lemon juice
Do not even consider using "normal" lemons, as they have been dipped in chemicals you don't want to know about, much less serve to your loved ones. Gotta be organic lemons.
Using your mixer's whip, beat these ingredients on high speed for 4-5 minutes, until the mixture is as aerated as it's going to get. It will thicken to about the consistency of heavy cream.
Optionally add as much as a quarter cup of fresh organic poppy seeds just before the mixing is finished.
Sift together, mix, and then sift again over this mixture
1-1/4 Cups whole wheat pastry flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Fold the dry ingredients into the wet gently, trying to eliminate lumps while not overmixing the batter, so the gluten in the soft flour doesn't develop and make the cake tough.
When most of the lumps are gone, add the cooled melted butter and
1/3 cup heavy cream
Scrape the batter into your prepared pans, spread evenly if necessary -- the batter should be quite loose -- and place gently in the oven. This batter is very sugary, and if your oven tends to brown foods, reduce the heat to 350oF (175oC). Watch the cakes as they bake, and reduce the heat further to control browning, extending baking time if necessary.
The cakes should take about 30 minutes to bake. Test with a toothpick stuck through the middle of the cake where it will bake most slowly; if the toothpick comes out dry, the cake is done.
Allow the cakes to cool on a rack for ten minutes, then run a thin-bladed knife around the sides to loosen the cake from the pan. Turn the cakes out and immediately replace them on a cooling rack bottom side down. Allow to cool at least an hour and a half before frosting. If a multiple-layered cake is desired, carefully slice the cooled cakes in two or three thin slices.
Optionally pierce the cake's surface with a toothpick when it is nearly cool and sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice, lemoncello, and/or cognac to enhance the lemon flavor and (wink, wink) the cake's keeping qualities.


This frosting is based on the Joy of Cooking's Quick White Icing and provides, if applied warm, more than enough to frost this small cake.
In your mixer's medium bowl, beat together at medium speed
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
4 Tablespoons softened unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons fresh organic poppy seeds
Add and continue to beat until smooth
2-3 Tablespoons lemon juice
(1 teaspoon vanilla)
(1/8 teaspoon salt)
grated zest of 1 large organic lemon
Remove the bowl from the mixer and place over a pot of simmering water in order to give gentle heat to the mixture for 3-5 minutes, allowing the flavors to develop and cooking out the "metallic" taste of the cornstarch in the powdered sugar. Briefly beat again to restore pourability.
Set aside, ready for sprinkling, as many more poppy seeds as you think you can get to stick.
Quickly, while the mixture is warm, assemble the cake, pouring a portion of the frosting between each layer, then sprinkling evenly with poppy seeds. Pour the remaining frosting over the top of the assembled cake, and distribute it as evenly as possible. It should easily cover the top and ooze atractively down the sides. If necessary, return the bowl to the heat then beat again to restore the frosting's fluidity, as it will congeal quickly. Before its surface hardens, evenly distribute poppy seeds to taste.

Plays Well With Others

This cake lasts well in the fridge, and can serve as a basis for great dessert compositions. Here we have the Birthday Girl and daughter Sienna enjoying one possible combination: on a bed of Beth Springs rhubarb sauced in cranberry juice and honey, with Straus Organic Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, and topped with local strawberries lightly sugared. The sweet accompaniments bring out the lemony cake's best qualities -- outrageously delicious!

recipe derived from several sources and contributed by Michael Potts
As always, appreciations to The Joy of Cooking,
my favorite source and (Rochelle excepted) inspiration

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24 August 2004, 13 March 2005, 22 March 2020, 21 March 2021 (Happy Birthdays, Rochelle & Sienna!)

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