Poppy Seed and Black Sesame Seed Cake

Poppy seeds weren’t available in Thailand when I was growing up and they’re still not widely available there these days. So as a kid, all I knew of poppy seeds was through English books in our library. In my juvenile innocence, I even wrote in my diary that one day I would go to a place where poppy seeds were available and eat them to my heart’s content. I don’t know how I managed to fall in love with something long before I even had the first taste of it. Very odd, indeed.

Luckily, when I came to the US and tasted poppy seeds for the first time, it was not a disappointment. I loved them. Sadly, the vehicles for poppy seeds are so limited in number. Other than lemon poppy seed cakes or muffins, there aren’t many things that contain poppy seeds. Have you seen a typical lemon poppy seed muffin? The poor poppy seeds are treated like a garnish; there are, on the average, 12 seeds per cubic inch (yes, I counted). That’s just enough seeds to stick between your teeth; not enough to allow you to actually taste them. They’re so sparse like the periods on a diary page of someone who likes to write in run-on sentences.

I think poppy seeds deserve better.

When I saw the pictures of this poppy seed cake by Lilo of Cuisine Campagne, I got very excited. A cake that is chock full of poppy seeds! You bite into it and you actually taste poppy seeds. There are enough poppy seeds in each bite that the seeds don’t merely swish around a few times in your mouth and then go down your esophagus whole. No, there are so many of them that some, if not most, are bound to get ground up by your molars, releasing the wonderful, unique flavor that is rarely savored. Poppy seeds don’t look like an afterthought in this recipe which unapologetically calls for over a cup of them.

The message is clear: if you want to eat poppy seeds, doggone it, eat poppy seeds. Eat them like you mean it.

I made the cake the same day I found the recipe. And I have been crazy in love with this cake ever since. It is moist and flavorful. The texture is great. It’s not too light and fluffy. It’s not too dense. It’s very easy to make. It doesn’t need to be frosted. And it’s gluten-free.

The first few times I made this cake, I uncharacteristically followed the recipe very closely. But now that I’ve made it so many times that I remember the recipe by heart, I have lately been messing around with it. For this batch, I was a few grams short of poppy seeds, so I added in some black sesame seeds to replicate a sesame cake which my aunt used to make for us. It worked beautifully in an east-meets-west kind of way. I’ve also experimented with baking the batter in muffin cups and that also went well. This produces moist muffins with flat and crunchy tops — just the way I like them.

Lilo’s original cake is baked in a loaf pan which is something you can do if you so choose. I doubled the recipe for this batch. I baked half the batter in 12 muffin cups and the other half in a 9×5 loaf pan (that is either liberally buttered or lined with parchment paper).

I have tweaked the original recipe a little, just to simplify it. Some ingredients, such as a packet of vanilla sugar, are left out. The results of the tweak have consistently been more than satisfactory; they’re utterly delicious.

Poppy Seed and Black Sesame Seed Cake
(Adapted from Cake aux Graines de Pavot by Cuisine Campagne
(Makes one 9×5 loaf cake or 12 cupcakes)
Printable Version

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons of butter, softened
5 large eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1 1/3 cups total of poppy seeds only, black sesame seeds only, or a combination of both
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

  • Soak the seeds two hours before starting the process. Drain the soaked seeds well, pressing out as much liquid as possible with the back of a sturdy spoon.
  • Mixed the drained seeds with the almond meal; let stand 5 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degree F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper cups or butter a 9×5 loaf pan very well (or line it with a piece of parchment paper to make sure the cake won’t stick to the bottom of the pan).
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and continue to beat just until well mixed; set aside.
  • Add the poppy seed and almond meal mixture into the egg yolk mixture; stir with a spoon just until combined.
  • In another mixing bowl, with a clean beater, beat the egg whites, salt, and baking powder until stiff.
  • Fold the egg white mixture into the beaten egg yolk mixture.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan or muffins cups.
  • Bake until the cake is done, i.e. the cupcake tops spring back when lightly pressed and the loaf cake passes the toothpick test. The cupcakes should take 15-18 minutes and the loaf cake 20-25 minutes.
  • Remove the cupcakes from the muffin pans immediately and let cool on a rack. For the loaf cake, let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes before unmolding.
  • The cake freezes beautifully. Leave it in the refrigerator overnight to thaw.

43 Responses to Poppy Seed and Black Sesame Seed Cake

  1. 5 Star Foodie June 19, 2009 at 12:49 am #

    That looks really delicious! It reminds me of special poppy seed cookies my grandmother used to make. I am now inspired to recreate her recipe – I hope I can do it!

  2. Ben June 19, 2009 at 1:29 pm #

    Oh my! That’s a lot of poppy seeds! I am sure I’d love that cake, even though I have never had poppy seeds before. Hehe.

