Posts Tagged ‘cake’

Poppy seed and almond cake

4 April 2011

I wanted to write about this cake, which I made, in close succession, once for Louise’s first birthday, again to take these pictures, and another time in between.

It is fiendishly good. It also seems to be the object of a small controversy.

I found this cake on Lottie + Doof and it looked perfectly irresistible. But one small thing irked me about the recipe; the fact that it contains almond extract but no almonds, which feels like cheating, just a little bit. So I thought about adding almonds. I was slightly worried about the fluffiness factor so alluringly portrayed, so, standing there, in front of my ingredients, I pondered – a good five minutes – whether I should substitute some of the flour with ground almonds, or not. I decided yes. And barely half a minute later, I read the blog author’s response to a comment on his poppy seed cake post: “My recommendation would be to try the original before adding almond meal. The texture is what makes this so special, and the meal will change that.” I very nearly threw away my mix of almonds and flour. But I didn’t.

My cake, though undoubtedly much denser than the original, was also completely delicious.

The second time I made the cake I used no flour at all. Thomas insists it is the better version. I (respectfully) disagree. Without flour it is too grainy and buttery. This observation should of course be a hint that the initial version is in fact truly the best. Possibly. But I like dense cakes. Plus, the recipe without almonds can already be found in at least two places. I stand by this one.


Slightly adapted from Food and Wine via Lottie and Doof

3/4 cup (200 g) poppy seeds

2/3 cup (100 g) blanched almonds

14 Tbsps (200 g) unsalted butter

1 cup (200 g) sugar

4 eggs

3/4 cup (100 g) flour

2 tsps baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

Zest from 1/3 lemon*

Powdered (confectioners) sugar for dusting


Bring 1/2 cup (filtered) water to boil in a small saucepan, remove from heat, stir in the poppy seeds, cover, and let stand for 1 hour.

In a food processor, pulse grind the poppy seeds until lightly crushed. Remove poppy seeds and set aside. Pulse chop the almonds until finely ground.

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Line a 10 x 5″ (25 x 13 cm) baking pan with parchment paper and butter the paper generously.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, almonds, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, beat the (softened) butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the poppy seeds until well combined. Then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well to incorporate each time. Add the vanilla extract, almond extract, and lemon zest. Then gently stir in the almond/flour mixture until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a skewer or toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar through a fine mesh sieve before serving.

*The lemon zest should be just enough to make the flavors pop without giving a lemony taste.

Banana cake

10 February 2011

I have had this recipe since I was 7 or 8 years old. I must have been in second or third grade; a friend in my class brought a banana cake to school to celebrate his birthday and offered photocopies of the recipe. I kept the photocopy, and it appears that I have collected recipes ever since. Not obsessively or excessively, but, every once in a while, I wrote down a recipe I liked.

Some years ago I copied these recipes into an orange, cloth-bound dummy book (a sample with blank pages) on the architect R.M. Schindler that I was editing at the time. The recipes compiled in the “Schindler book” (as I now very personally refer to it) are not anonymous, they are not newspaper clippings I fell across and found enticing – they are all linked to memories, and people.

This banana cake reminds me of my first school in France, of Jacob (my school friend) and his family with whom we have not completely lost touch; it evokes their music and a lemon tree in their San Francisco garden that I have seen only in photographs.

Also, it is a very good banana cake. I resisted tweaking the recipe except for the walnuts, as I seem unable to refrain from putting nuts in a cake.


10 Tbsps (125 g) butter

3/4 cup (150 g) brown sugar

3 eggs

3 very ripe bananas

1 lemon or orange

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups (200 g) flour (half whole wheat)

2 tsps baking powder

1 tsp sea salt

1 cup (100 g) shelled walnuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).

In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating with a wire whisk to incorporate until smooth.

Mash the bananas well with a fork and add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture.

Grate the zest and juice the lemon (or orange) and add to the batter with the vanilla extract. Mix well.

In a smaller bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt and add to batter. Stir just enough to blend everything together. Gently stir in the walnuts, if using.

Line a baking pan with parchment paper, butter the paper, and pour in the batter.

Slide into the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out dry. (If, like me, you like the cake to be very moist, take it out of the oven a little sooner, when the tip of the knife is still wet.)

Cake with pear and toasted hazelnuts

21 January 2011

Or how a simple cake became slightly more complicated but also much tastier.

It all started last Friday when I decided to bake a simple cake, a classic french Quatre Quart (Four Quarters) which goes something like this: 1) weigh eggs: 2, 3, 4, or more, depending on the desired size of the cake; 2) prepare the same weight in butter, sugar, and flour; 3) mix; 4) bake. It is a practical cake, easy to make anywhere (with a scale). Some recipes call for baking powder, but to me Quatre Quart is a dense cake; when I want something lighter, more akin to Pound Cake, I make Gâteau au Yaourt (Yogurt Cake), another simple formula cake that will find its way into these pages soon enough.

Truthfully, I never just make Quatre Quart – it’s not that exciting as is. But it is a good base for baking improvisation. So I lower the amount of sugar, as a matter of habit; I always add fruit; and I often substitute ground nuts for part of the flour. Last Friday I used pears and hazelnuts and went a bit hard on the sugar. That Very Simple Pear and Hazelnut Cake was easily improved with a hint more sugar and some lemon zest, a second version that I made on Tuesday. It was much better though slightly undercooked (a mere technicality) and I was starting to write down the recipe when I thought “toasted hazelnuts.” The added step makes the cake a bit less simple, but well worth it, and no one here complained about having to eat the same cake three times in one week.

So here it is, Simple Cake with Pear and Hazelnuts – Take 3.


1 cup (125 g) hazelnuts

1 1/4 cups (250 g) butter

1 cup (200 g) sugar

4 eggs

1 lemon

1 1/4 cup (125 g) flour

1 tsp salt

5 pears*


Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).

In a roasting tray, toast hazelnuts for about 12 minutes until they begin to darken. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, roughly remove the skins by rubbing the hazelnuts between your hands. Place in a food processor and pulse-chop into a fine flour.

Lower oven temperature to 350°F (180°C).

Cut butter into small pieces and place in a large bowl to soften at room temperature.

Using a wooden spoon, cream the butter with the sugar until smooth. Thoroughly beat in the eggs, one at a time (the dough will be lumpy at this stage), add lemon zest, flour, salt, hazelnuts, and mix well.

Peel, core, and cut pears, first into quarters and then into thin slices about 1/8 inch (3 mm). Squeeze lemon juice over the pieces of pear, toss, and gently combine into the batter.

Generously butter a 10 inch (25 cm) springform pan. Pour batter inside and smooth surface with a large spoon or spatula.

Place pan over a large piece of aluminum foil in the oven for 1 good hour (10 to 15 minutes longer if the pears are very juicy). **Most springform pans leak, the aluminum prevents drops to fall in the oven and burn.** Test with a knife that should come out clean.

As soon as the cake is out of the oven, use a knife to release the cake from the sides of the pan.

*I wanted the cake to have lots of pear, but someone pointed out that 5 pears could create too much juice and make the cake soggy. So if the pears are large, or if they are very ripe and juicy, you may want to use fewer. Another option is to toss the pear pieces very lightly with flour before folding into the cake, this will help absorb some of the juice.

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