July 24, 2011

Orange Poppy Seed Cake

Have you been over to Jolly Vindaloo yet?  If not, I urge you to jump over for a visit.  You will find some tasty and imaginative recipes to spice up your cooking repertoire, not to mention gorgeous photography.  This month I'm entering the healthy dessert challenge going on there at the moment with a favorite summer, ah heck, anytime recipe.  The challenge asks to provide a dessert recipe that can actually be called healthy (hello! right.up.my.alley).  I had a hard time trying to narrow down my entry choice (surprise) but decided on this one as it is a universal favorite with everyone who tries it, and it seemed so right for this time of year.  It simply gets rave reviews wherever it goes--family, friends' houses, my work, TH's work.  The fabulous part about it is that is uses 100% whole wheat flours and has very little saturated fat...only 3 tablespoons of butter.  The other ingredients are healthy as well.  Where do I start?  Olive oil (heart healthy), yogurt (probiotics), citrus (vitamin C), poppy seeds (too many benefits to mention).

The recipe combines two favorite flavors for me, poppy seeds......and oranges!  Pulsing the zest together with the sugar in the food processor ends up infusing the entire cake with the wonderful taste and essence of orange, more than just adding the zest to the batter by itself.  Something wonderful happens when the orange-saturated sugar bakes and blends in with the rest of the batter.  Pure bliss!

I am aware that most people traditionally pair lemon with poppy seeds, but I think the poppy seeds always end up taking a back seat to the zow of the lemons.  I just favor the more restrained flavor of the oranges with the poppy seeds.  I know poppy seeds can be expensive, but I am lucky enough to live near a Penzeys spice store, so I stock up once a year and keep the left-overs in a jar in the fridge to keep them from spoiling.  I love anything citrus, any time of year, but I think the flavor is especially appreciated when the outside temperatures start climbing, as it is so clear and refreshing.  If the slightly gritty crunch of the poppy seeds are off-putting to anyone (I am, personally, especially fond of said gritty crunchiness), I would urge you to try this recipe as it uses a method I read about somewhere on the Internet of soaking them in milk, which softens them a little.

I didn't have enough of the small mini-Bundts on hand to use up all of the batter, so also inaugurated a 6 1/2-inch springform pan that my sweet husband had brought home for me as a surprise one afternoon (yep, he really knows what makes me giddy).  I have also made this in two loaf pans in the past, or you could make one large Bundt or similar size cake, or muffins.

The glaze is very important to this recipe as it is absorbed into the cake and helps provide some added moisture.  When baking with whole wheat flours, this is always a challenge--trying to find that right balance in texture without making things too dense, dry or crumbly.  If you choose to forgo the glaze (what?  really?) then you might want to add another 1/4 cup of yogurt or oil to help keep the crumb moist.  The glaze pooled into the little indentations in the top of the mini-Bundts which soaked into the surrounding cake...are you in the kitchen yet?  Wait!  Come back!  You need the recipe (below).

OK...here is my mini-soapbox on glaze.  The glaze adds another layer of flavor without adding too many 'bad' attributes, and it's so pretty!  This is one method I use time and time again...boiling down some fresh juice or berries with just a touch of sugar or other taste-boosting ingredients to help concentrate the flavor without adding too many calories, which I think is a great method of adding complexity and interest rather than just throwing mindless 'sweet' at something.  It is a flavor enhancer.

Although I would be perfectly happy without any other bling here, I went ahead and whipped up just a little bit of cream and spiked it with some Grand Marnier I had on hand, to add another level of citrus to the mix and to dress things up a bit (this is a challenge you know).  You could skip the liquor and go with some lavender (delicious!) or thyme (yum!) or any other flavor that sounds great to you.  Truth be told, I am just not much of a frosting fan.  Give me a small portion of whipped cream, mascarpone drizzle or fruit glaze any day over an overdose of thick, gooey sugar on steroids (a.k.a traditional frosting).  Besides, the cake is delicious enough on its own...end of monologue.

I used one of my favorite ingredients when cooking with citrus, orange flower water.  As I've mentioned many times on previous posts, you can find it in ethnic markets and also online.  I use it all the time and love the unique flavor and aroma it imparts.  You could use 1 teaspoon orange extract in its place but you will be missing out on an interesting component of the recipe.

When temperatures soar, sometimes it's nice to rely on a simple and refreshing recipe, for a special 'finis' to a special meal, a coffee get-together with friends, as a lovely hostess gift, or just a delicious way to spoil yourself and loved ones, for no reason at all....without any of the guilt.  Just my humble attempt to help make those challenging dessert decisions a little easier (and oh so sweet).  Enjoy!

Orange Poppy Seed Cake:

Grated zest and juice of three medium oranges (preferably organic)
1 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt (regular yogurt, not Greek)
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons orange flower water
3 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh orange juice (from the oranges above)
1 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Orange Glaze (make while the cake is in the oven):
Juice from the three oranges used in the recipe, minus 1/4 cup used in the cake (final glaze amount is approximately 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup turbinado/natural sugar (to taste)
1 tablespoon orange flower water

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease the pans of your choice (I use an oil sprayer...see the link on my main page) and set aside.

