The crumb of this mini loaf cake from Margarita Manzke, pastry chef at République, is incomparably tender and moist thanks to its high proportion of yogurt. Candied Meyer lemon slices and fresh lemon curd add two more dimensions of lemon brightness to the cake; make them the day before you plan to bake the cakes, so they’re ready to go when you are. If it seems like too much work, though, to make those other elements, leave them out and you’ll still have the best recipe for lemon poppy seed cake you can get.
Lemon Poppy Seed Cakes
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease each cup of an eight-cavity mini loaf pan with oil and line the bottoms and two long sides of each with parchment paper. Grease the paper, then dust the inside of the pan with flour to coat, knocking out any excess.
In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt; whisk in the poppy seeds. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, yogurt, lemon zest, vanilla and eggs until smooth. Spoon one-third of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until almost combined. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients in two more additions, stirring until there are no more pockets of flour left in the batter.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared loaf pans, smoothing the top. Place the candied lemon slices on a cutting board (reserve the rest for another use) and cut each into 8 smaller wedges. Scatter 8 wedges in each pan on the batter (so, 1 whole lemon slice per cake). Bake until golden brown at the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cakes cool completely in the pans; unmold onto a wire rack.
When ready to serve, whisk the lemon curd vigorously to loosen until it’s smooth again. Transfer the curd to a small piping bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain tip. Insert the tip in two places, spaced evenly apart on the bottom of each cake, and fill each hole with about 1 tablespoon of the lemon curd; you should feel the pressure of the curd in the cake but it should not come out of the bottom of the cake. Serve the filled cakes within 4 hours or wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 12 hours.
Candied Meyer Lemons
Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Meanwhile, remove any seeds from the lemon slices. Add the slices to the boiling water, stir for 10 seconds, then use a spider or slotted spoon to remove the slices and transfer to a bowl. Discard the water and refill the pan with fresh water. Repeat this blanching process two more times, making sure to start with fresh water each time (this removes most of the bitterness from the lemon pith).
Pour 2 cups fresh water into the pan, then stir in the sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the lemon slices and cook, maintaining a steady, gentle simmer and stirring occasionally, until the slices are tender and fully translucent but not falling apart, about 30 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and let the slices cool completely in the syrup. Use a fork to transfer the slices to a plate and discard the syrup or save for another use.
Pour 2 teaspoons cold water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top, then stir to ensure the gelatin is evenly moistened; let stand while you make the curd, at least 5 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs vigorously until smooth and lightened in color, about 1 minute, then whisk in the lemon juice. Fill a saucepan with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, place the bowl over the pan (make sure the bottom does not touch the water) and cook, whisking steadily, until the curd thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise, 3 to 4 minutes (an instant-read thermometer inserted in the curd, but not touching the bowl, should read 170 degrees).
Remove the bowl from the pan, add the gelatin and stir until dissolved. Continue stirring the curd until cooled to 130 degrees, 2 to 3 minutes. Add one piece of butter and whisk until it fully melts into the curd; repeat with the remaining butter, making sure each piece melts fully before adding the next. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd, then refrigerate it until thickened and set, at least 8 hours or overnight.