There is the too soon smell of autumn in the air. On the one hand, this sudden change in weather is making me crave venison stew with dumplings and blackberry crumble, but on the other, it is awakening my contrary and recalcitrant nature. I might be shivering, but I am barefoot and t-shirt clad because it is still officially summer, damn it, and I refuse to give up on this season ungrudgingly. In an effort to keep the sunshine on my plate, if not on my face, I am turning to lemons for their summery citrus flavour and sunshine yellow colour.
But it is still cold and grey outside and a general malaise has overtaken me. This feeling always comes at this time of year because, regardless of how long has past since my school days, I have been conditioned to approach September with a sense of foreboding. Can it really be time for the first term back at school so soon? It’s like an exaggeration of my Pavlovian response to the Antiques Roadshow theme tune – nothing can jolt you into realising the weekend has nearly gone and you haven’t done your homework yet quite like it. If you’re anything like me, in order to cope with the sense of doom created from imaginary homework, you’ll need plenty of cake.
Lemon and poppy seed cake will fill your belly with enough sunshine to help ward off the invading autumn chill. With nephews and nieces due for a visit over the weekend, I opted to bake cupcakes – small enough for little mouths, but big enough to satisfying the greediest of grown ups too. These cupcakes don’t really need the swirl of buttercream on top, if you don’t want it, but I can assure you, it goes down a treat with the under 10s - especially if you give them back to their parents soon enough after eating that any sugar-induced bouncing off the walls is left for when they get home.
Lemon and Poppy seed Cupcakes
For the cake
150g soft, unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
150g self-raising flour (or rice flour plus 1 tsp. baking powder for gluten-free)
The grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
1 tbsp. poppy seeds
A splash of milk, if needed
For the syrup
50g caster sugar
The juice of 1 lemon
For the buttercream
110g soft, unsalted butter
220g icing sugar, sifted
The juice of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with cupcake cases.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the egg, whisking between each addition. Sift over the flour and whisk in until combined. If the cake batter is too stiff you can add a splash of milk to slightly slacken it if needed. Fold through the lemon zest and poppy seeds. Divide the mixture between the cupcake cases. The mixture should not fill the cases more than three-quarters. Bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
While the cakes are baking, make the syrup by simple stirring the lemon juice and sugar together in a jug. Once the cakes come out of the oven, stab them all over with a skewer and pour a little syrup over each of the hot cakes. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, before transferring the cakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the buttercream, whisk the butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Sift over half of the icing sugar and whisk to incorporate. Sift over the remaining icing sugar and continue to whisk until light and fluffy. Add the lemon juice and whisk again to combine. Spoon your lemon buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a star shaped nozzle and pipe in a circular motion over the tops of your cold cakes. Add sprinkles, if you wish, and serve.