Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake

I received my KitchenAid stand mixer as a birthday present last year around this time.

After much fear and trepidation, I am just now beginning to tackle this cake baking business. My original hesitations were due to all the rules and precision that comes with baking that you just don’t have to worry about with other types of cooking. As anyone in my life who knows me but at ALL will tell you, I do not follow rules well. I distrust what others tell me and no matter how much the instructions make sense, I just have to do it on my own and learn it the hard way. My fear of baking also stems from the fact that I SUCKED in chemistry lab. Like, 5% yield sucked. But hey, if I can learn, so can you.

I find that the best way to approach learning to bake is this: Follow the $#%@ing instructions. To the T. After a few successful attempts, you gain the confidence to fiddle with the recipe. But before you go making big changes, RESEARCH. What does “Creaming the butter” mean? Is sugar considered a dry or a wet ingredient? What’s the difference between baking powder and baking soda? What is the purpose of each and every ingredient used in baking? Tedious? Maybe. But if you’re a nerd like me, you relish in knowing and understanding every step in the process. If you are NOT like me, go follow a recipe. Here’s one to start you off:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt (kosher)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs, medium size
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup greek yogurt (HEAPING cup)
  • 3 tbs Meyer lemon zest (worth it.)
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • 2 tbs poppy seeds

EQUIPMENT:

  • stand mixer with paddle attachment
  • large mixing bowl
  • zester
  • 1 loaf pan
  • silicone spatula for batter
  • whisk
  • measuring cups/spoons

TIP: when juicing the lemon, juice it over the zester to strain out lemon seeds. no extra tools to wash, and no bitter seeds to bite into when you eat the cake later…

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place rack in center of the oven (if it’s too low, it’ll bake too quickly)
  2. Line loaf pan with parchment paper (cut to fit, it’ll hang over the two long sides) and butter generously. You can clip down the sides with binder clips.
  3. Zest lemon. Mix zest and juice with yogurt and set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt. Whisk to combine.
  5. Cream Butter: Cut butter up into small chunks ~ 1 inch cubes. Put in stand mixer bowl and beat on high, with paddle attachment, until soft and creamy. Reduce speed to medium. Add sugar slowly and continue beating until well incorporated. Should look fluffy, like airy sand. Mix in vanilla.
  6. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated.
  7. Still on medium speed, slowly add in part of the dry mixture, then some yogurt mixture, then some dry mixture, etc, until fully incorporated. Add poppy seeds. Increase speed to high for a few seconds to fluff up batter.
  8. Pour batter into loaf pan and spread evenly. Place in center of oven and bake ~ 1 hour. At the 40 min mark, open oven door and QUICKLY cut a line down the center of the loaf and cover the top with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent burning. No need to crimp, just cover. The cut down the middle is what creates that pretty split in the crust.
  9. Set loaf aside and let cool, 10 min.
  10. Optional Glaze: In stand mixer with whisk attachment, mix 2 tbs lemon juice and 1/2 cup+ powdered sugar on high speed until it reaches the consistency you like. Opaque and not too runny. Glaze cake after cooling for 20 min or so.

THINGS I’M LEARNING ABOUT BAKING:

  1. Always level the ingredients after measuring: Scoop the ingredient into the measuring utensil, then with the flat edge of a knife, smooth off the top. Spooning it in slowly will give you less than the recipe calls for, unless the recipe specifically says to.
  2. Butter doesn’t have to be room temperature and softened. Wastes time. Just cut it up and beat it on high in your stand mixture. This softens it. Technology is wonderful. Use it. Same goes with eggs. Use them fresh out of the fridge. No one needs salmonella.
  3. If you’re messing with a recipe:
    1. Eggs are emulsifiers and binders. They hold the cake together.
    2. Baking soda is a base and needs an acid to neutralize it or you’ll get a bitter yucky taste. Brown sugar is considered a neutralizing agent for baking soda. Do not substitute brown sugar for white in a recipe that has baking soda. Unless you swap BS out for BP (Baking powder). And even then it’s not an exact substitute…still figuring this one out.
    3. AP flour =/= cake flour =/= self rising crap. Use what the recipe calls for, or use this substitution: 1 cup cake flour = 1 cup AP flour minus 2 tablespoons. some people say replace those two tablespoons with equal amounts of corn starch. I’ve yet to try this.
    4. Sugar is a wet ingredient. Don’t mix it in with the flour at the beginning. Typical progression of cake baking goes like this: soften butter, cream butter with sugar, beat in eggs, add extracts and flavors, add dry ingredients then add ons (nuts, chocolate chips, what have you).
    5. Last but not least, read lots and lots of recipes. Look at the ratios. What ingredients where different? How do you think that affected texture, density, crumb, flavor, etc? Then create your own combination and WRITE IT OUT. Follow your new recipe exactly so you can compare the results to what you did. If you’re making adjustments as you go, you’ll never know how to recreate it exactly. It’s just bad science.
    6. Find friends who’ll be your guinea pigs. (: Good luck!

This cake turned out REALLY well. Dense, moist, not too sweet. I was afraid that cake flour would make it too cake-y and not compact enough like I like my pound cakes, and the AP flour I used here worked out superbly well. VERY happy.

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