Let’s Get High! (on Poppy Seed Cake)

Myth Busters taught me that eating too many poppy seeds can actually cause a false-positive reading on a drug test. Thus proving the plot of countless sitcoms to be more plausible than previously imagined. But I have yet to meet anyone personally effected by the potent little seeds (if you failed a drug test because of poppy seeds- please, please let us know! comment!). Drug tests be damned, I love poppy seeds.

Growing up in a Polish family in Chicago, they most often arrived in products from our favorite bakeries: poppy seed kolachky, paczki, coffee cakes. They were all delightful. The most common application in baking is probably the ubiquitous lemon poppy seed muffin, which I can take or leave. My favorite pairing is poppy seed and almond,  which this cake recipe expertly showcases.

This poppy seed cake is so crazy delicious that I almost didn’t know what to do. Well, I ate it. All of it! In like two days! You are probably starting to understand what I like in a cake. This beauty, the caramel cake and Edna Lewis’ Busy Day Cake are all variations on each other, but each is amazing in its own way. I don’t need heaps of frosting or multiple layers to make me happy.

This will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of days. Enjoy!

Poppy Seed Cake (recipe from Lauren Chattman via Food & Wine)

  • 3/4 cup poppy seeds
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 sticks (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup of water to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the poppy seeds and cover. Let stand for 1 hour. Scrape the seeds into a blender and pulse until lightly crushed.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease and flour an 8-inch square baking pan, tapping out excess flour. In a medium bowl, whisk the 1 1/3 cups of flour with the baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter with the granulated sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the poppy seed mixture and beat at medium speed until just combined. Add the eggs to the batter one at a time, beating well between additions. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert it onto a wire rack and let cool completely, about 2 hours. Dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar, cut into squares and serve.

67 comments to “Let’s Get High! (on Poppy Seed Cake)”

  1. I made the ubiquitous lemon poppy seed muffins a couple of weeks ago and I have to say that whilst I love them, they are pretty standard fare compared to something like this which is – frankly – bloody exquisite sounding. And looking, for that matter. Bravo.

  2. Yes, Please, and Thank you…Bravo!


  3. Wow, I missed that episode of Myth Busters. I always thought that whole drug test thing was just made up. Not that I have ever been drug tested, but I do love poppyseeds.

  4. Looks delish! True story: at my high school, participating in extracurricular activities required consenting to random drug testing. One morning, I got called in for a test after eating a huge poppy seed muffin for breakfast. A friend teased me that my test was going to come back positive, but I laughed it off. Sure enough, several weeks later, a school counselor called my mom (laughing) and told her that my test results were “possibly positive” for opium. So there you go – it can happen! (Side note: love the poppy seed kolachky shout-out! My mom is from Chicago and makes it every Christmas, it’s a beloved tradition in our family.)

  5. cake looks good. there was a case of poppy seed defense several years ago in a northern Chicago suburb. funny because poppy seeds, sad because someone died (and killer was acquitted from drug charges).

  6. Utter simplicty. I bet that a crunchy sugared almond topping would be nice if the urge to fancy it up overcame a person. Not that I would EVER do that…

  7. I have to say–I am one who did have poppy seeds register as heroin in a blood test! I was around 8 and just had a routine blood test at the pediatrician and when it came back, they asked if I’d had poppy seeds because of the elevation in my blood and sure enough–had a poppy bagel for breakfast before coming to the appointment!

  8. There is such beauty in simplicity. I’m not a fan of overly frosted or sweet cakes. This looks right up my alley. Now I’m going to crave this after supper…. *sigh Thank you for sharing!

  9. wow, I love hearing that this does actually happen! (not in the case of the killer) thanks for sharing stories…

  10. Tim – thank you so much for posting this recipe. Growing up, my Polish best friend’s babcia would make my favorite kolachky and I would just gobble it right up. I will so try this recipe soon!

