Are you looking for a tasty holiday cake? This orange almond poppy seed cake is deliciously moist with a luscious caramel sauce topping. Even better, the cake is naturally gluten free so everyone can have a slice.
This recipe was originally published on December 24, 2014, and was republished in September 2020 to add better quality photos, re-test the recipe and add more helpful tips.
In Lithuania, poppy seed cake is traditionally served at Christmas, but this cake is plenty versatile for any holiday. I’ve even had someone mention once that they served it at Thanksgiving. For one thing, it’s naturally gluten free which means that everyone can enjoy it.
While the standard holiday cake for us is just poppy seeds and almonds, I love the combination of orange and poppy seed. I find poppy seeds a little bitter without anything extra, but the addition of citrus always helps balance it out. I’ve used the pairing in ricotta cookies and cottage cheese waffles too. Nuts or seeds and citrus are just so good together.
Plus, something creamy and sweet also balances out the intensity of the poppy seeds. Which is why the caramel sauce topping is an integral part of this cake. The poppy seed and almond base is not particularly sweet in itself, but it pairs perfectly with the sweet, sticky sauce for a well-balanced dessert. The result is moist, sweet, flavorful, and just perfect for any occasion.
How to properly whip egg whites
As with many gluten free cakes, all the structure in this cake comes from the eggs. And without baking powder or baking soda, all the rise comes from properly whipping the whites. It’s important to get those right. There are a few tricks to whipping up large quantities of egg whites and mixing them in without deflating them.
The first thing you need to do is get a good sturdy whip on those whites. Here are some quick tips for consistent results:
- Make sure the bowl and whisk or beaters are clean! Oil of any kind is the enemy of egg whites. Just to be safe (if you live in a house like mine you might not know what happened in the kitchen while you were gone), wash and dry them again before using.
- Use a metal or glass bowl. This may seem strange and the science behind it is complicated, but plastic is not a good choice with egg whites. If possible, a copper bowl is the best choice.
- Bring your egg whites to room temperature. Warm egg whites whip to a great volume than cold ones. This will help your cake achieve the maximum rise.
How to fold in egg whites
Now that you have your egg whites fluffy and sturdy, you need to mix them into the rest of the batter without loosing any of that air you worked so hard for. I’m sure you have had days when that just didn’t work out at all. I certainly have. But here are my tricks for folding whipped egg whites into a mix without losing the air:
- Mix a small amount of the egg whites into the batter first. This will help loosen it up, so the rest of the whites fold in easier. Don’t use more than ¼ of the egg whites for this though – that portion will lose most of its air.
- Fold the whites into the batter, not the batter into the whites. You will lose less volume this way.
- Be gentle. Broad, circular motions are the best choice. Scrap around the edges of the bowl then bring the spatula up and over the rest of the mixture. It will take time, but better that then a flat cake!
The wonderful thing about this orange almond poppy seed cake is that it is plenty fancy, but still great for even small occasions. Because, if your family is like mine, you want every excuse to celebrate with dessert.
Orange Almond Poppy Seed Cake
For the cake:
- 2 cups (300g) poppy seeds
- 7 eggs , separated
- 1 cup coconut sugar
- 2 cups almond flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- zest of 3 oranges
For the caramel sauce:
- 1 14 oz. (400ml) can full fat coconut milk
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2/3 cup coconut sugar
For the topping:
- 3/4 cup flaked almonds , toasted
- Pour lots of boiling water over the poppy seeds and soak them for a few hours (ideally overnight) to make them soft and get rid of bitterness. Drain the water from the poppy seeds using cheesecloth and put them twice through the food grinder (or use coffee grinder).
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter. Line with parchment paper and grease the top of the paper.
- In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks with sugar until thick and pale in color, about 5 minutes. Add the poppy seeds and stir until well combined. Stir in the almond flour, cinnamon, and orange zest. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whip egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out evenly with the back of a spoon. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
The caramel sauce:
- As the cake is baking make your sauce. In a small saucepan add the coconut milk, orange juice, coconut oil and coconut sugar. Whisk the sauce over medium heat while it starts to thicken up (about 10-15 minutes). Take it off the heat.
- After the cake is out of the oven, poke small holes in the cake with a skewer and pour half of the caramel sauce over the top (this will help the sauce go deep into the cake). Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the cake and pour more of the sauce on top, being sure to still reserve some for serving.
- When ready to serve, top with an orange slice and another little drizzle of sauce. Enjoy!