Sarah Brown’s Poppy Seed Cake

I can’t claim any credit for this recipe. It’s from a book that shares its title with mine, The Vegetarian Kitchen, but this one was written by Sarah Brown in 1984, and it featured heavily in my childhood, as my parents cooked from it a lot. This cake was my birthday cake most years throughout childhood, and I recently rediscovered it. It’s one of those plain and unassuming cakes, which at first don’t seem as special as their decadent, buttercream-laden counterparts, but they keep demanding you come back for just one more sliver. So often poppy seeds are paired with lemon in cakes, and the lemon completely overpowers the flavour of the poppy seeds. Here, the poppy seeds are allowed to be the star of the show, and the resulting cake is absolutely delicious. You only need look at the photo of the recipe in the book to get an idea of how often it’s been made in my parents’ kitchen.

Sarah Brown's Poppy Seed Cake

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Makes 1 x 8” round cake. You will need an 8” round cake tin, greased and lined with non-stick baking parchment.


  • 110g blue poppy seeds
  • 225ml whole milk
  • 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 and 1/4 tsp baking powder


  • Put the poppy seeds into a pan with the milk and bring to the boil. As soon as they boil, turn off the heat and leave them to soak for 25 minutes in the pan.
  • Heat the oven to 180’c/160’c fan/gas mark 4.
  • Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the egg yolks one at a time. Fold in the flour and baking powder, then add the milk and poppy seed mixture. Next, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold them into the mixture, and pour it into the prepared baking tin. Level the top, then bake for approximately 1 hour until the centre feels firm and a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean. I put foil over mine to prevent over-browning after 45 mins.
  • Let it cool in the tin for 10 mins, then transfer to a wire cooling rack, and cool completely before cutting.

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