Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread

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My love of books started at a very young age. In one of my earliest memories, I must have been three years old, my parents had friends over and they were all sitting outside our house having a drink. It must have been past my bedtime but for some reason my mom had put me in my parents’ bed and let me sit there by myself and go through a picture book somebody had given me as a gift (maybe the friends who had come over?). The memory is very fuzzy but I remember a few things: how huge the bed seemed to me, how thrilling it was to be sitting in it, the safety I felt from the voices of my parents just outside their bedroom window, and the feeling of holding the book in my hands and flipping through the pages. I couldn’t read yet but it felt so exciting to hold this object in my hand that was filled with amazing pictures (and weird symbols I couldn’t understand) that changed every time I flipped a page.DSC04884

With my mom’s help, I learned to read a year later when I was four, so that when I started first grade at five years old (we started earlier back then), I could read comfortably and by the time I was in my early teens, when my birthday came around, the gift I wished for the most from people who’d come to my birthday party were books. I read everything I could get my hands on and with no access to a library, I was desperate for new books. When I was younger, I wanted fairy tale books, but by my mid-teens I was fully into literary fiction and science fiction books, a love that endures to this day.

Today’s recipe is actually from a little kids’ book called “Cranberry Thanksgiving.” I had never read this book as a kid (given that it’s a book about Thanksgiving, it was obviously never translated in Greek) but I found out about it and this recipe that comes from it from Steve’s sister Christine. She told me she makes this cake every year and that her three boys love it. The cake is peculiar in that it’s made using a method usually used for biscuits and scones, by cutting the butter into flour. So, you can think of it as a giant, golden scone, studded with red cranberries. The result is beautiful and delicious and yet more reason to love books and what they have to offer.

This is the last post for 2016, a year few people will look back on with affection. Let’s hope that 2017 proves to be kinder to us. Happy new year to everyone and see you again in January.DSC04901

Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread – Slightly adapted from Cranberry Thanksgiving

Note: The original recipe calls for equal amounts of cranberries and raisins. That’s what I used in the cake you see in the photos. However, I’ve made it with only cranberries and we prefer it that way much more. Feel free to go either way.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg
1 teaspoon orange zest
3/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups light raisins (or substitute with fresh cranberries, as above)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper to help you getting the cake out.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. With a pastry blender or with your fingers, cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, orange peel, and orange juice and then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until mixture is evenly moist. Fold in cranberries and raisins (or only cranberries). The batter will be thick and there will be small pieces of butter throughout.

Spoon into the loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick nested in the center comes out clean. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack.

2016 Holiday Gift Guide

If you are like me, you start stressing about holiday gifts about a week before Thanksgiving. I frantically google “holiday gift guides” only to find a million variations of hand-made necklaces and  pendants and novelty USB memory sticks. So, I appreciate a good, hand-picked gift guide. This is mine. It’s, of course, focused on food. But everything here is pre-tested and loved by me and Steve. I hope it helps you with your holiday shopping. Enjoy!

Chinese Black Vinegar – Gold Plum Chinkiang Vinegar (Amazon $8.24)

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This isn’t just any old vinegar. It’s made out of black rice and malt and it has a unique malted and slightly smoky taste. It’s like no other vinegar you’ve ever tasted. I love using it for marinades or to make a quick salad dressing. You can also use it to make this recipe for crispy broccoli with black vinegar. It’s sold in most grocery stores but you can also get it from Amazon.

Li Hing Mango (Amazon $24.32 for 40oz bucket)

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We discovered this while we were in Hawaii. It’s dried mango slices that are covered in something called li hing, which is a sweet and sour powder made up of ground plum skin that has been pickled in licorice, aspartame, food coloring, salt, and sugar. I know it sounds disgustingly artificial, but it’s incredibly addictive. We couldn’t stop eating it. The link at Amazon is for a giant bucket of 40oz that lasted us a good 8 months. They also sell it in smaller packages. Make sure you buy the brand “enjoy”. We’ve tried other brands and we weren’t crazy about them.

