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.

Chocolate Coconut Pound Cake

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“We had dinner last night with our friends and there was another couple with us. The woman, Mrs. P., said that she was your teacher and that she remembers you. Do you remember her?” my mother said to me on the phone the other day.

I definitely remembered Mrs. P. She was my very first chemistry teacher, back when I was in 7th grade. In fact, I remember the first day she showed us a chemistry experiment because it was the day I decided I would be a chemist.

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She stood there, behind the large chemistry lab table, a young woman with a pixie cut, explaining to us the difference between an acid and a base and what happens when the two mix. We listened to her patiently but our attention was focused on something else: the test tubes and beakers in front of her. We had heard from older kids in the school about the “cool” experiments you got to do in 7th grade and we couldn’t wait to witness them.

She didn’t disappoint. When she added the pH indicators, we watched in awe as the clear liquids changed colors indicating their nature. But it was the grand finale, when she combined the hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide, changing the color once again to indicate their transformation into water and common table salt, that my heart started to race. In that instant, I knew that I loved chemistry and I would dedicate my life to studying it.

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It wasn’t until many many years later, after playing with a Christmas gift of a chemistry set, after the introduction to organic chemistry that bored me to tears, and after years spent over a mixing bowl, that I realized that what I experienced in that chemistry lab on that day was not a realization of my love for chemistry. That it wasn’t the chemicals and their nature that excited me. That it was the process of combining things to create new ones that made my heart burst with possibilities. I didn’t know it then, but I had just discovered my love for cooking.

So, here’s my favorite kind of chemistry experiment: a recipe for a tender and rich chocolate pound cake. I’m sure there are laws of chemistry behind the whole process, but who really cares when the end result is so delicious?

Chocolate Coconut Pound Cake – Slightly adapted from Bon Appétit

Ingredients:

¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup virgin, unrefined coconut oil, room temperature
1½ cups sugar (plus an optional 1 tablespoon sugar for topping)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅔ cup buttermilk
¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325° F. Butter an 8×4” loaf pan and line with parchment paper, leaving a generous overhang on long sides. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl; set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat oil, ¼ cup butter, and 1½ cups sugar until pale and fluffy, 5–7 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions; beat until mixture is very light and doubled in volume, 5–8 minutes. Add vanilla.

Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients (do not overmix; it will cause cake to buckle and split). Scrape batter into prepared pan and run a spatula through the center, creating a canal. Sprinkle with coconut. If you want, sprinkle the optional remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar on top.

Bake cake, tenting with foil if coconut browns too much before cake is done (it should be very dark and toasted), until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 70–80 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cake cool in pan 20 minutes before turning out.