As it happens, I made this simple yet luscious poppyseed cake almost a year ago on a sweltering Sydney afternoon and I’m finally getting to posting it. It’s a lovely holiday treat, baked as a cake, muffins, or as a loaf — mini loaves, if you feel like sharing with friends or neighbors. The crunch of the poppy seeds is balanced by the soft richness of the cake, and you could top it with a cream cheese frosting although I liked it very much plain. Tea is appropriate and of course, coffee. Something that has stuck with me throughout my many international moves is a love for coffee. (And also, a cup of Irish breakfast tea on long-feeling afternoons.)
This morning my view is of fog-shrouded redwood trees and our overgrown yard rather than towering gum trees and a perfectly manicured square of lawn. Not better, just different. And while it’s been over four months since we left Australia I do have moments where I miss it very much. I miss being able to walk to everything “essential” (i.e. parks, grocery store, library, school). I miss the warmer Pacific and I definitely miss flat whites. I think we’ve left a bit of ourselves in each country and home we’ve attempted to make our own during these last five years (only five years!) and there will always be a bit of a wistful ache for those places and those particular times of life. Yes, I even feel nostalgic for my ant-infested house in Casablanca, as challenging as those months were. We all (save Elsie, she was too little) miss Riyadh, which I know perplexes most Americans when I share this (like that country, it’s complicated!). And Australia, though we lived there so briefly, is indelibly marked for me by warmth and coffee.
What a gift we were given to be able to live overseas, to really live there and dip a toe into the nuances and minutiae of daily life. What a gift to appreciate the conveniences of America and how much we truly have here. What a gift to be settled now, to let time stretch ahead without a looming move or major international travel, to cut down an imperfectly perfect Christmas tree for our first American Christmas as a family of four. Three years ago I found out I was pregnant with Elsie — and thus entered into the interesting experience of navigating the Saudi health system –; two years ago we celebrated the fairly dramatic cooling of desert temperatures for a brief respite; last year we swam at Sydney harbour beaches and baked cookies with the air conditioner running. We’ve cookies on the agenda for this week, and poppyseed cake, and it will be the new year before we know it. Make plenty of time for cake.
This cake may be baked as a regular sized loaf or as mini loaves; you will need to adjust cooking time a bit if you do.
Makes one 9-inch round cake
1 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup milk, heated, but not boiling
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
Heat the oven to 375ᵒF. Butter and flour a 9-inch spring form pan. Set aside. In a small mixing bowl, combine the poppy seeds and the hot milk. Set aside until needed.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until firm but moist peaks form. Transfer the egg whites to a small mixing bowl. Using the same bowl as for the egg whites beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, then beat in the egg yolks, adding one at a time and beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
Drain the milk from the poppy seeds, discarding the milk. Add the buttermilk and the drained poppy seeds to the batter. Beat until well combined, then again scrape down the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula. Add the flour mixture to the batter, in thirds. Again scrape the bowl with the rubber spatula, making sure it’s all well mixed. Fold in about a quarter of the beaten egg whites with the spatula, then fold in the rest, mixing gently until just combined.
Transfer the batter into the prepared cake pan, smoothing the top with the rubber spatula. Bake until golden and firm, with the sides just beginning to pull away from the pan, about 40-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack. Carefully run a sharp, thin knife along the sides of the cake, just against the pan, then gently remove the rim and allow the cake to cool to room temperature before slicing.