“My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life” by Ruth Reichl (Amazon $22.75 for hardcover version)

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Like many others, I was so disappointed by Ruth Reichl’s first foray into fiction with “Delicious!: A Novel.” That exclamation point alone made me cringe every time I picked it up to try and read a few more pages. In the end, I gave up on it after about a third of the way into the book. This wasn’t the Ruth I knew, the one that dazzled me with “Tender at the Bone” and “Comfort me with Apples.” But fortunately, she came back with this cookbook that details how she survived the shuttering of Gourmet…moment of silence…by cooking and eating good food. The recipes are written in conversational style and the stories are short and powerful. You’ll get to experience the grief of losing Gourmet all over again but you’ll relish the chance to cook along with Ruth and share in the joy that she brings to the kitchen.

Cuisinart 7193-20P Chef’s Classic Stainless 3-Quart Cook and Pour Saucepan with Cover (Amazon $35.28)

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I have never understood why almost all saucepans are created with a perfectly circular top lip. Every time I’ve had to pour something out of my saucepans, whether it was soup or a sauce or a custard, I’d always end up with some of it running down the side and onto my countertop. I had to search pretty hard to find a good saucepan with a pour spout. This Cuisinart one is great. It also comes in a smaller size. I love being able to pour everything out of it without losing a drop. My only quibble is that the spout is on the left side which means that I can’t pour out using my left hand and scrape with a spatula with my right. But otherwise this is fantastic

Aroma Housewares ARC-914SBD 8-Cup Rice Cooker and Food Steamer (Amazon $31.47) and Thai Sticky Rice (Amazon $14.16)

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I used to not understand why anyone would need a dedicated machine for making rice. I mean, how hard could it be? You put rice and water in a pot, cover, and cook. Done, right? Wrong! We finally gave in and bought this rice cooker and it has changed our lives. I never realized that rice could be cooked so perfectly, every time, without fail. It has a timer so I can just put the rice and water in there in the morning and have amazing rice done just as we are ready to eat in the evening. If you are getting this for someone as a gift, consider getting them a bag of Thai sticky rice along with it. Tell them that they don’t need to presoak the sticky rice, as it’s generally recommended. Just put the rice and water in the rice cooker and let it do its magic. They’ll be rewarded with that chewy, sweet delight of sticky rice that is sometimes the best thing I eat at some Thai restaurants in New York.

SodaStream Fountain Jet Sparkling Water Maker (Amazon $66.04)

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I know. You, your mother, your dog walker, your tax accountant, his dog walker, your car wash guy, they all have one. But maybe there’s someone in your life who doesn’t. It does one thing and it does it simply and well: it makes fizzy water. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that quenches my thirst on a hot summer day better than a glass of ice cold sparkling water with a slice of lemon. And it’s great not to have to waste a can or a plastic bottle every time you want to add a splash of fizz to your cocktails.

Maussane Olive Oil (Zingerman’s $40)

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This might be the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted. There’s a whole explanation of how it’s different over at Zingerman’s, how they pick the olives late, when they’re ripe and they are left to ferment a bit, but really, all you need to know is that this olive oil tastes and smells like an all-expenses paid vacation in an old manor in the French countryside, surrounded by olive groves and sunshine. It’s smooth, herbal, not at all bitter, and makes everything you cook taste heavenly. This isn’t olive oil for cooking. It’s for drizzling over cooked food or making dressings, mayo, aioli and the like.

Sugarfina Candy Gift Boxes (Sugarfina – Prices vary)

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-5-19-49-pmOur friends Brad and Denny are amazing in so many ways, but there’s one particular way in which they shine: they give the best-ever host gifts. Every time we invite them over for dinner or a party they bring us something unique and interesting and usually mind blowingly delicious. One of those gifts was a box of candy from Sugarfina, a company that sources candy and chocolates from all over the world and packages it like jewels in a jewel box. There are champagne gummy bears from Germany, dark chocolate sea salt caramels from the US, choco crisps from Greece, and many many more. Whoever you give these to, they will praise you till the day they die.

Malted Milk Powder and Double Dutch Dark Cocoa from King Arthur Flour ($21)

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If you’ve been reading this blog, you know how much I love malted milk powder. It’s in many of the recipes listed in this blog, like the Banana Peanut Butter Malt Shake or the Ultimate Chocolate Ice Cream. Combining it with the phenomenal cocoa sold by King Arthur Flour would make a great gift for anyone. Before you wrap those two together, print out and add the recipe for Malted Hot Chocolate Mix to the gift. It will make them happy many times during the winter months.