  3. Kelly June 19, 2009 at 2:42 pm #

    That looks so good!! I adore poppy and sesame seeds in cakes and cookies. I agree that there are not enough applications for poppy seeds to shine. My grandmother always made what she called ‘Seed Cake’ because it was poppy seeds, among a few other things, and it was SO lovely! I love the color of your cake, too. It looks dark, moist, and irresistible!

  4. Beth June 19, 2009 at 4:26 pm #

    In Pennsylvania, there is a poppy seed roll which is wonderful. It is probably of german origin, and is a sweet roll filled with a poppy seed paste. Really really good.

  5. sra June 19, 2009 at 5:05 pm #

    It’s a revelation to me that poppy seeds weren’t available in Thailand. I’m saying this considering its proximity to Burma – my friend’s mom used to make a Burmese sweet called sanwin makin, which was coated with poppy seeds. Of course, I don’t know enough about either country.
    If you’re interested, you can look for Indian recipes (Bengali & Oriya) with the words ‘posto/posta’ in them – they celebrate poppy seed as the main spice, often the only spice.

  6. Mamaliga June 19, 2009 at 6:01 pm #


    Poppy seeds occupied a whole plot while back in Romania in my garden. They were serving two reasons – beauty, adding a vibrant red to my garden and culinary bliss as you discovered

    Hey another Chicagoan! I am in Arlington Heights!

    Gabi @ Mamaliga.

  7. Thip June 19, 2009 at 7:09 pm #

    Sawasdee kha, Leela.

    I love your blog–very detail and informative. You’re a great writer–smooth and funny.
    Which part of Thailand are you from and how did you learn all about these cooking?

  8. Leela June 19, 2009 at 7:17 pm #

    sra – Thanks. I didn’t know that! Great info.

    mamaliga – Hey, another Chicagoan!

    thip – Welcome kha! Thanks for the kind words. I was born and raised in Bangkok. I learned how to cook Thai through years of stalking both of my grandmothers in the kitchen. For international foods, it’s mostly from years of traveling here and there and harassing friends and their moms for recipes. I’m also a self-taught cook/baker.

    People, check out Thip’s site – this pastry chef rocks. http://www.namthip.com/

  9. Kevin June 19, 2009 at 7:35 pm #

    Just look at all of the seeds in that cake! I like the sound of the poppy and black sesame seed combo.

  10. The Duo Dishes June 19, 2009 at 8:11 pm #

    The inside is crazy! That’s such a pretty cake. Sweet, nutty and savory.

  11. Jenn June 19, 2009 at 8:37 pm #

    Whao!! Look at all that poppy seed goodness. I’ll have two of those please with a cup of coffee.

  12. lisaiscooking June 19, 2009 at 11:20 pm #

    Sounds delicious! I like poppy seeds, so really tasting them in the cake sounds fantastic.

  13. doggybloggy June 20, 2009 at 12:59 am #

    leela the first shot looks amazing! I love black sesame seed ice cream and I immediately thought of it when I saw these cakes…nice!

  14. Arwen from Hoglet K June 20, 2009 at 2:07 am #

    What a beautiful black colour! The poppy seeds aren’t merely a garnish, which sounds great. I don’t remember poppy seeds in the Little House books, but I did enjoy reading them. They describe such amazing things that we don’t do at home these days, like slaughtering pigs and making doughnuts and sewing clothes.

  15. OysterCulture June 20, 2009 at 3:22 am #

    I can almost taste how good this cake is. I love the poppy seed, black sesame seed combo. I think you need to add a warning though, not to eat prior to a pre-employment drug test. I see potential problems. I know my brother had to take his test over due to a bothersome lemon poppyseed muffin.

  16. Manggy June 20, 2009 at 5:00 am #

    Very dramatic indeed 🙂 I love crunching on the poppy seeds! (I hope it doesn’t make me high or anything 😛

  17. Parita June 20, 2009 at 8:29 am #

    Thats lots of poppy seeds, the cake has come out so good!

  18. Cucinista June 20, 2009 at 3:06 pm #

    Yum! I agree that poppy seed media are all too rare. I love black sesame seeds too and am excited to find another recipe to use them up. Thanks!

  19. Spoon It On June 20, 2009 at 7:35 pm #

    Mmmm…these look amazing. I love both anything with black sesame or poopy seeds, so both together would be the ultimate!

  20. Chef Fresco June 21, 2009 at 1:04 am #

    Very beautiful! Love the plethora of poppy seeds!

  21. ♥peachkins♥ June 21, 2009 at 8:48 am #

    I love poppy seeds on bread.reminds me of this orange poppy seed loaf I was so crazy about!

  22. FuguPop August 6, 2009 at 4:43 pm #

    Have you ever tried Makowiec or any other variety of central european poppy seed cake? Instead of mixing the poppy seeds into the cake, you make a paste out of milk and rasins and orange zest and spices (and just about anything else you want) and then roll it up inside the dough. Once glazed and cut into slices it’s so beautiful and tastes like Christmas (at least Christmas with my Polish family). Other central European recipes make good use of poppy seeds too! You should look them up!

