There has always been a soft spot in my heart for lemon-poppyseed cake. I’ve been a big fan of citrus for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t turn to baking with lemons and limes until later in life. My mother and extended family taught me to eat grapefruit by slicing it in half and topping it with sugar or Equal, and then scooping out the pulp of the fruit with a spoon. I didn’t question this practice until adulthood, when I was an athlete at my local university and taking healthy eating more seriously. I wondered why in the world you couldn’t prepare a grapefruit like an orange, simply peeling the fruit and eating the wedges whole, ungarnished. Like a maniac, I went for it and found myself enjoying the bright, mildly bitter flavor. Grapefruit is now one of my favorite fruits.
I’ve always had a strong stomach and a forgiving palate. There isn’t much I shy away from. I love playing with spices and preparing foods in novel (to me) ways. My initial experience cooking whole lemons occurred while following a recipe out of the cookbook Jerusalem, and it was love at first taste. Caramelized lemons are exploding with flavor, and most of the bitterness evaporates during this preparation. I need to try preserved lemons next if I can juuuust pull myself away from charring them!
If you’re not as much of a citrus fan, be aware: this recipe is not sweet and incorporates a LOT of lemon. I avoid added sugar as much as possible, letting other flavors take center stage. The coconut naturally imparts a subtle sweetness and softens the lemon profile. The poppyseed and almonds add an earthy, nutty quality to a bright summer cake. The texture is soft and slightly spongey with just a hint of crunch. The thinly sliced lemon lends a jolt of acidity next to the richness of the cake. If you’re seeking a dessert that is bright, light, and awakening, this is it. It’s best paired with a richly flavored, slightly bitter drink like black coffee or tea.
One note: I tried adding a bit of coconut flour to this recipe on the second round of testing, but it altered the texture in a profound way. Coconut flour absorbs a substantial amount of liquid and resulted in a dryer, much crumblier cake. If you like that delicate texture, I would suggest attempting a 1:2 substitution ratio of coconut flour to almond meal. In other words, see what happens when you substitute 1/4c almond meal for 1/8c coconut flour.
I don’t see the point in ingesting anything you need to feel ‘guilty’ about. Keep your ingredients as simple and unrefined as possible, and let the natural flavor profile of whole foods shine through. There is, without a doubt, an acclimatization period during which your palate craves more salt or sugar, but this period is short in duration. It’s so freeing to be able to really pick up on the subtleties of food, thereby enabling not only healthier and more wholesome cooking, but easier cooking too. Enjoy and know you’re treating your body well!
Grain-free Lemon Poppyseed Cake
Ingredients – makes one 8″x4″ loaf pan
- 3 eggs
- 1 t vanilla extract
- 1/2 t lemon extract (optional)
- 1/3 c coconut butter, taken from can of full-fat coconut milk (it’s the white, separated portion)
- 1 t vinegar (I used balsamic, but white or apple cider would also be fine)
- 1 lemon, juiced and zested (if you want extra lemon flavor, zest two lemons)
- 1/2 t baking soda
- 1/2 t baking powder
- 1 T poppyseed
- 1 C packed almond meal
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced for top
- 1/4 c sliced almonds, for top
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Combine all wet ingredients in medium mixing bowl: eggs, vanilla extract, lemon extract, coconut butter, vinegar, and lemon juice and zest. Mix in an electric mixer or by hand until smooth and creamy.
- Add dry ingredients: baking soda, baking powder, poppyseed, and almond meal. Stir until combined.
- Grease a loaf pan with olive or coconut oil. Pour batter into loaf pan. Top with sliced almonds and lemon.
- Bake at 350F for 40-50 minutes, or until firm to the touch and lightly browned.