Amarena Toschi Black Cherries (Amazon $17.70)

71l9zszffbl-_sx522_When you ask most people about maraschino cherries, they’ll mention Luxardo. They are the standard. However, if you want amazing cherries that don’t crystalize into sugar in the refrigerator, the Amarena Toschi cherries can’t be beat. They are fantastic over chocolate ice cream (or chopped up and added to it at the last few seconds of churning) and of course they make a great little sweet ending to a fine The Sommer cocktail.

Under-the-Sea Salad

dsc05358Thanksgiving is a time that can bring out the best and the worst in people. There’s a reason why there are so many Thanksgiving movies and Thanksgiving episodes of TV shows where family dynamics explode before the turkey hits the table. It can be a pretty stressful time. Between the forced family reunions, the blaring of football on TV, the preparation of a week’s worth of food in a day, and the eating of said food in record time, things can get a little hectic.

But it’s also a time for traditions. Yes, there’s turkey and sweet potatoes and stuffing and gravy, but every home, every family adapts their Thanksgiving meal by adding foods from their national backgrounds or dishes that someone made many years before and somehow stuck or using preparations and ingredients that are more prevalent where they live. There are as many variations of Thanksgiving dishes as there are pieces to the American quilt of immigrants and their descendants.

Steve’s family has its own tradition for the Thanksgiving dinner table. It’s called under-the-sea salad. And it’s as gloriously trashy as you can get. The ingredients alone are enough to give you an idea: lime Jello, cream cheese, canned pears, and a pinch of ground cloves (which is what Steve always calls the “secret ingredient”). It’s not Thanksgiving for Steve unless the under-the-sea salad is on the table. And don’t even try to tell him that it’s dessert. No, it’s a salad, he and his family will insist.

Truth be told, it’s absolutely delicious. Is it as artificial as our new president’s hair? Absolutely. But it’s tart and sweet and cuts right through the heaviness of the turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes that are piled on your plate. Do I think you’ll all run out and buy the ingredients to make it? Absolutely not. But this coming Thursday, it will be jiggling its neon green dome right in the middle of our Thanksgiving dinner table. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Under-the-Sea Salad

Ingredients:

2 3oz packages of lime jello
1 8oz package of cream cheese
1 28oz can of pears in syrup (or two 14.5oz cans)
A heavy pinch of ground cloves

Directions:

In a large bowl prepare the jello per the package instructions but use 1/4 of a cup less water than the instructions call for. Set aside to let it cool a little while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Drain the pears very well and put them in a second large bowl along with the cream cheese. Using a fork or potato masher, mash the pears and cream cheese together thoroughly. Add the warm jello liquid and the cloves, stir well and pour in your favorite mould (if you don’t have a mould, you can use a metal mixing bowl). Put in the fridge and let it chill until firm.

When ready to serve, fill a very large bowl that the mould can fit in with hot tap water. Dip the bottom and sides of the mould in the hot water, careful not to get any water inside the mould, for 20-25 seconds. This will allow the salad to detach from the sides of the mould. Run the tip of a sharp knife around the top edge of the mould to help with with releasing the salad.

Place a large serving platter on top of the mould and quickly flip it to release the salad. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Chocolate Babka

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No matter how much I try to reason with the results of this election, no matter how much I try to tell myself that this is not the end of the world, that four years isn’t enough time to reverse all the progress we’ve made in the last eight, my mind keeps stubbornly coming back to this: Once again, a smart, competent, incredibly qualified woman lost the job to an unqualified, insulting, brutish man.

No matter how much I try to understand what drove so many people to vote for him, no matter how much I try to tell myself that perhaps I (we) really weren’t listening to them, didn’t understand their plight, that their fears and hopes were not taken as seriously as they should have been, my brain keeps repeating this: Half of the voters (slightly less than half to be exact) either chose to ignore or chose to reward (with the Presidency!) speech and behavior that expressed hate for just about everyone other than white, able-bodied, heterosexual, Christian men.
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And yet, life goes on. So be good to one another. Continue to defend the rights of those who fought so hard for them. Take time to enjoy those that you love and the things that bring you joy. Remain hopeful but vigilant. Cook and eat great food. Make this chocolate babka and forget all your worries for those few minutes when you bite into a soft, luxurious slice of chocolate heaven.

