The next few posts have been carefully planned to coincide with my parents visiting from the States. I last saw them in June ’08 and I can hardly believe I will have them sitting here with me in my flat tomorrow morning. Needless to say, I am very happy and I decided to make this bread a ‘welcome to Australia’ treat for their arrival. I made it for my friend Cassie when she came to visit me in London and we decided that the lemon glaze is what makes this loaf so special.

Vincent van Gogh, Still Life: Red Poppies and Daisies, 1890
oil on canvas, 65 x 50 cm, Private Collection

The Post-Impressionist pioneer of Expressionism, Vincent van Gogh, is one of the most beloved and famous artists in history. Van Gogh suffered from mental illness which may have been due in part to his love of absinthe and lead poisoning (at that time all paints were lead based). In the beginning of his career his palette was somber and muted. It was after meeting important Impressionist painters, Passiaro, Monet, and Gauguin that his work began to lighten in colour and movement. It was during his time in mental institutions that the famous swirls began to appear in his work (1). With regard to still life painting, van Gogh was most prolific with the subject of sunflowers. Done in two distinct series, the sunflowers were all completed before van Gogh began the painting Still Life: Red Poppies and Daisies where the influence of the series is visually evident (2). The curving lines found in the flowing leaves are characteristic of the work produced during van Gogh‘s stay in Saint-Rémy. It was during this period that van Gogh also produced the well known painting, Starry Night (view here), also displaying the swirling brushstrokes.

It is the seeds from the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, that are used for culinary purposes. They are commonly baked into rolls and sweet breads in addition to coating the exterior of bagels. The seeds can be finely ground to use as a filling for pastries. The Joy of Cooking states that “the most desirable [seeds] come from Holland and are a slate-blue color.” The seeds can also be pressed to make poppyseed oil which is very popular as a salad dressing (3). My recipe for the very dense and rich bread was adapted from one for pound cake and it seems to be a cross between the British and French versions of the dish. In the UK dried fruits of sultanas are added (I opted for seeds instead) and in France, lemon is added to their quatre-quarts mixture (4). Regardless of its origin, my cakey bread recipe with blueberry honey butter makes for a wonderful welcome breakfast!!

{Lemon Poppy Seed Bread}

adapted from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum
makes 1 loaf

3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c milk
1 1/2 c flour
3/4 c vanilla sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 TB lemon zest
3 TB poppy seeds
4 TB butter, softened

{lemon syrup}
1 lemon, juiced
1/3 c superfine sugar

Combine the eggs, vanilla extract, and milk. In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients. Add the softened butter and mix well. Slowly incorporate the egg mixture and mix until you have a thick batter.

Pour into a prepared bread pan. Place in a preheated oven (180 C) for 30-40 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil for the first 2/3 of the cooking time. The bread is done when a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let cool.

Heat the lemon juice and superfine sugar in a small sauce pan. Swirl the pan until the mixture begins to bubble and is slightly reduced. Prick the top of the bread with a toothpick and slowly pour the lemon syrup over the bread. Serve chilled or warm with blueberry honey butter.

{Blueberry Honey Butter}

1/2 c blueberries
1/4 c honey
1/2 c butter

Heat the blueberries and 2 TB of the honey in a small saucepan until the mixture has reduced by half (takes about 3 minutes of constant stirring).

Add the remaining honey and softened butter. Mix well with an electric hand mixer to make light and fluffy. Place in refrigerator to set.