Driving in New Jersey inevitably means you’ll run across things people in New York think only happen in movies, or farms in the midwest. Last October I came upon a 10-foot tall corn maze. I tried it, got lost, sat down and cried the ugliest tears until a family found me. It scared the bejesus out me.
Another, more pleasant time, I came across a pick-your-own strawberry farm with 1-foot tall plants. No fear. I couldn’t get lost. What I could do though was pick my weight in strawberries. Memo to friends: take note of whether it’s a one-size-pay-all pay method or a per pound weight method. Mine was per pound, and I had a lot of pounds.
That summer I made strawberry pie, strawberry lemonade, strawberry jam, strawberry ice cream. I put strawberries on my cereal, in my sandwiches, on my salad. I ate strawberries with a fork, with my fingers, sober and brunchy boozy summer drunk.
This Strawberry and Poppy Seed Cake was one thing I didn’t make. Partly because I was strawberries out (I know, what???) and partly because even though I picked about 6 pounds of strawberries, I ended up running out. So this recipe has spent the last 8 months baking in my head. Then, last week, I saw the prettiest packs of pre-picked strawberries at Whole Foods and splurged with this cake in mind.
Lemon and poppy seeds are a perfect combination. Lemon and strawberries are a perfect combination. Strawberries and poppy seeds are a perfect combination. And Ricotta is good with anything. What I love about these mini loaves is the balance of sweet, sour and salty. They’re moist (ew, I hate myself for saying that word), buttery, as creamy as cooked cake dough can be, and smell and taste like summer.
As for my New Jersey detours…one year older, a billion more adventures to have. Petting zoo anyone?
MINI STRAWBERRY CAKES WITH POPPY SEEDS AND LEMON
(makes 4 mini loaves)
2 cups diced strawberries (1/4 inch dice), about 12 medium berries
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups part skim ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and slightly cooled
Preheat the oven to 350°. Combine the diced strawberries and white sugar in a bowl and toss to coat. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the all purpose flour, remaining 1 cup white sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the poppy seeds and whisk to distribute evenly. Set bowl aside. In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, ricotta cheese, vanilla. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, add the dry flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix to combine. The batter will be thick. Add the lemon juice and melted butter and fold in until the mixture is evenly combined.
Spray 4 mini loaf pans (approximately 6x3x2 inches) with non stick cooking spray. Spoon 2/3 cup of batter into the bottom of each pan. Top with 2 heaping teaspoons of diced strawberries. Spoon an additional 1/3 cup of batter on top of the strawberries, spreading it evenly to cover. Then, top the second layer with another 2 teaspoons of berries. Place the mini loaf pans on a larger baking sheet and bake for about 55 minutes until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool until you can handle the loaves. Run a knife along the sides and loosen the cakes, removing from the pans and cooling on a wire rack. Serve immediately or cover in an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 3 days. Enjoy!