Multiple times each week, I ease my car into a parking spot and tuck my cloth grocery bags under my arm before dashing into Trader Joe’s to stock up on staples. After nearly a year, my list permanently etched itself onto my brain: bananas, Brussels sprouts, spinach, eggs… I quickly navigate through the store, deftly weaving in between other leisurely browsing customers, and always end my trip by standing in the shortest line with the best selection of dark chocolate bars.
Last fall, that particular cash register was usually operated by a tall college kid with long brown dreadlocks. Full of positivity and smiles, he energetically asked each customer how they were doing and whether they had plans for the evening. On one rather busy afternoon, I replied that I set aside a few hours to bake muffins and 2 types of cookies.
“Really?” He looked startled. “What kinds?”
After I answered, he responded, “Well if you need a taste tester, I’m here ’til 10!” with a huge grin on his face. I laughed, agreeing to stop by again if the treats turned out nicely, but… I jinxed it with my promise. None of those baked goodies tasted decent enough to share!
A couple weeks later, I finally perfected the recipe for my toffee coffee cookies, and after devouring half the batch, I packed up the rest in a zip-topped baggie and slid them into my purse. Over at TJ’s, I handed the cookies to that employee along with the cash for my produce purchases and watched his eyes light up like a toddler’s on Christmas morning.
“Whaa… You baked me cookies??” he sounded awestruck. “Oh my gosh—thank you! This is, like, the best day ever!”
I laughed as he stared at them. “What flavor are they?” he asked. When I responded, he bounced up and down in a makeshift happy dance, while his jealous coworkers begged for a taste. It turned out everyone there adored coffee! He then walked around the counter and buried me in a huge bear hug before I left with my groceries.
But since that October afternoon, I hadn’t ever seen him there again, and my slightly paranoid mind started to worry. What if there’s some rule against taking stuff from customers? What if he was fired all because I gave him cookies??
As the weeks and months dragged by, I gradually began to forgive myself for him losing his job, and I stopped thinking about the incident whenever I pulled into the parking lot.
This past Saturday morning, I begrudgingly canceled my morning run due to the gruesome windy storm blowing through the West Coast, loading up my bags and heading over to TJ’s for my biweekly shopping spree instead. As I waited in line for the sweet girl to ring up my groceries, I glanced up at the employee station and did a double take. The dreadlock kid stood there with his back to me, chatting with the store manager!
He didn’t get fired! I didn’t make him lose his job after all!
That one fleeting moment—simply spotting the dreadlock cashier—completely brightened my rainy day, much like the sunshiny flavors in this Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake. Full of fresh tangy notes, this citrus dessert even boasts a sweet almond glaze, giving it a highly sophisticated taste despite being astonishingly simple to make!
I polled the FFTS Facebook page last month, asking what types of cakes you enjoyed baking. I basically received the same response from everyone: you save layered cakes for special occasions and prefer easy, one-pan cakes for everything else. So that’s exactly what I created—a simple loaf cake baked in a standard 9” x 5” pan. And you don’t even need to pull out your electric mixer for any of it!
I loaded lots of lemon flavor into this low fat cake. You’ll use both lemon zest and lemon juice. The zest actually provides most of the flavor, while the juice reacts with the baking powder to keep the cake light and airy. Make sure you use fresh lemons; the flavor of bottled lemon juice or lemon extract tastes more artificial.
After my childhood love affair with lemon poppy seed muffins (they were the only flavor I’d ever eat!), I always add in plenty of poppy seeds to my citrusy baked goods. The loaf looks so cute with their tiny blue speckles! They also add a subtle earthiness to balance out the bright lemon, but if you aren’t a fan, feel free to decrease the amount of (or completely omit) the poppy seeds.
To lighten this lemon cake, I only mixed in 1 tablespoon of oil. The rest of the tender texture comes from Greek yogurt! A true powerhouse in low fat baking, it contributes tons of moisture without the excess fat and calories. (It also adds a little extra protein too, so I sneak it into almost all of my baked treats!) If you don’t have Greek yogurt, regular yogurt will work just fine.
Like a stereotypical cake recipe, mine requires you to alternate adding the dry ingredients and milk to the egg mixture. Alternating additions is mandatory. This reduces the chance of over-mixing the batter, which would over-develop the gluten strands and turn your cake tough. So let’s avoid dry cake! Simply stir in 1/3 of the flour mixture until just barely incorporated; then gently mix in half of the milk. Repeat again, and finish off by folding in the last 1/3 of the flour. This easy method ensures your cake stays light and airy every time!
After popping the pan in the oven, come back and check on it after about 30 minutes. Sometimes loaf cakes brown a little too quickly on top, and the bottom hasn’t cooked all the way through by the time the top looks done. If that happens to you, pull out the pan and place a little tin foil tent over the top before sticking it back in the oven to finish baking.
As difficult as it sounds, you must let the cake cool completely before glazing it. (Although to be honest, the glaze is optional… Without it, you could easily treat this loaf as a healthy breakfast slice!) I included options for both almond and vanilla glazes. While I prefer almond—it’s my all-time favorite flavor!—my guy absolutely hates it, so I drizzled his with the vanilla instead. If you choose the vanilla route, use clear vanilla extract to preserve the glaze’s bright white color. Walmart sells a large 4 oz bottle in their wedding section for only $4!
After all of your patient waiting and decorative drizzling, you’ve completely earned your reward: a thick slice of this skinny Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake! The tangy citrus really sings in each tender bite, pairing perfectly with the earthy little seeds and sweet white glaze. With its vibrant flavor and moist texture, this easy cake will always brighten anyone’s day!
So you all know my guy by now… He basically avoids every dessert I bake, preferring candy like fruity gummy worms and colorful sweet tarts instead.
The morning after this cake’s photo shoot, my guy wandered into the kitchen while I edited the pictures in the office. When I heard the quiet whisper of peeling open plastic wrap, I tiptoed down the hall to peer around the corner, spying as he carved off a huge 2”-thick slab. And he finished off the entire thing—every last crumb!
That’s the biggest compliment I could ever ask for, and you better believe that it completely brightened my day too!
*Note: Recipe updated on 4/22/14 to ensure the cake turns out a little moister, as requested by readers. Enjoy!