September 16, 2012

Anticipating the arrival of Rosh Hashanah, I sorted through the recipes I had bookmarked to try and asked Jill: “Apple cake, honey cake, or poppy seed cake?”  She voted poppy seed, and here we are.

As many of you know, I have the pleasure of teaching at a Jewish school, living inside of a culture that isn’t my own but is very close to my heart.  The rich food traditions associated with Jewish holidays are especially resonant for me, coming from another religious tradition (Hinduism) that buffets its celebrations and rituals with food.

Since Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, it’s traditional to eat sweet things to usher in a sweet new year, hence the apples and honey.  Some Sephardic families, as I understand it, even go so far as to eschew salt in the preparation of the entire Rosh Hashanah meal, and for a month thereafter.

Poppy seeds, though not sweet by themselves, are a traditional Eastern European ingredient and add beautiful flavor and texture to desserts.  They are said to symbolize the manna sent by God to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert, a reminder of God’s promise and goodness.  L’Shana Tovah!

take from this fascinating New York Times article about the Strawbery Banke restoration, a living museum “set” in 1919

The original recipe calls for 2 cups of sugar; I cut the amount down by 1/3 cup in order to make this a good afternoon-with-tea cake, but by all means, go with the full two cups if you want something more dessert-y.  And instead of dusting with powdered sugar, you could make a glaze with, say, orange or lemon juice or even some melted chocolate.  The addition of almond extract is mine; I think it adds just a leetle something extra, but you can certainly omit it if you don’t have any on hand.

One last note: if the first step of boiling and soaking the poppy seeds seems fussy, don’t skip it.  This allows them to soften and crack just a little, making their flavor more prominent and enhances the texture of the cake as well.


1 cup poppy seeds
1 cup milk or soy milk
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter or pareve margarine, plus more for greasing pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting pan
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. almond extract
½ tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. salt

powdered sugar, for dusting

Combine the poppy seeds and milk in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil.  Immediately remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool, about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Grease a large pan (I used a Bundt, but you could use a couple of large loaf pans or a tube pan) with butter/margarine and lightly flour the inside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter/margarine and sugar.  Add the egg yolks, vanilla & almond extracts, and poppy seed-milk mixture, then beat until smooth.  Slowly add the flour, baking powder, & salt.  Mix well, then scrape out into a large bowl.

Clean the bowl of your stand mixer, then fit it with the whisk attachment and whisk the egg whites until they are stiff.  Fold them into the reserved batter and turn into the pan.  Bake until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean—about 1 hour for a large pan, 35 minutes for smaller shapes.  Cool, then dust with powdered sugar.



  1. Tomato rice recipe – adding the curry leaves, ginger, etc. in two separate paragraphs is confusing to me: which set of instructions do I follow? Thanks!

    Comment by caps — September 17, 2012 @ 7:37 am

  2. caps–thanks for pointing out the confusing instructions. I didn’t edit well! I’ve updated that post, so it should be a lot easier to understand now. hope you enjoy the recipe!

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — September 17, 2012 @ 4:21 pm

  3. I made a million honey cakes for Rosh Hashana, but this sounds awesome. I love lemon poppy seed anything, so this is a nice, more pure, poppy experience. Thanks for the tip about soaking seeds in milk first. I can’t wait to try.

    Comment by Gayle — September 29, 2012 @ 8:55 am

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