The blood orange season is short (it runs from mid-January to mid-March) and the best time to buy them is mid-season when they are at their best both colour- and taste-wise. I love the deep red colour and strong orangey taste, with a pleasant hint of redcurrant.
I have a love-hate relationship with cakes containing poppy seeds; I find the crunchy texture of ‘sand’ beneath my teeth rather off-putting. After a bit of tinkering with cake recipes, I discovered that by soaking the poppy seeds first, this makes them swell up and become softer and you then get a memorable cake with superb layers of flavour. While baking this cake, it took me back to when I was a child and when mum used to bake a lemon poppy seed cake. We used to refer to it as the ‘ant cake’, because we thought the poppy seeds looked like ants!
This cake not only makes the perfect slice to enjoy with a cup of tea, but it also creates a pretty special pudding, served slightly warm with Blood Orange Granita and a dollop of crème fraîche. Delicious!
Ingredients & Method
Poppy Seed and Blood Orange Cake
- 180ml milk
- 100g poppy seeds
- 200g soft unsalted butter
- 140g caster sugar
- 1tbs orange zest
- 3 large free range eggs
- 300g plain flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powered
- 125ml freshly squeezed blood orange juice
Blood Orange Marmalade Sauce
- 160g caster sugar
- 250ml freshly squeezed blood orange juice
- 50g orange skin, julienned
Make the cake. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 25cm round spring form cake tin or 27 x 15cm loaf tin with non-stick baking paper. Put the milk and poppy seeds into a small saucepan and heat gently until almost boiling. Remove from the heat and leave the poppy seeds to soak for about 10 minutes while you prepare the cake mixture.
Cream the butter, sugar and orange zest together in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift the flour and baking powder together, then gently fold the flour mixture into the creamed mixture. Do not overwork the mixture at this stage. Fold the blood orange juice and poppy seed milk mixture into the cake mixture.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and level the surface. Bake in the oven for about 1 hour or until a fine metal skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and leave the cake to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn it out on to a wire rack and leave to cool for a further 20 minutes before spooning over the blood orange marmalade sauce (see below).
While the cake is baking, make the blood orange marmalade sauce. Put the sugar into a small saucepan, add the blood orange juice and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up to a rolling boil. Add the julienned sticks of orange peel and continue to boil the mixture for 10–15 minutes or until the sauce becomes fairly thick and glossy (the consistency of marmalade) – if you have a jam thermometer, then boil until the sauce reaches 102°C. Do not stir while the marmalade is boiling.
Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool down slightly before spooning it over the warm cake. Serve the cake warm or cold in slices. Store the cake in an airtight container for up to 3 days (it seems to get better with age, when served slightly warm).
You can substitute the blood oranges for normal oranges, lemons, clementines or satsumas, if you like.