Orange Poppyseed Cake

So simple, so elegant. When I was making this cake, I decided to measure the volume of orange juice, rather than giving it as ‘the juice of 2 oranges’. In doing so, I realised that this recipe is actually very similar to a pound cake. Let’s compare:

Equal parts butter, sugar, eggs and flour.

The first two are equal, but the eggs have less volume, while the flour has more volume. To explain this, consider eggs as liquid. An average-sized egg is, say, 60g. Assume that equals just under 60mL. With the orange juice (another liquid), that makes ‘eggs’ (liquid) about 300mL (convert back to 300g). So now we have 200g butter, 200g sugar, 300g ‘eggs’ and 250g flour. But remember, we also have poppy seeds. Poppy seeds absorb liquid, so they act like flour. That takes care of the extra liquid. Our recipe is now a pound cake with less sugar and butter. What does this mean? Well, not much on the sweetness side of things. Orange juice has enough fructose to keep it tasting good. Sugar also melts when cooking, and hardens when cool – so when you use sugar in a cake, it becomes like a syrup, before hardening again, bringing structure and creating a certain texture. However, 50g less doesn’t make a dramatic difference. And the butter? Like the sugar, 50g isn’t much. Basically, you’re reducing both fat and moisture (butter has water in it, too!). I can’t really tell you the extent of the difference because: 1) I didn’t have the time to do a proper experiment with different amounts of butter and sugar, and; 2) I decided to use brown butter. Brown butter?! Okay. I have a confession. I was the type of kid who, whenever mum and dad were out, would turn on our gas stove and experiment. Once I tried to make a candle with leftover wax off old, melted candles, and a wick made from twisted up tissue – which happened to have eucalyptus in it. Let’s just say that I learned that day how flammable eucalyptus oil is, and that to put out a flame, you smother it. Luckily, I only needed an upside down glass. But, anyway, what has this got to do with food? Well, I’ve since moved on to safely burning foods – specifically, sugar and butter.  I keep my brown butter in a jar, where the milk solids have sunk to the bottom. If you want, you don’t have to use the brown milk solids, but I don’t mind, especially since the flecks camouflage with the poppy seeds. Chocolate-brown? More like butter-brown!

To finish up, the brown butter has the water evaporated. So that affects the whole butter percentage comparison to a pound cake. I don’t really know the exact different my decision to use brown butter had, but suffice to say it was moist and tender. (I did soak my cake, which may have disguised any dryness…)

Adaptation ideas: Replace the orange juice with a different citrus juice, or apple juice, or milk (although milk might change the texture). Also, consider adding some crystallised ginger for some added spice.

Orange Poppyseed Cake

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: very easy
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200g butter (brown approx. 250g butter and refrigerate until solid.)

200g sugar

3 eggs

250g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

250mL orange juice

1 Tbs orange zest

50g poppy seeds, toasted (175°C for 5 min, or in a skillet)




Orange juice (or an orange liqueur, or essence…)


Grease and line a 20cm cake tin.

Cream the butter and sugar.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating in between.

Stir in the flour and baking powder, and then the orange juice and zest, and then the poppy seeds.

Pour cake mix into the tin.

Bake at 160°C for 50 minutes.

Stir together the soak ingredients to taste.

Pour the soak over the cake in the tin.

Allow to cool completely in the tin before removing.


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