“Kas Kas” is Tamil for … guess what?  Well, when we saw it for 10RM/kg at the Indian spice market, and saw that it comes from Turkey, we guessed: couscous?  We asked, “Couscous?”  The shop keeper replied, “Kas kas.”  It looked right.  The little specs were mostly the right color with a few black specs in there.  I also bought chickpeas, and the following Monday we got ready for a simple dinner.  I added some boiling water to the kas kas, covered it, and went to put Miles down.  When I came back to it 15 minutes later, expecting full beads of semolina, I found what appeared to be coarse sand sitting in lukewarm water.

A google search revealed the truth.  Kas kas is Tamil for Poppy Seed (which you probably guessed from the title of this recipe).  After we discarded the first cupful, I estimated we had about a pound of poppy seeds to get through.  We used a full cup in this recipe, and my internet searches turned up enough good looking concoctions that I just might be back for more kas kas.  Fingers crossed we are not up for any drug tests in the near future.  I realize now it would be equally easy to make a similar mistake with mustard seed mistaken for poppy seeds, and the result would not be as harmless (ew, lemon mustard seed cake – and a wasted stick of butter!).

This cake was my first attempt at baking in our Penang oven.  The result is dense, buttery and rich.  Since the kas kas is mostly light in color, like couscous, the resulting cake doesn’t have the chockers black look I would expect from “normal” poppy seeds in this quantity.

Lemon Kas Kas Cake (adapted from Moosewood)

  • 1 cup kas kas (or poppy seeds)
  • 1 1/2 cup milk (cow or soy)
  • 1/2 lb butter (2 sticks), room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • juice of half a lemon
  1. Combine kas kas and milk in a small sauce pan.  Bring up to boil, cover and remove from heat.  Allow to sit at least 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour an 8″ round cake pan.
  3. Cream butter until fluffy.  Add sugar, cream.  Add egg yolks (put the egg whites in a separate bowl) one at a time, mixing well between additions.  Fold in lemon zest.
  4. Add flour, baking soda, and salt to butter/sugar/egg mixture.
  5. Fold in poppy seeds and milk.
  6. Whisk the egg whites until peaks form but stop before it becomes dry.  Fold into cake mixture along with lemon juice.
  7. Pour into cake pan, pushing the batter to the sides to create a slight depression in the center of the pan.  This will make a cake which is flatter on top, instead of a mounded one.
  8. Bake 30-35 minutes, until tester comes out clean.  Cool in pan about 10 minutes, then invert onto plate.  If you have some confectioners sugar, dust the top of the cake.
  9. Tim liked this served with raspberry jam, but I thought it was just fine on its own.  Enjoy.
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