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 are no longer treated like a stepchild in this cake. The recipe 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.
  • 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.

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  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Lovely!

    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!

    Cheers!
    Gabi @ Mamaliga.

  7. 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. 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. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. 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?

  14. 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?

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

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

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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. :)

  24. Hi,

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

    Thanks
    Peter

  25. Hi,

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