Apricot Poppyseed Cake

The smell of a ripe apricot is mesmerizing enough to make me want to give up perfumery and tend an orchard instead.   It smells of cream, sweet orange, bitter almond, and a hint of rose. Unfortunately, unless you have access to an apricot grove, finding such a perfect specimen is difficult. Apricots are invariably picked green, and even if they soften, they never develop the perfume of tree-ripened fruit.

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There is, however, one technique to unlock some of the apricot’s fragrant potential. It’s to cook it. Even the hard supermarket variety becomes luscious and perfumed, especially if you add a touch of vanilla. I often sprinkle apricots with vanilla sugar and rosewater and roast them just until they start to turn jammy and tender. You can add cream, but that’s already gilding the lily. Or I make a poppyseed cake topped with apricots, an ideal late summer-early fall dessert.

Poppyseeds have a delicate almond flavor that marries well with apricots. The batter is a buttery sponge cake, light but substantial enough to carry a generous topping of fruit. As the cake bakes, the apricots sink slightly into the batter, scenting it with their floral aroma.

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The original recipes comes from a German food magazine Essen & Trinken. Since I started making the cake, I’ve adapted the recipe–exchanged damson plums for apricots, halved the quantities, skipped the red currant glaze, etc. You can make further changes. For instance, you can use pistachios instead of poppyseeds, add different spices or use whichever soft fruit you like. Another delicious variation is to use almonds and seedless grapes.

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Apricot Poppyseed Cake

Makes 10 portions

Adapted from the recipe in Essen & Trinken. The original recipe used damsons, and you can try plums, nectarines, peaches or grapes in your version (baking times will vary). I doubled the amount of fruit in the original recipe, which to me is a big improvement.

2lb (1 kg) apricots
125 g unsalted butter, room temperature
200 g granulated sugar
A pinch of salt
1 large egg and 1 egg yolk, mixed together
200g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
60ml (1/4 cup) whole milk
60ml (1/4 cup) heavy cream
4 Tablespoons poppyseeds (coarsely ground in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Granulated sugar for sprinkling on top of the fruit
Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375F (190C). Split apricots in half and remove stones. Sift flour with baking powder.

Cream the butter, sugar and salt in a large bowl until white and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Add the eggs a little at a time to prevent batter from curdling. Add half of the flour and mix gently. Add the milk to lighten the batter. Add the rest of the flour and then the cream. Finally, fold in the poppyseeds.

Prepare a spring form (if using a square mold, 22 x 22 cm/8 ¾ “ x 8 ¾ “; if using a round mold, 25cm/10”). Butter it and then coat with flour. Spoon the batter into the mold. Place the apricot halves skin side down on top of the batter. Sprinkle with sugar (1 or 2 tablespoons, depending on the sweetness of the fruit).

Bake for 1 hour (reduce to 350F/175C after the first 30 min), or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out dry. Remove and cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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46 Comments

  • rainboweyes: Ha! This recipe looks familiar 🙂
    You surely remember that I’m an absolute poppy seed addict and have tried plenty of various recipes throughout the years.

    e&t has another fabulous recipe for damson/poppy /cheese cake, I try to find and post it when I’m at home…
    Btw I made a mirabelle and poppy seed crumble on Sunday. It’s a great quick alternative when there’s no time to make a cake. September 7, 2016 at 8:10am Reply

    • Victoria: A big thank you for letting me know about E&T. I tried several recipes from its site, and they have all turned out great. I’d love to know the plum, cheese and poppyseed recipe. It has my name on it. September 7, 2016 at 11:11am Reply

  • Carla: Looks good! Will it work with apples? September 7, 2016 at 9:27am Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t see why not. It’s a creamy sponge, and it can work with many different types of fruit. I just wouldn’t use overly hard apples or else they may not cook at the same time as the batter. September 7, 2016 at 11:12am Reply

  • Andy: This sounds delicious, and because the plums and peaches are so good right now, I think I’ll try this in the upcoming weeks. The thought to pair poppyseed and stone fruits is brilliant. September 7, 2016 at 9:30am Reply

    • Victoria: Definitely beats the usual lemon-poppyseed pairing, good though it is! September 7, 2016 at 11:13am Reply

  • spe: We were just lamenting the poor fruit season we’ve had in the Pacific NW this year (US), which I attribute to the prolonged, hot summer.

