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Mmmm... lemons. I love lemons. Give me Tarte au Citron over Pot au Chocolat any day.

I discovered this recipe many years ago, thanks to some awesome engineering by the great Serendipity. See, there I was in the books section of El Corte Inglés in Bilbao and amongst the special offer books were two English recipe books. Not just written about English food but actually in English, by English publishers. And at a couple of hundred pesetas each, bargains to boot. I got home and flicked through the pages and there it was. I gave it a try - though damn! it was hard work finding poppy seeds in the Basque Country. The drizzle part of the recipe means that the cake acquires a particularly moist texture and the lightest crust of sugar on the top. And so it came to be that this cake hit the top spot on my fave cakes list.

It's a batter method cake which means it is supremely easy to make and low on equipment and washing up. Always a plus with me. Though I love home cooking I'm also rather fond of an easy life so anything requiring five bowls, a food mixer and seventeen measuring jugs is not going to get made very often in my house. It's also one of those cakes that is really hard to mess up, so it's good for cake novices, baking with a hangover or people with short concentration spans. Anyway, enough with singing its praises. Let's get baking! Notes included for the less experienced chef.

Equipment and Preparation:

Cake mixer
1 litre loaf tin
Kitchen scales
Measuring jug and spoons
Large mixing bowl
Cake skewer1

You need to soak the poppy seeds in the milk for an hour before making the cake, so bear this in mind. After that it will take ten or fifteen minutes to prepare, an hour to cook and up to half an hour to cool down.


2 eggs
125 ml/4 fl oz vegetable oil
175 g/6 oz caster sugar
grated zest of 2 lemons2
3 tablespoons poppy seeds, soaked in
125 ml/4 fl oz milk for 1 hour
250 g/8 oz self-raising flour3

To drizzle:
juice of 2 lemons
4 tablespoons caster sugar


Preheat the oven to GMº 4/180ºC/350ºF and grease and flour the loaf tin4.
Mix together the eggs, oil, sugar, lemon zest and the poppy seeds in milk. Beat with an electric mixer for 60 seconds. If you are doing this by hand, you mad person, you, then psych yourself up and beat like a possessed thing for a good 3 minutes.
Sift the flour into the mixture and stir thoroughly. Don't beat at this stage, just work the flour through and it will become a smooth batter.
Pour the mixture into your prepared loaf tin and leave it to rest for ten minutes.
Bake the cake in the centre of the oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Check to see that the cake is cooked using a skewer (see useful tip 1).
As soon as the cake is out of the oven, mix together the lemon juice and sugar for the drizzle.
Using the skewer again, pierce the cake over and over, about a dozen times. Now slowly pour the lemon and sugar mix over the top of the cake, especially over the holes that you've just made. There is a lot of liquid and you will find that the cake is sitting in lemon juice but don't worry, it will soak it up.
Leave the cake in the tin to cool and soak up the lemon juice for at least 20 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. That is, of course, if you think you can resist the temptation to eat the entire thing in one go without even reaching for a plate...

Hints and tips:

1. Testing to see if a cake is cooked: I use an old knitting needle which I keep in the kitchen drawer for this purpose. It's also handy for threatening people who interrupt my weighing concentration and attempt to steal cookies before they've cooled. A kebab skewer will work just as well. If the cake is cooked you will see a shine of grease but that's all. If it's not done yet the needle or skewer will have tiny blobs of cake mixture stuck to it. So put the cake back in the oven for another ten minutes or so and try again.
2. Lemon zest: I only use unwaxed lemons when I'm going to use the zest and I recommend you do the same. You need to use a very fine grater and take care not to get too much of the white pith which is very bitter. And last but not least, grate the zest off before you squeeze the lemons. It is oh so much harder to do the other way around!
3. What's self-raising flour? It's a flour with added raising agents, good for cakes, biscuits, pancakes etc. To make your own self-raising flour, add 1 level teaspoon of baking powder per 100g of plain or all purpose flour.
4. How to grease and flour a tin: A frequent instruction when making cakes. It's easy. In this case the cake uses oil rather than butter, so I use oil to grease the pan too. Pour a tiny bit of oil in the tin, maybe a half teaspoonful. If you have a pastry brush then use that to spread the oil around the inside of the tin, making sure to treat the corners with extra care. If you don't have a pastry brush your fingers will do or a piece of kitchen paper. Then shake a little bit of flour into the tin, about two teaspoonfuls. Shake the flour around the tin until the entire surface is covered. Again, pay extra attention to the corners.

I have not referenced the book I originally took this recipe from as I lent it to a colleague and never got it back, despite frantic attempts to do so before I left the Basque Country for good some 3 years ago. If I ever find out what it was called or who wrote it I promise to give them their dues here.

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