The earthy fruitiness of poppy seeds makes them shine in recipes both sweet and savory; they’re equally at home on top of a buttered bagel as in a sweet filling for hamentashen, the stuffed, three-cornered Purim cookie. This poppy seed cake is basically a madeleine batter - almond flour, egg whites, and butter. The butter is browned first to give it a bit more complexity and a nuttiness that complements the poppy seeds. The egg whites keep the cake nice and tender and lend a bit of crispness to the crust.
Labneh (or labaneh or labné) is yogurt that has been salted and drained to remove excess water. The result is a thick, tart, and creamy spread that’s similar in texture to Greek-style yogurt, but richer in flavor. The tradition of drained yogurt comes from the Levant, but Israelis adopted it wholeheartedly and use labneh in sauces, eat it instead of yogurt, and just smear it on bread with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of za’atar. Although kosher laws mean that labneh seldom appears on the Israeli dinner table (where meat is typically served), I use it often at Zahav. Pureed with tons of soft herbs and garlic, labneh is the base of the striking jade-green sauce for Zahav’s famous fried cauliflower. Labneh also works beautifully as a sauce for fish (amazing when mixed with amba, mango pickle). I love to use labneh in desserts because it mellows the sweetness.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling frequently, until the foaming stops and the butter turns a rich brown color and smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Whisk the almond flour, all-purpose flour, and baking powder in a bowl.
- Combine the egg whites, confectioners’ sugar, and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer and a big bowl). Beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and fold in gently with a spatula until just combined. Whisk about 1/4 cup of the batter into the brown butter until well combined, and then fold the brown butter mixture into the batter. Add the poppy seeds and lemon zest and fold in gently until just combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F, with a rack in the middle. Line a 9-by-13 inch baking dish with oiled parchment.
- Pour the batter into the prepared dish and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool in the pan. You can turn it out of the pan before slicing and serving, topped with blueberries and labneh, or serve straight from the pan.
Yield: One 9-by-13-inch cake
Excerpted with permission from ZAHAV by Michael Solomonov. Copyright © 2015 by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. Photography © 2015 by Mike Persico. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Chef Michael Solomonov was born in Israel and grew up in Pittsburgh. He and Steven Cook are the co-owners of CookNSolo Restaurants, home to some of Philadelphia's most distinctive culinary concepts, including Zahav, Federal Donuts, Abe Fisher, Dizengoff, Rooster Soup Co., and Goldie. They are a combined four-time James Beard Award Winners, including the 2016 "Best International Cookbook" and "Book of the Year" awards for their first cookbook, Zahav, and a 2011 "Best Chef Mid-Atlantic" win for Solomonov and who in May, was named the 2017 JBF's "Outstanding Chef".
Michael Solomov Introduces Labneh
- Prepared labneh is available in Middle Eastern markets. Making it is simple: Add salt to taste to plain (not nonfat) yogurt, scoop it into a cheesecloth-lined colander, and set that over a bowl. Place the whole contraption in your refrigerator to drain overnight, and you’ll have labneh for breakfast.