- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Summer is one of the best times to kick back, savor the moment, slow down, chat, sip and do lunch. Not a power lunch, mind you, but a slower paced ladies’ lunch on someone’s porch.

The menu is decidedly female — chicken salad stuffed into a hollowed out ripe tomato, with something warm and soft like a cheese grits casserole or a favorite corn pudding.

Add something steamed and green like asparagus or thin green beans, and for dessert, a wonderful sherry-infused poppy seed cake.

I received this recipe from Teresa Pregnall, also known as the Charleston Cake Lady, who says her poppy seed cake is a mainstay of party menus in her port city.

It keeps well for a week under a cake dome, but you’ll probably enjoy it at once. A good dose of dry sherry takes away any cake-mix flavor, keeps the cake moist and makes it a festive dessert.

Charleston poppy seed cake

Store this cake, covered in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, at room temperature for up to 1 week. Or freeze it, wrapped in foil, for up to 6 months. Thaw the cake overnight on the counter before serving.

Vegetable oil spray for misting the pan

Flour for dusting the pan

1 package (18.25 ounces) plain white cake mix

1 package (3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding mix

1/3 cup poppy seeds

1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

½ cup vegetable oil

½ cup dry sherry

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly mist a 10-inch tube pan with vegetable oil spray, then dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Set the pan aside.

Place the cake mix, pudding mix, poppy seeds, yogurt, oil, sherry, eggs and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute.

Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping the sides down again if needed.

The batter should look well combined and thickened and the poppy seeds should be well distributed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it out with the rubber spatula. Place the pan in the oven.

Bake the cake until it is golden brown and springs back when lightly pressed with your finger, 45 to 50 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Run a long, sharp knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto a rack, then invert it onto another rack so that the cake is right side up. Allow the cake to cool completely, 30 minutes more.

Place the cake onto a serving platter and serve.

Makes 16 servings.


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