    Victoria, this recipe sounds absolutely delicious! I’m going to try it this weekend, but may need to get creative with the fruit component. Thank you! September 7, 2016 at 9:37am Reply

    • Victoria: We in Belgium, on the other hand, had a long rainy summer, so the fruit season hasn’t been stellar.

      I suppose you can make it with blueberries too, although I wouldn’t use as many as 2 lbs. Might make the topping too soggy. September 7, 2016 at 11:16am Reply

    • Elizabeth: I think Italian plums may still be in season in the Pacific NW and I am sure would make a good substitute. Living north of you, in BC, the fruit season has been so early and brief for us as well. I couldn’t keep up with it. The result is that I feel like I missed quite a few opportunities to bake with berries and soft fruits this summer. The good news is that there are 50 lbs of blueberries in the freezer. (The one fruit I managed to catch in time.) September 7, 2016 at 7:31pm Reply

      • Victoria: That’s a lot of blueberries! What are you going to make with them? September 8, 2016 at 7:22am Reply

        • Elizabeth: We have a handful of frozen blueberries on our muesli (homemade) or under porridge, every morning for breakfast. We will run out before the first strawberries arrive next June.
          The muesli consists of toasted oats, oat bran, almonds and walnuts or pecans, with raisons added after the cereal and nuts have cooled down. Sometimes, I will add dried apricots or cranberries to change things up a bit. September 8, 2016 at 1:16pm Reply

          • Victoria: I like the idea of toasting oat flakes. I usually use them raw, but I imagine how much richer the toasted flavor will be. September 9, 2016 at 7:13am Reply

  • Rosalyn: I have peaches, not apricots, but this cake sounds delicious so I’m making it. What do you think, to peel or not to peel? 🙂 September 7, 2016 at 9:37am Reply

    • Victoria: I’d peel the peaches, but then again, I can’t eat peach skin. It gives me goosebumps. 🙂 September 7, 2016 at 11:16am Reply

    • Lindaloo: Simplest way to remove peach skins is to blanche the peaches and then the skins just slip off. September 8, 2016 at 4:01pm Reply

      • Victoria: That’s how I peel tomatoes. September 9, 2016 at 7:14am Reply

  • Claire: Lovely! I will gave to try this when I can find some worthy apricots! Apricots, almonds, poppy seeds, and vanilla sugar: all favorites. I rarely make cakes, I love making fruit tarts, but this is a cake I could go for, especially if doubling the fruit. Thank you for sharing it. I am reminded that I should invest in a nice kitchen scale, a preferable means of measuring, especially for baking. We have been enjoying mirabelle plums here in the PNW as well, just eating them out of hand, and their coloring is so beautiful, hinting at Autumn. September 7, 2016 at 10:39am Reply

    • Victoria: Once I invested $20 in my Salter kitchen scale about 10 years ago (still going strong), I can’t imagine ever returning to cups and spoons. A cup can be anything from 130 to 150g of flour, depending on humidity and how one packs it, and that’s a big margin of error. For sponge batters especially, it’s best to weigh the ingredients.

      I love mirabelle plums! In Northern France, which is not too far from Belgium, there is even a mirabelle plum festival, which we attended once. It was raining, the floats weren’t anywhere to be seen, so we just walked Metz and saw its old square and various churches. And bought several kilos of mirabelles for pennies. September 7, 2016 at 11:22am Reply

  • Claire: Have to try September 7, 2016 at 10:40am Reply

    • Victoria: Do let me know how it turns out. September 7, 2016 at 2:20pm Reply

  • Joy: I absolutely know what you mean about apricots in the market having no fragrance or taste. Sometimes I can find them at a Farmer’s Market and they are delicious.
    I did experience the fragrance of a tree loaded with apricots last summer. I was walking with a friend up a very steep hill in my town on the river in the PNW. We were both looking down to negotiate the steep steps when we were overcome by the most beautiful fragrance. We stopped to look about, then realized that it was coming from an apricot canopy over our heads. The tree was laden with ripe fruit. I so wanted to pick one, but did not. The next day all the fruit had been picked. The couple who live in this home have numerous fruit trees. I see that they always pick their fruit which is good. So many people in busy urban areas let it fall on the ground to spoil.
    Thank you for putting names to the fragrance of the ripe apricots. It was such an exotic fragrance. I will have to stand under it next summer and analyze it more carefully.
    Thank you for the beautiful recipe today. I think the cake could be a wonderful base for many different fruits. I will try it now with fall fruits and next summer with ripe cherries using care not to overwhelm it with juicier fruits. Hopefully my Japanese plums will have fruit next year. September 7, 2016 at 12:22pm Reply

    • Victoria: I only see small crab apples around Brussels, and they seem to be for the birds. Makes me wish I could pick them and make apple jelly. Crab apples give such a beautiful pink shade to the jams and compotes. September 7, 2016 at 2:20pm Reply

      • spe: We had many crab apple trees growing up – they make the most beautifully colored applesauce! But take a bite and they turn brown in seconds! September 7, 2016 at 8:16pm Reply

        • Victoria: Many varieties are intensely perfumes but too tannic to eat straight.