Add the poppy seeds to the milk in a small bowl or cup large enough to hold both.  Stir to incorporate the seeds into the milk as they tend to want to float on the surface.  Set aside while you make the rest of the cake.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt together, and set aside (I usually sift dry ingredients onto a large piece of wax paper, and then can easily lift up the paper by the ends, forming a 'tube' to slowly pour into the wet ingredients).

Gently pulse the orange zest with the sugar in a food processor until evenly incorporated.  Mix in the orange sugar with the butter and oil in a large mixing bowl, and beat on medium speed for approximately three to four minutes until light and fluffy.  Add the yogurt and beat until smooth.  Add the almond extract, orange flower water and orange juice, mixing well.  The mixture may curdle slightly.  Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating well after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle occasionally.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly incorporate the dry ingredients, being very careful not to over mix.  Stir until the dry ingredients are just moistened.  The batter will be thick.  Add the poppy seed and milk mixture, blending until all of the ingredients are just mixed (again, don't overmix).  Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake for 20 to 22 minutes for the small cake pans or muffins, or approximately 45 to 50 minutes for the 6 1/2-inch springform or loaf pans.  Cake is done when a wooden skewer in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then gently coax the cake out of the pan and onto a cooking rack.

While the cake is cooking, gently boil the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan on low heat until slightly thickened.  Set aside to cool.  

Once the cakes are on the rack, spoon the glaze over the cakes in several sessions, allowing the cake to absorb the glaze in between.  If you are not using the mini-Bundt pans (which absorb a lot of the glaze in the center indentation), go ahead and place the cake on a serving plate and spoon the glaze over while the cake is on the plate.  Any glaze that runs over the sides will be absorbed through the bottom of the cake (a good thing).  Serve with a small side of cream or bling of choice (also delicious sans bling).  I drizzled a little bit of glaze over the cream.


  1. That not only looks great but sounds so healthy as well! The pictures are so beautiful! I love citrus cakes and this one looks great.

  2. Shumaila and Pamela,
    Thank you for the very nice comments. I hope you will give it a try and will let me know what you think! I always try so hard to reach that happy balance between yummy and healthy, but it is always so good to hear back from other people to see if you've really hit the mark or not.
    Hope to 'see you around' again soon!

  3. The flavors in these cakes sound soooo.. good! Esp love the pic with the glaze soaking in. We totally share your view on it being a flavor enhancer, a glaze will highlight the flavors of a cake without overpowering it like a thick layer of icing would :)

  4. This is the cake that my son will get soon! He loves lemon poppy seed muffins and this cake is even better than those! Great touches with the glaze and the orange version/

  5. Tadka Pasta--thank you for stopping by...glad you enjoyed the pics. Hope you will give the recipe a try!

    Joumana,thanks for your lovely comments too. I hope your son (and you!) will enjoy the cake. It is certainly a favorite at our house!

  6. Hi Dave,

    I will certainly check out the site. Looks interesting!

  7. What a delicious cake!! Thanks for sharing!

  8. this is a lovely bake; looks perfectly delectable; thank you for the kind words in my blog and hey for the hummus even the beet is a nice combo to work with !

  9. Eftychia--thank you so much for visiting! I take that as a big compliment coming from a cake-lady such as yourself ;-)

    Priya--I'm glad you stopped by! Thank you for the tip on the hummus...I will give it a try! Come back soon!

  10. Oh, your glazed mini-cakes are gorgeous! And so beautifully garnished~

  11. Oh am I glad you popped over and left your kind comments. Love this recipe. Will be trying it this weekend. I do love orange and I do love the poppy seeds. Thanks so much for sharing. xomarlis

  12. Hi Lizzy,
    Thank you so much for the kind words. I hope you will visit again soon!

    Marlis, so nice of you to swing by as well! I hope you will let me know how the cake turns out for you!

  13. Orange and poppy seeds.. that is one amazing combination.Pics are amazing especially the second from the last... Loved it:) Glad to have visited your blog... great going:) Happy blogging dear:) Happy to follow u..

  14. Wow, your little bundt cakes are beautiful, like something from a fine French bakery. I love the poppyseed citrus combination and your yummy glaze makes them perfect.

    Love your blog and can't wait to read more. Thanks so much for visiting.

  15. Hey, this is very new to me, I have never baked anything with poppy seeds, and looks like an amazing combo..cake looks perfect and moist...will try it for sure...
    btw u have one delicious blog...happy to found u


  16. Reva, Cathy and Saffron--thank you so much for stopping by! Thank you too for the generous comments (which are so very much appreciated). I hope you will try the cake and let me know what you think! Come back soon!

  17. Lovely combination, sounds great! Very tempting clicks. Thanks for visiting & for your wonderful comment on Rolled Coconut Cookies :)

  18. I love poppy seed cakes and those look fantastic! I particularly like their flavor and the syrup used in this recipe.




So glad you came by! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!