    Keep up the wonderful, beautiful work. Sending warm greetings from an equally cold and snowy New York! :)

  11. Sivan Harlap says:

    January 27th, 2011 at 12:04 am

    so beautiful. <3

  12. Sivan Harlap says:

    January 27th, 2011 at 12:05 am

    two thoughts: lemon zest. lemon flake finishing salt on top. that’s all. :)

  13. anything poppysed and i am there….love bages w them…love cakes (like yours) w them…love them sprinkled in salads…..delicious little poppy things they are!

  14. Best blog post title ever? Love the simple dusting of powdered sugar.

  15. Oooh love me some poppy seed cake! I might have to make one this weekend! I need some lemon in mine though. Thanks for the reminder about this great cake! I’ll remember to “get high’ while I’m eating it. :)

  16. You make it so tantalizing! I’ve been mulling over some way to incorporate grapefruit into a baked good, and I think I just landed on my answer: grapefruit poppy seed bread.

  17. grapefruit would be nice, Kimberly. Let me know how it turns out…

  18. you know what this reminds me of…

  19. Yes Bruce, I know.

  20. louise kent says:

    January 27th, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    A double yes to lemon zest! I like some cream cheese frosting on top too. I have a sweet tooth right now;.

  21. I guess I didn’t know about the false positive rumors of the poppy seed — very interesting indeed. I do like poppy seeds (bagels, cakes, so on). Your recipe is surely one to try.

  22. I, too, am not crazy about lemon poppyseed, but I do go wild for almond poppyseed. For awhile, I was able to get an almond poppyseed muffin mix at the supermarket, but slowly but surely I stopped being able to find it, and have not seen it for several years now. I am definitely trying this recipe to fill that void! Looks delicious!

  23. Tim- Do you happen to have a kolachky recipe?? My roommate in college was from a Polish family and she made them for us twice a year. I’ve never been able to recreate her cookies and this post reminded me, you might be the best person to ask (because she won’t give her recipe away) :)!

  24. So glad I found this website and am definitely going to make some poppy treats soon. I would love to add L + D to my Google Reader, but the feed link seems to not work? Just wondered if anyone else was having trouble.

  25. Totally agree with Megan on that one. I laughed out loud when I read that. I’ve been putting poppy seeds in everything lately –this cake is on my must-try list now, Tim!

  26. i have a question tim. besides the great high this cake will probably afford me (i feel high just looking at the photo!) will i be picking poppy seeds out of my teeth for days on end?

    there’s a gagillion of ’em in there! not that i can’t handle that cost to try this out. more just curious. it looks om to freaking the nom!

  27. Darn, if only poppy seeds weren’t banned where I am now. I’d whip this delicious-looking cake pronto!

  28. Jordan- I honestly didn’t find it to be a problem, but maybe it will very teeth to teeth? It’s worth it.

  29. Yum for this cake! Several years ago, I made my husband a poppyseed cake for his birthday, ate it every day for breakfast for a week, then was hospitalized for a fluke episode of atrial fibrilation. The doctor did not believe me when I told him all I take is Advil, he just rolled his eyes and said I must be on vicodine or percoset or something. My whole family and I were flipping out about the drug test, until a phlebotomist came in and said, very casually, ” did you eat poppyseeds or something?” You should have seen my Dad chasing the doctor down to explain at I’m not a pill-popper. Ha! BTW, no connection between the heart issue and the cake, just a coincidence!

  30. Just discovered your blog! Love it! How did it take me this long??
    I love the look of this cake…I also happen to be a big fan of poppy seeds. Don’t know what it is about them, but they make me happy!
    The photos are gorgeous & are making me seriously hungry!

  31. Lovely cake!

    My mom had to have a job-related drug test – either as part of being hired or getting certified as an R.N. – and they specifically warned her avoid poppyseeds. She went with oatmeal rather than a bagel that morning!

  32. First of all, your poppy seed photos are absolutely gorgeous. Secondly, I can’t wait to make this, I’ve always loved lemon-poppy seed muffins.

  33. your photos are beautiful (as per usual)!!