And always remember: progress never happens in a straight line.
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Chocolate Babka – Adapted from Bon Appétit

Ingredients:

½ cup whole milk, warmed
1 ¼-ounce envelope active dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons)
¼ cup granulated sugar, plus more
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoon turbinado sugar

Directions:

Pour milk into a measuring glass or small bowl; sprinkle yeast and a pinch of granulated sugar over milk. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Whisk egg, egg yolk, and remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk in yeast mixture.

Combine salt and 2 cups flour in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add egg mixture and beat on low speed until nearly incorporated, about 30 seconds. Switch to dough hook and add 7 Tbsp. butter; beat on medium-low until butter is completely incorporated, about 8–10 minutes. The dough will be sticky.

Using a spatula or a spoon, scrape dough onto a lightly floured surface and using a spatula or dough scraper, fold it several times from the edge over the top, until very smooth (dough will still be wet and a little sticky). Transfer to a large buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1½–2 hours, then chill 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°. Generously butter a 8½x4½” loaf pan. Heat chocolate, cocoa, 2 tbsp. butter, 1 tbsp. granulated sugar, ¼ tsp. cinnamon, and ⅛ tsp. salt in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until chocolate and butter are melted and mixture is smooth. (Alternatively, microwave on medium power 1 minute, stirring halfway through.)

Turn out chilled dough onto a clean lightly floured surface. Roll out to a 22×12″ rectangle and orient so a long side is facing you. Using an offset spatula, spread chocolate filling over dough to extend to the edges. Roll up dough away from you like a jelly roll, pulling lightly on it as you roll to maintain thickness. (Use a metal bench scraper if needed to help dough release from surface.)
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Cut log in half crosswise. Set halves so they are side by side and touching. A long side should still be facing you. Place one half over the other to make an X, then twist the two ends on one side twice. Repeat on opposite side. (You should have a total of 4 twists.) Transfer bread to pan, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 30 minutes.

Whisk egg and cream in a small bowl and brush egg wash over loaf. Sprinkle top with turbinado sugar.

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Bake babka, rotating pan halfway through, until golden brown, 50–60 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let babka cool in pan 15 minutes, then turn out onto rack, running a paring knife around edges to help loosen if needed. Let cool completely before slicing.

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Clementine and Olive Oil Muffins

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Everyone has their favorite candy from their childhood. I have several. There was the luscious Galaxy milk chocolate bar. It was more expensive than others, so it was a rare treat. There were the pink and white individual marshmallows, so intensely sweet that they burned the back of my throat. But there was one sugary treat that I always loved. It was a mandarin-flavored hard candy that came in a pack of around ten of them. It was tantalizingly tart and sweet and it had this perfect, completely artificial mandarin flavor that I adored. It seems to have completely disappeared from the market. I wonder if I tried it now, decades later, if I would still enjoy the chemically-created taste that I used to love.dsc05322

You don’t need to worry about any artificial flavor with these muffins. They get theirs from clementine zest and juice, so it’s a lot more subtle than a hard candy. I had seen this recipe for olive oil muffins on David Lebovitz’s website and when I opened the fridge and saw a few clementines that needed to be eaten soon, I decided to adapt the recipe to use them instead of an orange. The result is a moist, not too sweet muffin, with a subtle taste of clementine. The slight bitterness and sweet tartness of the clementines combines really well with the olive oil. If I hadn’t made them myself, I would have had a hard time guessing what that mysterious flavor was when I bit into them.  They are nothing like my childhood favorite candy, and that’s a good thing.
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Clementine and Olive Oil Muffins – Adapted from David Lebovitz

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cups (185g) flour
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (180ml) fruity extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup (180ml) whole milk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tablespoon freshly grated clementine or tangerine zest
1/3 cup fresh clementine juice

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Put liners in a 12-muffin pan.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, olive oil, milk, eggs, zest, and juice.

