Opium den images courtesy of Retronaut
Opium used to be the big drug back in the day. I guess it was the crystal meth of the time, around the turn of the century/1920′s. It contains something like 12% morphine, and codeine & hydrocodone are derivatives of the same family of drug- hence the name opiates. It’s serious stuff. Laudanum was made from opium & alcohol & was used to treat a variety of stomach ailments fairly regularly back then. But in modern times, all we know about it is what we read from an Edgar Allan Poe story or William S. Burrough’s novels, not to mention glib pop culture references. We all remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine’s urine test comes back positive for opium because she ate a poppy seed bagel, right? I always thought such a thing couldn’t happen, unless you eat 1,000,000 poppy seed bagels in one day. But I was wrong: eating poppy seed muffins, cakes or bagels can indeed land you in a heap of trouble. As a matter of fact, back in January of 2005, Anahad O’Connor wrote in the New York Times Science section that “eating just two poppy seed bagels heavily coated with seeds can result in morphine in a person’s system for hours, leading a routine drug test to come back positive… [therefore] because of this possibility, the federal government recently raised the threshold for opiates in workplace testing to 2,000 nanograms a milliliter, up from 300.” And by that reasoning, this cake could possibly get you fired from your job or make you lose custody of your kids. It’s loaded with poppy seeds. Loaded. Both in the cake itself and on top.
Which is fine with me. I love me some poppy seeds. Poppy seed bagels are my favorite bagels ever. So when I was reading one of the (many, many, many, as you can see here) books I got for Christmas, Cake Ladies by Jodi Rhoden, and I saw this triple layer poppy seed cake with almond icing, I just had to make it. I never make cakes, as you probably know. This was an exception. It’s a huge cake: a pound of butter & a half-dozen eggs. But worth it. However… I ended up halving the recipe & making two dozen cupcakes instead. I know, I know.
But it just seemed so big. So many eggs, so much butter, etc. And it is big, because if half the recipe makes two dozen cupcakes, the whole recipe must make FOUR DOZEN. That is huge. And crazy. And ¼ cup of poppy seeds is a lot of poppy seeds. It’s a wonder I didn’t get high off it. As far as the taste goes, they were pretty unique, I have to say. Very different, but I loved them. Cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, poppy seeds, almond extract & the tang from the vinegar-milk combination; all very subtle but what flavor! A surprisingly delicious winter cupcake. Moist cake filled with tons of warming spices, albeit subtle like I said, and then some crunch from the seeds. I topped them with the almond buttercream from the book and then some little flowers made of almond slices with poppy seeds for centers. Really cute, I thought. Next time, however, I’d make little red poppies out of fondant. ‘Cause that’d be doubly cute.
Of course, I’m giving you the adapted cupcake version of the recipe that I made. For the full cake recipe, you’ll have to buy the book. Bwahahaha.
POPPY SEED CUPCAKES WITH ALMOND BUTTERCREAM ICING (adapted from a recipe by Lisa Goldstein of Celo, NC, from Cake Ladies by Jodi Rhoden)
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 cup milk at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 ½ teaspoons pure almond extract
- 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- pinch salt
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- a pinch of ground cardamom
- ¼ cup poppy seeds
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, room temperature
- 2 ½ – 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon pure almond extract
- 2-3 tablespoons half-and-half (plus more if needed)
- Preheat your oven to 350° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites together with the cream of tartar on high speed, until soft peaks form. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl of the stand mixer, this time fitted with the paddle, cream the butter, sugar and honey together until light and fluffy. While beating on low speed, add egg yolks, one at a time. Beat after each addition. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat again until the mixture is smooth, light and creamy.
- In a glass measuring cup, combine the milk, vinegar and almond extract. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Add that mixture to the creamed butter mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk mixture, and mixing lightly but thoroughly between each addition, until ingredients are just combined.
- Add the poppy seeds, folding them in by hand until combined. Quickly re-whisk the egg whites by hand if they’ve separated, then fold them into the batter gently, in three batches.
- Add cupcake liners to muffin tins and fill each with batter, around two-thirds full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in each cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool 10 minutes in tins, then remove to wire rack. Cool thoroughly before frosting.
- To make the icing, cream the butter and confectioner’s sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until it makes a thick paste. add and combine the vanilla & almond extracts. Then add the half-and-half, one tablespoon at a time, blending on low speed until fully incorporated.
- Add more if needed to achieve a creamy, fluffy consistency. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the paddle, bottom and sides of the bowl. Re-mix until no lumps remain.
Excuse the frosting job on the back left one; I was trying to find the best way of doing it
They came out really rustic-looking. So much so I almost wish I had one of those cake stands made of an old tree. They’d be so sweet on one of those. Dammit, I wish I had one now! I’m going to have to get my hands on some cut down trees & get Jay to start cuttin’ it up! He’s a big, handy fella. He can do it. Why buy when you can DIY!
If you’re looking for a unique recipe to try, this is it. It’d be fabulous as a triple layer cake, too, of course. And in case you’re wondering, I got a lot of cookbooks for Christmas, so you’ll be seeing a lot of recipes from them in the coming months. And I’m not into New Year’s resolutions so they’ll be loaded with butter & eggs & sugar. I’ve got to maintain my girlish figure somehow.
And if poppy seeds don’t interest you, later on this week there’ll be a post featuring a giveaway I’m doing together with Yoyo from Topstitch, so keep your eyes peeled.