  34. I made this tonight and it is divine. It embodies all that you describe and more. Thank you for sharing such a perfectly simple, but rich and delicate, cake. I follow your blog and have made many items, but this one is my favorite cake so far. Thank you!

  35. Oooo … I’m thinking this + a big dousing of tart lemon glaze might sit mighty nice, right now.

  36. I used to work in pharmaceutical testing, and we had a research participant who denied all drug use and was in the estimation of our psychiatrist to be a reliable person who tested positive for opiates. She was confused and we mentioned the poppy seed thing, and she goes “OH. MY. GOD! [Grocery store] had poppy seed muffins on sale and I ate like 3 of them the night before because they were so good and I hadn’t had them in forever.”

  37. So. many. poppy seeds. Beautiful. I can tell I would love this.

  38. MMM…I can’t stop making this. Last night I made some variations using olive oil instead of butter and lemon zest instead of vanilla and almond. It was yum!

  39. Deborah Plant says:

    February 19th, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    This sounds great! I’m going to make it on Monday,There is bakery in Vancouver, B.C. that makes a poppy seed bread with a solid sweetened poppy seed swirl taking up about 70% of bread! Do any of you poppy seed lovers know the name of the place?

  40. I will definitely be trying this out. Only just discovered your blog – can’t wait to come back for more inspiration.

  41. Do the poppy seeds absorb the water?

    I’d try this with maybe a half cup almond meal in place of some of the flour. I love almonds.

  42. nbm, they absorb some of the water. It softens them up. My recommendation would be to try the original before adding almond meal. The texture is what makes this so special, and the meal will change that. (although I also love almonds)

  43. Hello! Just popping by to say I made this cake yesterday, instead of doing much needed revision for uni exams.., but i have absolutely no regrets! :) ive never made anything with poppy seeds before so not sure what its MEANT to taste like, but its really nice and i love the texture especially. Thank you very much indeed, you have a wonderful site i have basically lived on whilst putting off the dreaded work and i will continue to make your recipes with utter faith they will turn out deliciously :)
    Sasha x

  44. Sasha- Isn’t baking the best tool for procrastinating?! Glad you enjoyed the cake. Good luck with exams and work!

  45. Hi all, I’m a first time reader here and I tried this poppy seed cake based on the feedback. It was soooo wonderful… moist and rich…thank you for sharing!

  46. Deborah Plant:::: One bakery in Vancouver which has what you’re looking for is European Breads. http://europeanbreads.com/
    I myself have been looking for a bakery which sells caraway rye bread- with whole caraway seeds inside. So easy to get in Prague but not in Van.
    This cake is currently baking in my oven….looking forward to trying it tomorrow with my Czech friends!

  47. Hi there,
    After the poppy seeds have soaked for an hour, do I drain the excess water before moving the seeds into the blender? I’m going to make this for mother’s day-it looks divine!

  48. Hi Emily- No need to drain, just put it all in the blender. Enjoy!

  49. This photo was highlighted today and I just had to tell you that I’ve made this poppy seed cake and the carmel cake several times since you posted them. It’s just recently that I made Edna Lewis’ Busy Day Cake, but it won’t be the last. Thanks for the introduction. I usually make a half recipe and bake it in a loaf pan to limit what eat.

  50. Hi Tim, I was wondering what your opinion was about swapping all-purpose flour in this cake for oat flour (I grind myself from unrolled, whole oats)? I was hoping it might lower the carb count… Any insight? Also, all-purpose flour is not to be found in the country I live in, jut bread flour or cake flour (I mix the two usually, with varying ratios depending on the task at hand). Thanks!

  51. Hi Kelsey- I don’t have a lot of experience with oat flour, so I don’t have a good answer. I don’t believe there is much (if any?) difference in carbs between the two…though obviously oats are healthier in other ways. In any case, I would probably stick with all-purpose (or cake).

  52. Hi Tim, this cake looks so divine, I can’t wait to try it! I don’t have an 8-inch square pan, though. Do you think this would work in a 9-inch round pan? Or a 9-inch springform?

