The Musette: Lemon and poppy seed cake

This is an extremely moreish cake. You have been warned. I make this, cut it into squares and freeze it otherwise it’s all too easy to keep dipping one’s hand into the cake tin for yet another piece. A moment on the lips and a lifetime on the hips unless you’re in calorie deficit after a nice long ride!

It’s a cross between a lemon drizzle cake and a lemon and poppy seed muffin. I imagine it’s the sort of cake my late grandmother might have baked to sell in her corner shop, just the thing to have with a morning coffee or afternoon cup of tea. It’s slightly tweaked from Dan Lepard’s excellent book Short and Sweet: The Best of Home Baking.

The cake is also very popular at our cycling club events, which is where this particular specimen ended up. Having dropped off a number of cakes for our last club event, the volunteers were seen hovering over them like buzzards. I’m assuming some of the participants got back quickly enough to have a few slices but the tail-end Charlies were probably all too late.

This cake is too delicious for mere words

This cake is too delicious for mere words

Ingredients (cuts into 32-36 small squares)

  • 400g (2 2/3 cups) caster sugar
  • 125g (9 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 100ml (6 tbsp) buttermilk
  • 50ml (3 tbsp) hot water
  • 2 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 100ml (6 tbsp) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 large organic eggs, approx 45g (1⅔oz) each without the shell
  • 250g (1 2/3 cups) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 75g (¾ cup) fine oatmeal (or oats, finely ground in food processor)
  • 30g (4 tbsp) poppy seeds


1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan).

2. Grease the base and sides of a baking tin. I typically use a disposable tin-foil one measuring 18cm x 23cm x  5cm (6” x 9” x 2″) – they’re great for storing the cakes in the freezer – which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof paper to make it easier to remove the cake. In addition, I find it’s an easy size and shape to slice into squares for serving.

3. Beat 250g of the sugar with the butter, buttermilk and lemon zest until pale and fluffy, add in the eggs one at a time and beat well to incorporate. Then beat in the hot water.

4. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and baking powder into a medium mixing bowl, add the oats and poppy seeds, stir to combine. Spoon the dry ingredients into the egg mixture and mix gently until just combined. Do not overmix.

5. Pour the soft-dropping consistency batter into the tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

6. While the cake is cooling in its tin, gently heat the remaining sugar with the lemon juice until it dissolves. Poke holes all over the cake with a skewer and brush the lemon syrup all over the top. Leave to cool, still in the tin, on a wire rack and then dredge with more caster sugar before serving.

This cake is dangerously moreish!

This cake is dangerously moreish!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cake in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than the cake should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the cake is browning too quickly, particularly at the edges, cover it with an aluminium-foil tent.

4. I have successfully made the cake substituting coconut cream or sunflower (canola) oil for the buttermilk with no noticeable change of either texture or taste.

5. If you don’t like poppy seeds, just leave them out.

(Images: Sheree)

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