Author Notes: This recipe and headnote have been reprinted, with permission, from Sweet: Desserts from London's Ottolenghi (Ten Speed Press 2017).
"However ambitious and discerning Helen's palate, this light lemon cake is the one she'd take with her to a desert island if she could only choose one. It's much simpler than many of the other cakes she loves, but it's the one she returns to again and again. There's something safe and reassuring about it, which would comfort as the waves came crashing down around the island.
It's why we've called it, affectionately, our National Trust cake. However unpredictable the weather, however disastrous the outing, however much fun has not really been had on the family-day out, there's something wonderfully reassuring about the predictability of the cake you'll have in the café, along with a cup of tea. It's one of life's great certainties.
You can make this in a standard 8 1/2 x 4 1/3-inch/900-g loaf pan, as we do here, or, if you have them, nine mini-loaf pans (3 1/2 x 2 1/3 x 1 1/2 inches/9 x 6 x 4 cm) also work well. If you are making the mini loaves, shorten the baking time to 25 minutes.
This will keep for 3 days in an airtight container." —Helen
Makes: 1 standard loaf or 9 minis
Prep time: 50 min
Cook time: 55 min
cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 grams) granulated sugar
cup (120 grams) sour cream
tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
tablespoon poppy seeds
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons (1 tablespoon)
cups (170 grams) all-purpose flour
teaspoons baking powder
cup (90 grams) confectioners' sugar, sifted
tablespoons lemon juice
- Heat the oven to 325° F (160° C). Grease the loaf pan(s) and line with parchment paper, then set aside.
- Place the eggs and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place and whisk on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until pale and frothy. Add the sour cream and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture has combined.
- In the meantime, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stir in the poppy seeds and lemon zest, and set aside.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a bowl, then use a rubber spatula to fold this into the egg mixture before folding in the butter, poppy seeds, and zest.
- Spoon the mixture into the loaf pan(s) so that it rises three-quarters of the way up the sides. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not open the oven door to check the cake during the first 45 minutes of baking.
- To make the glaze, whisk the confectioners' sugar with the lemon juice in a bowl.
- Pour the glaze over the top of the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven, spreading it over the top so that it sinks in and creates a nice coating. Set aside to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan. Leave to come to room temperature before serving.