  53. Hey Sarah- sure, it will work in a 9-inch round cake pan. It might be a bit flatter, but still taste good.

  54. My fiancé eat a polish poppy seed cake couple of days in a raw and in the morning right before the test(he didn’t know that this might cause such a big problem now), and he failed his pre-employment drug test. If you know how we can prove that he doesn’t do drugs and he just eat that cake in the morning please email me in personal. I appreciate any help or advises regarding this issue. Thanks

  55. Schuyler Corson says:

    September 16th, 2013 at 10:33 am

    While I never failed a test due to poppy seeds, my father did. And while I was a cook for the military, I was privvy to when each company was going to have their tests popped on them, as our group commander loved poppyseed muffins, but had agreed to have them off the menu on days units under his command would be tested.

  56. I came up positive for trace opiates on a urine test for drugs. I don’t do any drugs, but had eaten a poppy seed roll two days before. This is not a “false positive,” as poppy seeds DO contain traces of opiates. But the amount is so minuscule that it has no impact, in terms of getting high. The opiates from the plant must be highly processed to be sufficiently concentrated for them to produce an intoxicating effect. The positive read I got for trace opiates was easily explained and dismissed. Hope that helps.

  57. My father came up positive the day after eating poppy seed cake several years ago. They dismissed it and he was still hired. It was the first time I had heard of it.

  58. http://www.snopes.com/medical/drugs/poppyseed.asp Yep, its true that you can get a false positive. I certainly would not stop eating my poppy seed! But, look how it affected some lives.

  59. This looks soo good!

    I did fail a poppyseed drug test once. Showed up positive for heroin and I’ve never done heroin! I had them retry the same sample hoping it was a failure in their lab and it still showed up. I thought they would be able to differentiate from poppyseed and heroin. but I guess not. The worst part was my counselor didn’t believe me, even though I’ve never failed a urine test before. They were like “This doesn’t happen. You’d have to eat 100 bagels.Check Google!” I guess their methadone propoganda videos tell them poppyseed doesn’t come up on UAs. But if that’s true, why does the military have a higher cut off points (by 1000?) and why do prisons ban poppyseeds in food? The nurse at the clinic did seem to believe me, though. I was like “but ask the Russian guy at the Peroshki stand! I bought all his poppyseed rolls!” I also baked a poppyseed almond cake that month (not from scratch though, from a box) which could have been the source.

    Anyway.. I still love poppyseed cake items, I’m just more careful when I eat them. This item looks great.

  60. Also don’t like lemon, but almond is great.

  61. I just made your cake! But I didn’t have a blender so.. I sort of skipped one of the steps, I hope it turns out okay. What happens if you skip the step with the poppy in the water? I did boil water, put the poppy seeds in, and let them sit for like 5 min.. and then put them into the batter. I hope that doesn’t mess it up too bad. So my question is, what’s the importance of the blender and the hour long sit step?

  62. so given that lemon/poppyseed muffins are blah, would it be a crime to serve this cake with tartine’s lemon cream?

  63. Oh, Jake- I’m not going to judge you. Live your life!

  64. Oh great, answer him but not me. By the way, the cake ended up okay even though I didn’t use the blender. But I bought a can of filling, but it’s not as compressed as I’d like. I guess I should invest in a grinder of some sort?

  65. Hi Sayre- Sorry to have missed your comment. The soaking softens the poppyseeds and then the blending just bruises them up a little to release some flavor. I would have guessed that the cake would still be good without the blender component…but maybe not what you found?

  66. Made two of these this weekend. Brilliant. Delicious. Simple. My kind of cake. for sure. A huge hit all over.

    I mortar/pestled as I did not want to dig them out of the blender in all their insidious glory. (Poppy seeds are the glitter of the baking world.)

  67. I have it in the oven now and I added cardamom to it. I can’t wait to taste it. I ate the batter and that was already good!

What do you think?