Friday, January 16, 2009

Poppy Seed Cake with Mascarpone Cream

For some inexplicable reason, I haven’t worked much with poppy seeds. So when I ran across this recipe torn from a very long ago Food & Wine magazine, I thought I should break out the poppy seeds and give it a go. A quick glance at the ingredients and method seemed to reassure me that this would be a good cake. But nothing prepared me for just how nicely this poppy seed extravaganza turned out.

The flavor and texture of poppy seeds is hard to describe, but wow, what fun! The perfect balance of the true and trusted flavors of vanilla, butter and salt produces an unmistakably harmonic and delicious result. The cake has a tight crumb and the chewy crunchy texture of the seeds delivers all the interest to make this dessert sparkle. Egg whites enable the stark contrast of snow white cake and dark purple poppy seeds. Pretty to look at and delightful to taste, this is a great special occasion cake if you’re looking for an alternative to the usual fare. I also think it would be very good with champagne or sparkling wine.

The original recipe called for a Cream Cheese Frosting, but I wanted something lighter and creamier. I think this Mascarpone Cream is really perfect. It’s a subtle and delectable complement, adding a slightly tart and creamy balance to the dense texture of the cake.

Once in a while you find a recipe that is so easy to execute and so immediately delicious, you just have to bring it to the communal table. This is one of those recipes. I think you’ll find it irresistible.

Bench notes:
- Poppy seeds are expensive. Search out a bulk grocery in your area to see if they offer them. King Arthur Flour and Penzeys also carry them and offer better prices than the small jars you find in supermarkets.
- Although the recipe calls for baking the cake for 50 to 55 minutes, it baked in my hot-running oven in 41 minutes. Be sure to check yours around the 40 minute mark. The cake should be nicely browned and spring back when you lightly and gently tap the top. The cake should be just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan and an inserted toothpick should come out clean.
- To frost the cake, apply a crumb coat by spreading a super-thin coating of cream around the side of the cake. Refrigerate to set the crumbs. Finish the cake with the remaining cream. If you'd rather not fuss with frosting it, you can also just slather the whole cake with the cream or serve the cream as a garnish.
- This cake is best enjoyed the same day.
- This recipe is from an old copy of Food & Wine magazine, but I can’t find a date on the page. In a frenzy to clear out a large stash of old magazines, I clipped the recipes I wanted to save and didn’t notice that the reference to this particular issue wasn’t in tact.

Poppy Seed Tante Cake
adapted from Food & Wine magazine
Serves 8

1 vanilla bean
2/3 C milk
2/3 C poppy seeds
1 2/3 C cake flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) butter @ room temperature
1 C sugar
4 egg whites @ room temperature
pinch salt
1/4 C sugar

Mascarpone Cream

8 oz mascarpone
3 – 4 T confectioner’s sugar, to taste
1/3 C heavy cream
splash of vanilla extract

For the Mascarpone Cream, gently whisk the mascarpone and the sugar until combined. Add the cream and vanilla and mix until smooth and thickened a bit. Be careful not to overmix or the mascarpone will start to break down. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the cake, split the vanilla bean lengthwise. Scald the milk with the vanilla bean. Place the poppy seeds in a bowl and pour the scalded milk and vanilla bean over them. Cool to room temperature. Scrape the vanilla bean into the milk mixture.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare a 9” x 2 1/2” round cake pan with butter, flour and parchment paper.

Sift the cake flour, baking powder and salt together.

Beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add 1 C sugar and continue to beat until very light and creamy, about 5 minutes, stopping once or twice to scrape down the bowl.

Add one-third of the flour mixture at a time, alternating with half of the milk-poppy seed mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Stop the mixer just before thoroughly blended and gently finish the mixing by hand, using a rubber spatula.

Whip the egg whites and a tiny pinch of salt on medium speed until the whites are opaque and form soft peaks. Keep whipping as you begin to add in 1/4 C sugar, just a little bit at a time. Increase the speed to high just before adding the last couple of teaspoons of sugar. Whip until the meringue forms peaks that are stiff and shiny, about 1 minute.

Fold a third of the meringue into the cake batter. Continue to incorporate the remaining meringue in two additions, gently folding until there are no white streaks. Be careful not to overmix.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 – 55 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean (mine baked in 41 minutes, so check yours early). Cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Invert the cake from the pan and finish cooling, right-side up, on the rack.

