Poppy Seed Cake with Grilled Peaches

Ten days from today, we’re on our plane flying home to Lummi Island.  This is my last week to cook through some ingredients that I don’t want to leave until I come back in August.  Last summer, when I returned, our household helper informed me (you should have heard that multi-lingual exchange accompanied with pantomimes) that some of my spices had termites so she threw them out.  I would have found that a little unbelievable except one week later, my son was about to sprinkle some pimente forte on his pizza when he noticed that little white things were wiggling in it and threw it away, too.  That local chili powder is almost too hot for humans to eat, yet it is a perfect breeding medium for bugs?

I had a large quantity of poppy seeds after spending my winter vacation in Prague and Germany.  Using them at the rate of a teaspoon here and there wasn’t even making a dent in my stash.  I needed a recipe that was pretty much based on poppy seeds.  I found this one that had been developed by caterer Vered Guttman and which was printed in the Washington Post.

Poppy Seed Cake

12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour, plus more for the pan
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup plain unsweetened applesauce or yogurt
  • 7 ounces (about 2 cups) twice-ground poppy seeds (see following notes)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

Combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer; beat on medium speed for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the flour and the baking powder in a small bowl.

Reduce the mixer speed to low; add the butter and applesauce, then gradually add the flour mixture and the twice-ground poppy seeds to form a very wet batter. Pour into the pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only crumbs. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; let the cake cool completely before removing the springform ring.

For this recipe, you have to double grind about 2 cups of whole poppy seeds in a coffee or spice grinder.  It actually takes some intensity to break them down.  As you might imagine, they are so round and hard they just whirl around for a few seconds until some heat builds up in the grinding chamber and they gradually start to crack.  Here is the contrast of whole poppy seeds and what they look like after one grinding.

Then, this is the color and consistency after the second grinding.

Now, what does that remind me of?  Let me see?  Of yes, a cat litter box!  When you start to get that clumping consistency, you’ve got what you’re grinding for.

I made this whole cake on Sunday morning and then took it to two parties, one barbecue lunch and one garden dinner.  When I told the other guests the quantity of poppy seeds in the cake, I could feel their nervousness.  I knew they were wondering if it is OK to eat pure ground up poppy seeds and if they were going to become high as there were some jokes about not taking a drug test in the next week.

I did some research to find out what effect on health or nutrition poppy seeds have.  I was surprised to learn that they contain actual nutrients and aren’t just decorative.  Here are the highlights:

Health benefits of poppy seeds

  • Poppy seeds contain anti-oxidants.
  •  The seeds are especially high in oleic and linoleic acids which help lower LDL or “bad cholesterol” and increase HDL or “good cholesterol”.
  • Poppy seeds’ outer coat is rich in dietary fiber.
  • Dietary fibers bind to bile salts (produced from cholesterol) and decrease their re-absorption in the colon, further helping lower  LDL cholesterol levels.
  • The seeds are an excellent source of B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid.
  • Poppy seeds contain good levels of minerals like iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and magnesium.
  • Dried poppy seeds contain very small levels of opium alkaloids when consumed in food, producing minimal effect on the human nervous system.

This cake is a real surprise.  It looks like it is going to taste like chocolate, but it tastes of molasses and buckwheat flour, two ingredients absent from the recipe.  It is very moist and keeps well for a few days.  We had it with these grilled peaches and the caramel sauce was key to pulling this dessert all together.

Cinnamon-Grilled Peaches

Ingredients

  • 4 large ripe freestone peaches (I peeled them, first)
  • 8 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks (I used actual licorice sticks- nothing to do with the candy)
  • 8 fresh mint leaves
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch salt

Directions

Rinse the peaches and blot them dry with paper towels. Cut each peach in half and discard the pit. Then, cut each peach into quarters. Using a pointed chopstick or metal skewer, make a starter hole in the center of each peach quarter, working from the pit side to the skin side. Skewer 2 peach quarters on each cinnamon stick, placing a mint leaf between the 2 quarters.

Combine the butter, brown sugar, rum, cinnamon, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Let the glaze boil until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes.

Prepare and preheat the grill to high. Brush and oil the grate. Next, place the skewered peaches on the hot grate and grill until nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side, basting with the rum and butter glaze. Spoon any remaining glaze over the grilled peaches and serve at once.

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Crisp-Skinned Vietnamese Chicken with Peaches

I was at the beach all weekend, literally sitting in a chaise lounge talking to girlfriends.  It was so much fun, but I got no shopping or prepping done for the week.  Once we got back into Tunis, we stopped at a roadside stand for some produce.  They had these pretty, little, doughnut peaches and I bought them not entirely knowing what I was going to do with them.  I really appreciate the stone fruit season, here.  It is in spring and it allows me to enjoy some of the fruits I miss every August in Washington State when I have to leave to come back to Africa.

I had some chicken thighs and creme fraiche so I thought I would make a poulet a la peche I remember making a couple of decades ago when my husband and I were cash tight.  I had gleaned peaches after a harvest and he had home butchered some chickens he got from the absolutely free ads in the newspaper and we had a gourmet dinner one hot August evening at the little table in the kitchen of our first house.  That is a good memory.

Searching for a recipe, however, I found this light, crisp, spicy dish that sounded so much better.  Because these peaches slipped nicely out of their skins after I parboiled them, I decided to leave them whole, but the recipe directs slicing them into the salad.  I can’t remember the last time we fried chicken, but it was so worth it to create the crunchy contrast to the minty salad and the sweet peaches.  The recipe is from the Australian magazine Gourmet Traveler and it is making me think a little fondly of our days in Southeast Asia, which are good memories, too.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For Deep Frying

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 chicken, cut into 12 pieces

Salad

  • 3-5 peaches, peeled, halved, stones removed, thinly sliced
  • 1 Lebanese cucumber, halved lengthways and thinly sliced on a mandolin
  • 1/2 cup (loosely packed) each coriander and mint
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped (I substituted toasted macadamia nuts)

Nuoc Cham

  • 1 tablespoon each fish sauce and lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 long red chili, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Procedure

Heat oil in a deep saucepan or deep fryer to 180 degrees C.  Pat chicken to dry with paper towel then deep-fry in batches, turning occasionally until golden (10-12 minutes per side).  Drain on paper towel and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Meanwhile, for nuoc cham, whisk fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl to combine, then stir in chili and garlic.  Set aside.

Combine peaches, cucumber slices, and herbs on a serving plate.  Top with crisp-skinned chicken.  Drizzle with nuoc cham.  Scatter with nuts  and serve.