By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
What kind of fruit is seasonal in January?
That's the question I put to the kids in my food appreciation classes this week. The answer, of course, is citrus fruit. And where can you possibly grow fruit in the middle of winter? That's how cooking becomes a lesson about geography and climate. Toss in baking soda, baking powder and buttermilk and you also have a science experiment.
Everyone who tries this cake has the same reaction: "It's not too sweet." That's because the final flourish isn't a thick layer of sugary icing, but a drizzle of orange and lemon juice with just enough sugar added. It's an incredibly simple cake with just a few ingredients, but the poppy seeds also set it apart. The kids thought they looked like tiny blueberries, but then they remembered seeing them on bagels. Come to think of it, you don't see poppy seeds in many other foods.
Start by creaming 11 tablespoons room-temperature butter (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) along with 1 cup sugar, the grated peel of 2 oranges, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt. We grated the oranges on our old-fashioned box grater. It doesn't take long at all. But you could do the same thing with a micro-plane. And while we did the creaming with the back of a wooden spoon, most people would opt for an electric mixer. Just keep beating until the mix turns a lighter color and becomes somewhat fluffy.
To the butter mix beat in 2 eggs, one at a time. Then add 2 tablespoons poppy seeds. Mix in 2/3 cup buttermilk, then gently add 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour. Stir, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, until the flour is completely incorporated.
Grease a 9-inch bunt pan (we used Baker's Joy) and pour in the batter. Actually, this batter doesn't really pour. We scraped it out with a rubber spatula, then smoothed the top even. Give the pan a good tap on your table top to help spread the batter around.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Invert the pan over a wire rack and let the cake cool.
To "ice" the cake, poke it all over with a toothpick. This will help the orange-lemon mix seep into the cake, rather than running off the sides. Then, in a measuring cup, squeeze out 1/4 quarter cup orange juice and the juice from 1/2 lemon. Add 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and stir until the sugar is complete dissolved. Carefully drizzle the liquid all over the top and sides of the cake. Slice and serve.
This cake would go perfectly with a cold winter's afternoon tea.