Poppy-seeds were my first thought when I came to baking a cake that looked like this. Believe it or not though, poppy-seeds are supposed to be illegal in Egypt, and several other Middle Eastern countries. Thinking it was just simply unavailable here, I once asked a friend to bring me a pack or two from Kuwait during his visit, only to be told that the vendor freaked out by the mere mention of the seed. When I tried my own luck here at a local herbalist, the man behind the counter looked at me as if I’d gone insane. He warned me, quite severely, never to mention it out loud unless I wanted to get into trouble. My curiosity was naturally tweaked – all I knew is that the pharaohs used to use poppy-seeds as a sedative, so how bad could it be? It turns out that it’s connection to opium made it a big fat no-no in the Egyptian market. According to some 'badass' sources, an average poppy-seed harvest can be used as a by-product for opium-poppy cultivation for Opium... Uh-oh.
I remember my mum using poppy-seed oil on my hair when I was a child, and I remember it sprinkled onto bagels and breads and readily available everywhere in Melbourne. While it's never actually dawned on me in the last 20 years i've spent in Egypt that I haven't seen any poppy-seeds, I did find the necessity of a substitute when I started baking a few years ago. But what were the options? Nigella seeds? No. Too big, to intense in flavor.
Then... Chia seeds? That’s better. Chia seeds are now widely available in Egypt, and I found that they make quite the perfect substitute in terms of how they hold the cake together (they fluff and become gelatenous in moisture), as well as provide a number of nutritional benefits without tampering with any of the flavors. This recipe calls for ¼ cup of chia seeds, and lots of lemon. I found it light, fluffy, flavorful, and just very pretty to look at! Give it a shot:
½ cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups white flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
zest of 1 lemon, grated
juice of 1 ½ lemons
½ cup full-fat yogurt
½ cup chia seeds
juice of 1 lemon
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup powdered sugar
Grease loaf-pan with butter and set aside. Preheat the oven to 210.C
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with a handheld mixer until smooth.
Beat in eggs, one at a time, followed by lemon zest, lemon juice, yogurt, and baking powder.
With a spatula, fold in flour and chia seeds until they’re combined
Pour batter into greased loaf-pan, and bake it in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tooth-pick/knife comes out clean
Allow cake to cool for a few minutes before removing from the pan.
For the Glaze:
While the cake is baking, combine granulated sugar and lemon juice in a bowl and stir. Leave it standing for about 20 minutes, allowing the sugar to dissolve. Add powdered sugar, and stir until the glaze falls in a thick, syrupy transparent drizzle.
Slowly drizzle over the cake once it’s cooled. The glaze should set after a few minutes.