I am stuck. Completely and utterly stuck. I've had these cake photos sitting in this post form for two weeks now and every day I open it up to start writing and every day I close it again because I don't know what on earth to say.
How about this: This cake, it is good. So good! So moist. A little crunchy, too. Not too sweet. Perfect.
My friend Sylee made it for me a while ago, except, because she's Indian-American, she used white poppy seeds instead of black ones. We ate slices of it at her place after a lovely lunch of fava beans and crisped prosciutto on wholesome bread, along with a mug of milky tea. It was such a nice Friday afternoon.
The original recipe uses regular poppy seeds, all chalky and blue. I love the way they pop in the creamy-white batter. I like their slightly stony flavor and the way they taste embedded in the sour tang of the buttermilk batter, the faint whisp of vanilla floating behind them like a nimbus cloud. I like how the cake is almost juicy with moisture, how the top ripples and folds once it's baked. I like the way it makes the house smell.
And that's about it.
If you could peek into my brain right now, I think you'd have a start. There's a crazy ticker tape parade of stuff going on in there at the moment: finishtaxes findacrib buydiapers whenisthisbabycoming owmypelvis shouldibeworried organicchangingpadversusregularchangingpad whocaresjustbuyaflipping changingpad sheets breastpump owmypelvis whenisthisbabycoming taxes crap taxes yikes whatarewegoingtocallhim bureaucraticpaperwork spineproblems willineedanepidural owmypelvisow and so on.
I've been so lucky so far - the baby is healthy and well, I am doing fine, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. And yet. As the gestation comes to an end, I find myself on the verge of anxious tears a lot. Some of it has to do with the annoying pelvic pain, some of it is because I miss my husband, who is working feverishly before he can take time off and come home before the baby arrives, some of it is because - utterly against my nature - I don't really have anything set yet. I know a baby doesn't need much, I know that we don't need to blow our paychecks at the baby store (trust me, we're not the type), but still, for my own peace of mind, I need to start dealing with the fact that we are still missing the most basic basics: enough clothes for the first few weeks, a changing pad, for cripes' sake, even just a few folded cotton cloths or towels.
Until I do that stuff, I'm afraid that ticker-tape parade of to-do lists and low-grade anxiety isn't going to go anywhere and I will lie awake at night as the rain hits the windows, feeling him bump and wiggle inside me, and worry. Which is silly, I know.
But really, that shouldn't stop you from making this cake. It's such a good cake. Especially when sliced thickly and served with milky tea in the afternoon. It's comforting and plain, but not boring and the crunch of the poppy seeds is a treat. In fact, when it cools off this weekend, I might even try to distract myself by baking it again so I can eat slices of it for comfort in the afternoons to come, soothing myself like I'll find myself surely soothing this baby just as soon as he gets here, right into my arms.
And who knows, maybe one day the smell of this cake baking will be something that our boy associates with home.
Deborah Madison's Poppy Seed Cake
From Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Makes one 9-inch round cake
1 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup milk, heated, but not boiling
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the poppy seeds and the hot milk. Set aside until needed. Heat the oven to 375ᵒF. Butter and flour a 9-inch spring form pan. Set aside.
2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium-high until firm but moist peaks form. Transfer the egg whites to a small mixing bowl. Using the same bowl as for the egg whites, but now using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, then beat in the egg yolks, adding one at a time and beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, as needed.
4. Drain the milk from the poppy seeds, discarding the milk. Add the buttermilk and the drained poppy seeds to the batter. Beat until well combined, then again scrape down the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula. Add the flour mixture to the batter, in thirds. Again scrape the bowl with the rubber spatula, making sure it’s all well mixed. Fold in about a quarter of the beaten egg whites with the spatula, then fold in the rest, mixing gently until just combined.
5. Transfer the batter into the prepared cake pan, smoothing the top with the rubber spatula. Bake until golden and firm, with the sides just beginning to pull away from the pan, about 40-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack. Carefully run a sharp, thin knife along the sides of the cake, just against the pan, then gently remove the rim and allow the cake to cool to room temperature before slicing.