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THE CONFIDENT COOK

Recipe: A tender, comforting poppy-seed loaf cake glazed with lemon has a long history

Poppy Seed Loaf Cake with Lemon Glaze
Poppy Seed Loaf Cake with Lemon GlazeSally Pasley Vargas for The Boston Globe

Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf

In a former life, I worked at the Tao Restaurant in Bloomington, Ind., where a poppy seed cake sundae was the most popular dessert. Thick slices were topped with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and sliced bananas. Over the years, I've dropped the sundae part of the dessert, tinkered with the batter to make it a loaf, and topped it with a tart lemon glaze. Loaf cakes have their own nostalgia, and this one is moist and tender and a comforting treat. Cake flour is the secret to the fine crumb of this batter, and poppy seeds keep it from being even the slightest bit dry. As in most baking, take the time to set up your ingredients (what the French call mise en place): have everything measured and ready to go before you start. This routine is essential, even for a veteran baker. There are two important steps when making cakes. At the beginning, beat the butter for a full three minutes. Beating creates tiny air bubbles, which expand when the cake bakes. Also, use room temperature eggs. Warmer whites expand much more when you beat them, and room temperature eggs in general are easier to incorporate into batters. If your eggs are cold from the fridge, you can place them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes to take the chill off. And when the cake is done, if you're in a dessert palooza kind of mood, make yourself a sundae.

CAKE

Butter (for the pan)
2cups cake flour
¾teaspoon salt
1teaspoon baking powder
1teaspoon baking soda
4 eggs, separated (whites at room temperature)
¾cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into chunks
cups granulated sugar
1teaspoon vanilla extract
¾cup sour cream
Grated rind of 1 lemon
½cup poppy seeds

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom and 2 long sides with parchment paper cut to fit it, leaving a 1-inch overhang.

2. In a bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda to blend them.

3. In an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they form firm peaks. Transfer them to another bowl. Wipe out the mixer bowl with a paper towel.

4. In the mixer bowl, use the paddle attachment, if you have one, or the whisk, to beat the butter on medium speed for 3 minutes. Gradually beat in the granulated sugar. When it is all incorporated, beat the mixture for 2 minutes.

5. Blend in the egg yolks, one at a time, followed by the vanilla, sour cream, and lemon rind. Mix until combined. With a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl often.

6. With the mixer set on low speed, gradually beat in the flour mixture until blended. Beat in the poppy seeds.

7. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. With a rubber spatula, fold in half the egg whites, then fold in the remaining half. Pour the batter into the pan, and smooth it with the back of a spoon.

8. Bake the cake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Using the parchment paper as handles, lift the loaf out of the pan, remove the paper, and set the cake on a rack to cool completely.

GLAZE

1cup confectioners' sugar
2tablespoons lemon juice
Extra poppy seeds (for garnish)

1. Spread the glaze over the top of the cake, letting some of it to drip down the sides. Sprinkle lightly with more poppy seeds.

2. Leave the glaze to set for 30 minutes before slicing the cake.

Sally Pasley Vargas

Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf

In a former life, I worked at the Tao Restaurant in Bloomington, Ind., where a poppy seed cake sundae was the most popular dessert. Thick slices were topped with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and sliced bananas. Over the years, I've dropped the sundae part of the dessert, tinkered with the batter to make it a loaf, and topped it with a tart lemon glaze. Loaf cakes have their own nostalgia, and this one is moist and tender and a comforting treat. Cake flour is the secret to the fine crumb of this batter, and poppy seeds keep it from being even the slightest bit dry. As in most baking, take the time to set up your ingredients (what the French call mise en place): have everything measured and ready to go before you start. This routine is essential, even for a veteran baker. There are two important steps when making cakes. At the beginning, beat the butter for a full three minutes. Beating creates tiny air bubbles, which expand when the cake bakes. Also, use room temperature eggs. Warmer whites expand much more when you beat them, and room temperature eggs in general are easier to incorporate into batters. If your eggs are cold from the fridge, you can place them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes to take the chill off. And when the cake is done, if you're in a dessert palooza kind of mood, make yourself a sundae.

CAKE

Butter (for the pan)
2cups cake flour
¾teaspoon salt
1teaspoon baking powder
1teaspoon baking soda
4 eggs, separated (whites at room temperature)
¾cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into chunks
cups granulated sugar
1teaspoon vanilla extract
¾cup sour cream
Grated rind of 1 lemon
½cup poppy seeds

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom and 2 long sides with parchment paper cut to fit it, leaving a 1-inch overhang.

2. In a bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda to blend them.

3. In an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they form firm peaks. Transfer them to another bowl. Wipe out the mixer bowl with a paper towel.

4. In the mixer bowl, use the paddle attachment, if you have one, or the whisk, to beat the butter on medium speed for 3 minutes. Gradually beat in the granulated sugar. When it is all incorporated, beat the mixture for 2 minutes.

5. Blend in the egg yolks, one at a time, followed by the vanilla, sour cream, and lemon rind. Mix until combined. With a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl often.

6. With the mixer set on low speed, gradually beat in the flour mixture until blended. Beat in the poppy seeds.

7. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. With a rubber spatula, fold in half the egg whites, then fold in the remaining half. Pour the batter into the pan, and smooth it with the back of a spoon.

8. Bake the cake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Using the parchment paper as handles, lift the loaf out of the pan, remove the paper, and set the cake on a rack to cool completely.

GLAZE

1cup confectioners' sugar
2tablespoons lemon juice
Extra poppy seeds (for garnish)

1. Spread the glaze over the top of the cake, letting some of it to drip down the sides. Sprinkle lightly with more poppy seeds.

2. Leave the glaze to set for 30 minutes before slicing the cake.Sally Pasley Vargas