3. Add the dry ingredients in the wet ingredients. Stir them together with a flexible spatula until they are just combined but do not overmix. There may be some minor lumps in the batter, which are fine.

4. Fill the muffin molds 2/3rds to 3/4ths full of batter and bake until they just feel set in the center and the tops are golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool a bit before serving.

Hot Honey Shrimp

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Beginning in July, my job changed and became a lot more time consuming. As a result, my cooking and baking has gone down quite a lot. All I can say is thank god for the amazing food delivery options we have in New York city. In order to still eat some home-cooked meals, I’m on the lookout for recipes that are quick and don’t require a lot of energy, because even if I have time at the end of the time, I am often too tired to prepare a more elaborate dinner.
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This is one of those recipes. You can prepare it in less than 10 minutes and it takes no more than 5 minutes in the oven before it’s ready to eat. The shrimp comes out juicy and incredibly fragrant from the combination of honey, chili, ginger, garlic, and lime. It’s spicy (and you can adjust the spice level to your taste) and sweet, which kind of makes it irresistible. It’s perfect with rice (which we now eat much more often since we bought this rice cooker and wonder how we ever lived without it) and perhaps a side of pickled vegetables (like these pickled carrots or pickled watermelon rind), whose acidity complements the shrimp flavors well.dsc05321

Hot Honey Shrimp – Adapted from the New York Times

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
⅛ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon grated lime zest
¼ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 garlic clove, grated on a Microplane or finely minced
1 red thai chili (bird’s eye chili), very thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound cleaned medium or large shrimp, patted dry with paper towels
1 tablespoon chives or scallion greens, finely chopped, for serving

Directions:

Heat oven to 500 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine honey, oil, cayenne, lime zest, ginger, garlic, chili pepper, salt and pepper. Toss in shrimp to coat.

Spread shrimp on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until shrimp is pink and opaque, but before the edges have started to curl, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle generously with fresh lime juice and toss with chives or scallions. Serve with rice.

Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake

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When we fly to Paris from New York, always on an overnight flight, we have a routine. We pack lightly so that we don’t have to check in our luggage. After we get through security at the airport, we buy a bottle of water to share on the plane. Once we are on the plane and we take off, I watch all the episodes of Friends that are available (they are still so funny and so much fun to watch). We eat our dinner (always the Hindu Vegetarian meal option – it’s by far the best airplane food on United Economy), drink some wine, take something to help my nerves (I am a very nervous flyer), put on ear plugs and eye masks and try to sleep.DSC05282

After a few hours of fitful sleep, the cabin lights come on and we are all awakened for “breakfast.” We used to dread the soggy, microwaved sorry excuse for a croissant that filled the cabin with a smell of fake butter and warm plastic. So a long time ago, we added something to our routine: at the New York airport, we visit Starbucks and buy two slices of their lemon pound cake. As everyone grudgingly wakes up and the flight attendants pass out those god forsaken croissants, we politely decline and sink our teeth into the delicate crumb of the lemon pound cake, savoring its lemony glaze.

This recipe for a lemon poppy seed cake is an even better, homemade version of that Starbucks lemon cake. It’s made with olive oil so it’s less rich (and better for you), and the glaze is thinner and more subtle. The poppy seeds add a crunch and a tiny bit of a nutty flavor. It makes a wonderful breakfast treat no matter where in the world you are or traveling to.DSC05046

Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake – Slightly adapted from the New York Times

Ingredients:

1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
zest of 2 lemons
1 cup sugar
½ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
⅔ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
4 teaspoons lemon juice

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch loaf pan and line with parchment paper, leaving extra paper on both sides to help you lift cake out of the pan.

In a bowl, combine lemon zest and sugar and rub with your fingers until it looks like wet sand. Whisk in buttermilk, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, eggs, and olive oil. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and poppy seeds. Add dry ingredients into the batter and mix until combined, being careful not to overmix.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan until warm to the touch, then lift out of the pan onto a baking rack set over a rimmed baking sheet.

Whisk together 4 teaspoons lemon and the confectioners’ sugar. Use a pastry brush to spread glaze evenly over top and sides of cake. Cool completely before slicing.