Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


The first recipe I ever tried making was Pandan Chiffon cake. I was about 13 then. I was an early adolescent about to discover the world. And I thought the world of Chiffon cakes was worth a shot. It was the latest craze in town then along with - if some of you can still remember - the so 70's Black Forest cake.

Guess what became of my Chiffon? It never saw the light of day. It did not rise. I tried to salvage it but it turned into some kind of pandan kuih. It was totally inedible..an outright failure.

I have learnt since then that baking needs a certain precision and methodical discipline. The density, viscosity, temperature, texture, salinity, timing etc all have to be accurate. Even the kind and size of baking trays matter. You need to know what you are doing.

And in our weather, the ingredients behave differently. You may love the recipe from this French cookbook and wonder why your cake looks so different from the photo you saw. Humidity plays a role in cooking and baking.

It is not that cooking in general does not need such precision. Ask a restaurant chef and he will tell you that consistency is important. For a consistent outcome, you need to keep the cooking factors constant. i.e. Same pot, same temperature, same ingredients and so on. But at home, a curry chicken can turn out differently each time - wetter, drier, more chilli or less etc. It has a whole range of outcomes and simply becomes chicken curry cooked in different ways.

Cakes have a narrower margin. Try to add more sugar or put the cake in when the oven is not hot enough, and it may not rise. A cake which rises not is a failure. That was something I already learnt at 13.

I am generally impartial to cakes and this also explains why I hardly venture into this territory. The world of baking belongs to my dear and our two girls. We are happy with this division of kitchen use and equipment.

But they are not bakers in the true sense of that word. I am sure you know of women who bake so much that they begin to sell their cakes from homes or give up handsome pretty salaried jobs to open a bakery.

Unlike my savoury dishes, we did not have hand-me-down recipes. Jen basically picked up her inspiration for butter cake and lemon poppy seed cake from an old friend of mine from PJ.  We shall call her KC and her cakes are always delicious and the recipes seem simple.

Jen has baked it many times for Cell groups and church events. Some have asked for the recipe and I trust that blogging it here will be useful for the occasional baker out there and ensure the recipe is never forgotten. It is relatively simple to make and great for parties.

I should also add that it is a whole lot easier to be a photographer while someone else is cooking. It s hard to do both well at the same time. Cooking is a process. The action and focus needed is such that it is not easy for the cook to pause to shoot.

There is - as with other areas of cooking - a lot of science in baking. Knowing why basically helps you with the whats and hows. It helps you to understand why the cake turns out the way it did, recall the steps that worked well and those which ruined it. The same knowledge helps you with other recipes. 

Now you should know that there are a zillion baking blogs out there. Some are full of helpful tips, with some baking science thrown in. In writing this post, I can hardly comment on the science behind the steps taken. That it is baked here increases the chances of your duplicated success as we share the same weather and local ingredients. I will leave you to figure it out the science and here are the details of how my good wife makes her version.

As with all good cooking blogs, the author writes to help rather than impress you. I hope you will find this post helpful for those who love to bake.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Recipe

For a 8" by 8" cake 


2 cups of flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp of salt
200g unsalted butter (slightly softened at room temp - about 15 mins), then cubed
1 cup of castor sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup Sunquick Lemon Squash (our friend in PJ uses mixed fruit but I prefer it more lemony)
2/3 tbsp of vanilla essence
4 tbsp of poppy seeds


About 6 to 8 limes squeezed
1 cup icing sugar (sieved)

  1. Preheat Oven to 175C
  2. Mix flour mixture, sugar and butter and salt till fine and crumbly. I use a electric hand-held beater. This step ensures even mixing when you add the other liquids later
  3. Add the lightly beatened eggs and mix quickly
  4. Add cordial and mix quickly
  5. Add poppy seeds, vanilla essence and whisk quickly till smooth
  6. Pour into pan
  7. Bake 35-40 minutes.
Glazing the cake
  1. Sift icing sugar onto a flat tray.
  2. Add the freshly squeezed lime juice and mix.
  3. When the cake is done, spread the glaze evenly on top. It will harden as the cake cools.  

Getting the crumbly mixture of flour, sugar and butter and salt
Adding the cordial, half beaten eggs, poppy seeds and essence of vanilla
This mixture is ready to be poured into the tray and baked in the
pre-heated oven immediately
Sieving the icing sugar

Mixing the calamansi (lime) juice for the glaze

The cake is baked
Glazing the baked cake
Playing with shapes

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  1. This is looking delicious. I would love to bake this for the coming occasion Thanks for sharing the recipe