  23. majacat August 12, 2009 at 4:40 pm #

    If you really want the poppy seed flavor, try the poppy seed strudels and cakes of Austria, Germany, Czech republic. They are basically a bit of dough wrapped around a giant pile of poppy seeds (maybe softened with some butter?). Isn’t that more like what you are looking for?

  24. Anonymous August 16, 2009 at 9:15 pm #

    Loved your peanut sauce so I thought I’d try this recipe. I like seeds! The instructions don’t mention when to add the seed and almond meal mixture, but it looks from the pics that it goes into the yolk mixture before you fold in the egg whites. Any special instructions or just mix them in?

  25. Leela August 16, 2009 at 11:45 pm #

    Anonymous – Oh, thnak you, thank you, thank you. I’ve fixed the instructions. Hopefully, things are clearer now. My apologies. 🙂

  26. Anonymous January 14, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    Just be careful if you’re an ex-con. Poppy Seeds show up in urine samples as opiates!! I love them and this cake looks amazing, but for those that need to worry, stay away!

  27. Anonymous May 5, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    how long do you soak the seeds for?
    … wow is there really no flour in the cake?

  28. Leela May 5, 2010 at 7:58 pm #

    Anonymous – Two hours. And, nope, no flour at all; just almond meal.

  29. Anonymous May 6, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    Do the seeds need to be toasted?

  30. Leela May 6, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    Anonymous – I was going to ask you which you were referring to: sesame or poppy. Then I realized it wouldn’t matter. You don’t need to toast either.

  31. Anonymous May 6, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    Sorry for all the questions… But I was wondering do you think a couple teaspoons of sesame oil would go well in the cake?

  32. Leela May 6, 2010 at 8:19 pm #

    Anonymous – Oh, no, always feel free to ask questions. 🙂

    The answer is no. I personally believe the smell of sesame oil will ruin, as opposed to enhance, the flavor and aroma of the cake. Besides, the texture of this cake is largely built on the almond meal and the seeds which rely on the leavening power of the aerated egg whites. Adding more fat to an already high-fat base (egg yolks, and butter) will make for a heavier burden for the aerated egg whites. (There’s only so much the whites can “lift.”) This could cause the cake to become dense, collapse, have a sunken middle, etc.

    I know we’re talking just a couple of teaspoons, but I still wouldn’t do it.

  33. Anonymous May 7, 2010 at 8:08 am #

    Thank you 😀

  34. Jas Min June 29, 2010 at 4:28 am #

    Hi, I was actually looking for a sesame seed cake recipe when I stumbled across yours. Much more intriguing in my opinion. A must try! However may I ask if I could replace the almond meal with flour as meal is abit hard to obtain from where I am.

  35. Leela June 29, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    Jas Min – Definitely. You can replace almond meal with the same amount of all-purpose flour. The texture of the cake will be different. It will be less moist, less decadent. But it will be lighter and fluffier.

    Don’t mix the flour with the soaked poppy seeds in step #2. Instead, add the flour to the butter-yolk mixture along with the seeds in step #5. Go easy on the mixing as we now have a gluten-containing ingredient. Over-mixing flour-based batter could result in tough, rubbery texture. This is just a caution. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, though, as the aerated egg whites will help lighten up the batter.

  36. tytty March 30, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    Thanks for the recipe Leela

    I made it last night. I reduced the butter by a quarter, the sugar by half and only had 4 eggs, with the oddity of an hour of baking in the oven, it was still very moist and delicious. I have ground black sesame powder in the pantry which i toasted prior. Although the cake was purely sesame and no poppy, I still found I wanted a stronger sesame flavour. Perhaps toasting longer the next time?

    Thanks again!

  37. Leela March 30, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    tytty – Thanks for the report. 🙂 For more intense sesame flavor, you may want to try adding a few drops of sesame oil to the batter as opposed to adding more sesame seeds or toasting them longer. Sesame oil is very potent; a little goes a long way.

  38. tytty March 31, 2011 at 4:10 am #

    I was thinking the same thing!

    there is also a French blogger who made her black sesame cake with black tahini

  39. Leela March 31, 2011 at 4:16 am #

    tytty – Now that’s an idea! Black tahini is very concentrated as well. All this talk got me curious, I may need to whip up a couple of batches just to put these ideas to the test. 🙂

  40. Peter Thomas October 13, 2012 at 11:35 am #


    I live and work in khrungthep for 10 years…can u help me to locate a supplier of poppy seeds here in Thailand?


    • Leela October 13, 2012 at 11:38 am #

      Peter, I wish I knew. Poppy seeds aren’t easy to find in Thailand, hence the first paragraph.

  41. Ams December 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm #


    Do u use baking powder or baking soda? It says baking powder on the ingredient list and baking soda in the instructions. Thanks!

    • Leela December 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

      It’s baking powder. Good catch. Thank you!