Sunday, November 23, 2008

Poppyseed Explosion Cake


My first notable encounter with poppyseeds happened somewhere around my eleventh birthday. It was mother's day, it was before I was a vegetarian (and before I was a lapsed vegetarian), and my dad and I were cooking my mom my favourite dish: roast chicken with a smattering of poppyseeds. At the time, I had something of a reputation as a picky eater. It would seem that I refused most vegetables, in fact most foods, that weren't white. I didn't like cauliflower either. Chicken though I did like, especially this delicious roasted chicken, a family classic, that came out golden with speckles of black just like the poppyseed bagels from the world-famous-just-a-block-away-Harbord Bakery.

After intrepidly touching the gross pink carcass on the counter, I told my dad he could go ahead with the preparations and that I'd just find the spices. "Where are the poppyseeds?" I asked. A look of terror shot through his eyes. "Well, uh, just let me find them," he answered, not looking me in the eyes. I knew something was up, so I insisted. I had him cornered, the jig was up, so with much trepidation he admitted that the whole "poppyseed chicken" thing was a hoax.

Those beloved dots on my beloved chicken weren't poppyseeds (!!) as I had been led to believe, but browned ground garlic. The truth of the chicken dish had been kept from me because my parents suspected that I could never accept to eat something so foreign as garlic--even in it's beningly ground form. Resentment, bitterness, grossed-outness, and mistrust flashed through me, but then I remembered that I was all of eleven (or was it twelve?) years old. "That's cool," I said, half meaning it.

Years later, just last week in fact, I saw poppyseeds in the cabinet of my current kitchen. Hmm I said, what do you make with this, if not chicken?

Well, friends, this is what you make with poppyseeds: the most delicious cake of all times, one of Deborah Madison's top five cakes, and worthy of a mighty ingredient that almost-flavoured my first foray into the kitchen. It's a cake that will stay moist for days though it will be finished in hours, it's a cake to write home about, certainly to blog about, and it's just about the best thing you can create on a single Sunday afternoon.

Poppyseed Explosion Cake

Note: this recipe requires numerous bowls. Before you begin make sure your roommates have committed to doing dishes after.
1 cup poppyseeds stirred into 1/2 cup hot milk (mix and leave to sit several hours before continuing with the recipe for maximum delight)

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup sourcream or buttermilk
Icing sugar to dust at end


Set poppyseeds to soak in hot milk, in a bowl, watch several episodes of TNG or Gossip Girl, then come back and preheat the oven to 375 degrees farenheit. Lighly butter and flour a 9-inch spring-form pan (one where you can remove the sides after baking).

In a bowl mix dry ingredients together, and set aside.

In a bowl beat eggs whites until they form firm but moist peaks, set aside.

In a BIG bowl cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, then beat in one egg yolk at a time until smooth. Stir in sour cream and drained poppyseeds. Add the dry ingredients in thirds. (At this point, Deborah recommends: "Scrape up the batter from the bottom of the bowl to make sure it's well mixed." I'm sure you'd have done this anyway but, well, never hurts to make sure). Stir in a quarter of the egg whites before folding in the rest.

Pour batter into pan, smooth it out, then bake about 50 minutes until cake is golden and firm. Take it out of the oven, set the cake on a rack and remove the sides so that cake can cool. Before cake is cool, lightly dust with icing powder (my method: take a sieve, put in some icing powder, and hit it so that it falls evenly over the cake).

Serve if you want the people in your life to be happy.

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