Hell’s Kitchen Poppyseed Cake

Our neighborhood’s block-long apartment buildings occasionally hide shortcuts to the next street, and the one I usually take leads directly to the new branch of Sur la Table on West 57th. I love walking by and pausing to see which classes are in progress in the demo kitchen, which has a wall of windows facing the street.

On Saturday morning, the class just getting underway was clearly breakfast food—customers in aprons sipped orange juice from wine glasses, and a platter of blueberry strudel was waiting, up on a ledge. I started to think about the giant 1967 Czech cookbook I’d unearthed from one of our bookshelves on Friday—it had fallen open to a faintly spattered page with recipes for bábovka (cake).

We didn’t have all the ingredients for poppyseed strudel, but we did for cake. I merged two recipes—one from the big cookbook, Kuchařka naší vesnice, and one from the Czech cooking magazine Apetit—to get a rich (ok, really rich) poppyseed cake that goes well with coffee and/or whatever liqueur you have on hand, tucked away in a kitchen cabinet.

Poppyseed purists (not to mention Czechs and Hungarians) will be horrified that I didn’t grind the seeds, but since we now have only half a cake left, it didn’t seem to affect the taste that much…

And as for the recipe name—well, it can hardly be called “Czech,” since I dispensed with much of the meticulous Czech poppyseed TLC, and it owes its inspiration to that Saturday-morning walk. “Hell’s Kitchen Poppyseed Cake” it is, then!

Full recipe inside… The Poppyseed Filling recipe suggests using gingerbread, but I remembered some speculoos stashed in the fridge, and used that instead.

Hell’s Kitchen Poppyseed Cake

Adapted from recipes in Kuchařka naší vesnice and Apetit.

Poppyseed Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups (150 g) poppyseeds
  • 1 1/2 cups (1/3 l) milk
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar*
  • 2 handfuls of crushed or crumbled gingerbread (or gingersnaps, or speculoos)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Optional: cinnamon, cocoa powder, cloves, according to taste; raisins

*You can substitute honey for half of the sugar, if you like.

Scald the milk and add the poppy seeds. (Do not let the milk boil.) Stir often, for about five minutes, until the mixture has thickened slightly. Remove from the heat, and add the sugar (and honey, if you’re using it). Add the crumbled gingerbread. Add the lemon zest and spices to taste. Let cool for about 15 minutes before adding to the cake batter.

Cake Batter

  • 2 sticks (250 g) butter
  • 1 cup (190 g) sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 6 egg yolks and whites, separated
  • 1 1/2 cups (150 g) ground poppyseeds
  • 2 scant cups (180 g) flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • butter and flour for the Bundt pan or cake pan
  • powdered sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter and flour a Bundt pan.

Combine the flour and baking powder.

In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Add the vanilla, and blend in the egg yolks until foamy. Add the poppyseed mixture and the flour. Stir the dough until the poppyseeds are mixed throughout.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff, and fold into the batter. Gently transfer the batter to the pan, and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and turn out of the pan and onto a cooling rack after five minutes. Let cool. Optional: sift powdered sugar over the cake once it has cooled.

Apetit‘s tip: This cake is also good with two handfuls of cherries added. If fresh cherries are in season, try those; if not, frozen or canned are fine, too.

Enjoy! This will clean out the dairy shelf of your fridge, but it’s worth it!

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