Frost the cake and serve.


Victoria said...

I think your blog is absolutely beautiful.

This cake looks wonderful. I am definitely going to try it since I make a lot of Hungarian food and think this would be a delicous dessert with it.

Clothide has a flourless poppyseed cake posted on Chocolate & Zucchini and listed it as her favorite cake recipe of 2008.

pastry studio said...

Thanks so much for your lovely comments and for the reference to Clotilde's cake. I just found it on her website and it looks really delicious!

Eileen said...

This is a really beautiful cake. What a lovely job. And I agree, this is the perfect frosting.

ButterYum said...

Looks delish! By the way, Penzey's is the proper spelling.... Great resource!!!

pastry studio said...

Hey ButterYum, thanks. I do double-check my references and if you follow the link, it's actually Penzeys, without the apostrophe. Very counter-intuitive, I know!

Aran said...

i think poppy seeds add such texture and flavor to a cake. it must be delicious with the rich and creamy mascarpone!

Jesse said...

I agree with the poppyseeds really adding something. I added a few cups to some tea breads and somehow it just made them better.
I love the mascarpone idea - sounds really really wonderful!

Bunny said...

I've never made anything with poppy seeds, this is beautiful!

diva@sugarbar said...

i am positively obsessed with poppy seeds and love anything with them in it. :) favourite muffin is definitely lemon poppy seed over the classic blueberry. this cake is beautiful and looks so delicate! thanks for the recipe. x

Suzy said...

Great looking cake! I love poppy seed anything and will definitely put this one on the "to try" list. Thanks for sharing!

Brilynn said...

This cake sounds lovely! I don't usually bake with poppy seeds either, but I almost always enjoy baked goods that are made with them. I'll have to give this cake a try.

Rachel@fairycakeheaven said...

wow this looks fantastic, I've only ever had lemon and poppy seed muffins but I'd love to try this!

Anonymous said...

too much poppy seeds. also the cake would look better with less poppy seeds.

Tartelette said...

Love the name of this cake! I also love the mascarpone frosting,so much smoother than cream cheese and with that hint of rich salty cream that is perfect with desserts! There can't ever be too much poppy seeds in my opinion :)

Marie-Eve said...

Even if it's quite expensive, i like very much poppyseeds. This looks like a recipe I could try soon... Valentine cake, maybe?

Y said...

What a stunning cake! Love the contrasts :)

ButterYum said...

I really love the way you decorated this cake. Will definitely remember to do it to one of my future cakes.


JeffS said...

HI, Just made the poppy seed cake and it overflowed the pan by a bunch! Followed the directions exactly. Should of used two 9" X 2" pans. In the directions it said "Prepare a 9” x 2” round cake pan." So I figured that the volume of batter would be OK. Guess not :( Alot of timewasted not including the cost of the ingredients. Jeff

pastry studio said...

Hi Jeff. I'm very sorry to hear about your experience. I just double checked the original recipe from Food & Wine magazine and it says to use a 9" x 2" pan. Although I have never had a problem, I will go ahead and amend the recipe to say, "9" x 2 1/2" cake pan and will continue to do so for all cakes in the future.

Again, my apologies for your results.

Monika said...

Great post!

I am Hungarian, and as you know we use lots of poppyseed in pastry. But we grind it first every time. I remember by telling this to others people gave me strange look. It is not small enough already? :-)
Yes, but the oil and flavor comes out more if you grind it first. I use a electric coffee grinder and mix the poppyseed with some of the sugar in the recipe. In the old days, there was a special poppyseed grinder, in which no sugar was needed, but with the electric it is easier to work with.

thanks for the great recipes!

pastry studio said...

Monika, thanks so much for your advice! I love Hungarian pastries but haven't worked much with poppy seeds. I'll keep this in mind.

Monika said...

Found you a great recipe. It is a traditional poppyseed and walnuts Christmas roll. My mother used to make 4 of them every year, but I do only 2 now.
The website is owned by one of the best hungarian pastry shef and has lot so "how to do" picture. Enjoy!

pastry studio said...

Monika, thank you so much for the information and the very good link. I really appreciate it.

That roll looks delicious! I was just reading about Potica and this looks sort of similar. I'll definitely have to try it. Thanks again!