          I also tried a rowanberry jelly for the first time recently, and now I need to find a rowan tree to make it myself. September 8, 2016 at 7:23am Reply

  • Maya: I adore apricots and haven’t really tasted truly good ones in many years. I came back today with peaches intending to make a peach cobbler but will make this recipe instead- thank you!
    Lisa Eldridge published her interview with Serge Lutens, in case you have not read it yet:
    http://www.lisaeldridge.com/blog/27687/the-beauty-pioneers-serge-lutens/#.V9BUhsT3anM September 7, 2016 at 2:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: Peaches also become rich and fragrant as they bake. The best part of cooking with fruit is that you begin to enjoy the results even before you start eating–the scent! September 7, 2016 at 2:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for a link to Lisa’s interview. I read it, but I didn’t share it here yet. It’s such a thought provoking conversation. September 7, 2016 at 2:30pm Reply

  • Rita: Gosh I could yum down a slice right now!😃 it looks fantastic!!! Thank you. September 7, 2016 at 4:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s very good with cold milk. 🙂 September 7, 2016 at 5:01pm Reply

      • Rita: Now my mouth is literally watering September 7, 2016 at 6:23pm Reply

        • Victoria: It’s not difficult to make! September 8, 2016 at 7:21am Reply

  • Sarah: Apricots are my favourite fruit. Thank you for this delicious looking recipe. September 8, 2016 at 11:29am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! I also love apricots, even if ours need some cooking to become tastier. September 8, 2016 at 12:25pm Reply

  • Karen A: Yum! And yum yum yum!!! Looks perfect! September 8, 2016 at 3:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: German pastry recipes are yet to lead astray. 🙂 September 9, 2016 at 7:15am Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you so much for the recipe, this couldn’t be more timely as I’ve been looking for alternative batters for cake and this one looks really promising. Plenty of apricots from the Turkish store at the moment too, and in the winter, one could use apples, pears or even prunes. Poppy seeds more difficult to get hold of here, maybe a Polish store. September 9, 2016 at 7:47am Reply

    • Victoria: You can use almonds, pistachios or even walnuts instead. Hazelnuts would also taste great. If you’re using almonds or hazelnuts, it’s best to roast them slightly to bring out the flavor before grinding. Either way, this creamy sponge is forgiving and you can play with it. September 9, 2016 at 12:08pm Reply

      • Victoria: I just remembered where else I saw poppyseeds–a spice store. Indian stores carry the white variety, which is delicious and sweet. September 9, 2016 at 3:19pm Reply

  • eastofeden: Apricots are my favorite! I am a sucker for anything apricot flavored and am often disappointed.
    I rarely buy fresh apricots, as not only are they not allowed to ripen on the tree, the variety cultivated commercially just has no flavor.

    Now if you are lucky enough to find Blenheim Apricots at the farmers market…do not pass it up. This variety is the best tasting apricot there is. Unfortunately it is not grown much commercially any longer as it does not transport very well.

    When I lived in Central California I was lucky enough to live near a orchard of commercially grown Blenheims. They would dry most of their fruit (AMAZING) and if they had a good crop you could go to the farm and buy fresh apricots by the case from them… So good. September 11, 2016 at 4:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Lucky! The only place I got decent apricots in the last couple of years was Ukraine. At the markets there you can still find fruit from the old varieties, and while it doesn’t look perfect, the fragrance and taste are out of this world.

      This reminds me, by the way, of picking peaches at the orchard in New Jersey one summer. They were tree-ripened, but they were tasteless. The farmer explained that he grew this variety, because it held well in storage. September 12, 2016 at 10:06am Reply

  • Lifestyle Lodestar: Mouth-watering! September 12, 2016 at 3:50am Reply

    • Victoria: Apricots and poppyseeds are my new favorite combination. September 12, 2016 at 10:07am Reply

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