Cherry Poppy Seed Cake / by Chelsea Zwieg

So I don't have a story about this cake. But I do have a story. And it's much more amusing than cake. As a 24 year old baker/freelance writer with enough student loans to last a lifetime my main mission in life is to save money wherever possible. It's the reason I buy 6 boxes of cereal when I see a sale and then discover I have no place to store them. It's the reason I have not updated my wardrobe in like 4 years (good thing t-shirts from Target never go out of style. Or do they?). And it's also the reason that I get my hair cut way way less often than I should. I like to wait until it gets to the raggedy/overgrown/split-end-city point where I am too embarrassed to not wear a ponytail and it is beyond the help of the impromptu early morning bang trims I like to give myself. That is the point where I finally give in, grit my teeth and open my wallet. 

So you can imagine that when I heard about a beauty school close to my house that gives $12 haircuts and $9 eyebrow waxes, my overgrown hair and borderline uni-brow were there the next day. It was all such a good idea in theory. A student gets to practice their cutting/waxing skills and I save a ton of money. Maybe I should have been more concerned when they had me sign a waiver to acknowledge that my hair was definitely not in the hands of a pro, but I was not going to be dissuaded. Cheap is cheap. 

Well, long story short, I still have hair but I am most definitely missing an eyebrow. Like almost my whole eyebrow, guys. The poor girl assigned to do my waxing was probably a little thrown by their out of control state and after a few too many plucks the middle of my right eyebrow was basically gone. You know things are going well when the instructor is called over to fix your face and he tries to prepare you with a you're-still-pretty pep talk before handing over the mirror. I know I was taking a little bit of a risk going in but I really thought I would make it out with both eyebrows. Luckily, I have now mastered a combination of eyebrow pencil and eyeliner to draw on a new eyebrow so that I can still go out in public without arousing too many questions. But my advice to you? Save money on everything else, but for goodness sake, spring for the professional eyebrow wax. 

Now, on to cake. This is, in my opinion, the ideal summer cake. It's ridiculously easy to make, super moist and a ready canvas for any type of summer fruit you can find. Cherries are great always, but peaches, plums or berries would be just as good. And let's just take a moment to appreciate poppy seeds. We hear "lemon poppy seed" everything so often that it begins to seem like one word. But poppy seeds exist away from lemon and they are so wonderful. They add little bits of texture and crunch throughout the cake and, if you add enough of them, a subtle nuttiness and gorgeous speckle throughout the cake. 

The cake is buttermilk and oil based so it is tender and slightly tangy with enough structure to hold up those beautiful pieces of fruit. I baked mine in a springform pan because I love how easy it is to get out of the pan, the extra crispy exterior and clean sides. However, the batter can also be scooped into muffins or baked in a loaf tin. It's finished with a crumbly, oat filled streusel that just covers the jammy, juicy pockets of fruit. Since this cake is not overly sweet and very heavy on the fruit, I have a hard time deciding whether to classify it as breakfast or dessert. So I think I'll just call it both. An every day, any meal cake. I can deal with that. 

Cherry Poppy Seed Cake

Adapted from Sweeter Off The Vine by Yossy Arefi

Makes a 9" cake

Note: I used a 6" pan for my cake because I think there is noting cuter than a 6" cake. I had enough batter that I'm sure this will fill a 9" pan but if you are wondering why the cake slices in my pictures are the size of the fork tip, that's why. If cute little cakes are your jam, feel free to go the 6" pan + extra muffin route like I did. 

| Ingredients

For the cake: 

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3 tbsp. poppy seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup grapeseed or canola oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups cherries, pitted and sliced

For the streusel: 

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1 tbsp. poppy seeds
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. butter, softened

| Instructions | 

Preheat oven to 350. Line the bottom of a 9" springform pan with parchment and butter the sides. The fastest way to line a springform is to place the bottom plate underneath a large square of parchment, place the ring over the top and clamp it in place. This will leave an overhang of parchment that will make the cake much easier to remove in the end and eliminates any need for tracing and cutting a perfect parchment circle. 

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, poppy seeds, salt and sugar. In a medium bowl, whisk oil eggs and buttermilk until combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined. Be careful not to over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Add the cherries on top of the batter. Any holes of batter that are left visible will bubble up above the cherries and streusel while baking. While this is perfectly fine, if you want to have defined layers of cake, cherries and streusel, add enough cherries to completely cover the surface of the batter.

In a small bowl, combine flour, oats, poppy seeds and sugar. Add butter and mix with your fingertips until clumps form. Sprinkle the streusel over the cherries, pressing down slightly. 

Bake 55-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is a nice golden brown. Cool at least 15 minutes before removing from pan. Cake can be served warm or cold. Breakfast or dessert. Shared or kept all to yourself. I'll let you make those though choices.