Grandma’s Cooking School: Poppy Seed Torte


{Grandma’s Cooking School is my chronicles of the informal cooking lessons that my Grandma graciously decided to give us girls. I have compiled a list of all the lessons so far. Enjoy!}


This cake is my favorite.  The batter is not too sweet, the custard filling is so rich, and the whipped cream frosting is perfect.


Here’s a tip from Grandma: soak your poppy seeds in milk overnight.



What’s the secret to this cake’s light texture? Egg whites – beaten and folded into the batter.


Grandma cut a pretty round of wax paper for the cake to rest on.

group4The custard. Oh, the custard! And the frosting. Oh my.


The finished cake. We were a little impatient and filled the cake before the custard was set. Oh well.


This is the best part: sharing our creations with Dad. He is always so happy to taste our desserts at coffee break.

When I asked Grandma if I could share the recipe for Poppy Seed Torte with you, she quietly but firmly refused. I’m sorry to tease you, but Grandma has spoken!

**Next Time on Grandma’s Cooking School: Homemade Bread & Cinnamon Rolls**

Here is the list of our lessons so far.

31 Responses to “Grandma’s Cooking School: Poppy Seed Torte”

  1. Jen says:

    Wow! That looks amazing!

    Just started following you via Twitter, through PW’s blog. Love this blog, your photos are beautiful!

  2. Maria says:

    I can see why this is a family favorite. I love the last photo of your dad.

  3. says:

    I am drooling all over myself while looking at these pictures.

  4. Oh wow that looks so good – wish I could make it! Lovely photos.

  5. This looks amazing. Poppy seeds are only in old fashioned desserts; I wonder why they’re not very popular anymore. They are delicious. I respect Grandma not wanting to share her recipe–mine was the same way! :)
    You’re so lucky to have a grandma like her!

  6. Amanda says:

    What a lovely, old-fashioned dessert! And how wonderful to have a Grandma willing to cook with you!

    I have to admit, though, that I cannot understand why someone wouldn’t be willing to share a recipe. I joke sometimes that food is my “love language” because I love to bake and cook for people so much but, all joking aside, taking the time to bake something IS a way of showing love to someone. So how could one not be willing to “share the love” by sharing a recipe? Does it stem from times past when perhaps baking was a means of housewives secretly competing with each other? Is there a fear that someone will misuse a recipe?

    I’m sorry — I don’t mean to rant! — I just (obviously) feel strongly about this. My grandmother never took the time to teach me how to make kolaches (a traditional Czech/German pastry) before she died, but I’m so grateful that another elderly woman graciously agreed to teach me. She was no relative of mine, so there was hoarding of a family secret, and that’s what made her teaching me so special. Not all of us have grandmas in the kitchen to share with us their secret recipes.

  7. Lauren says:

    As you said, Grandma has spoken! I was making up the recipe as I saw your beautiful photos – it sounds like an absolutely delightful cake :).

  8. Melanie says:

    See…Grandma knows that someday Erica will be a famous baker and cook this will be her most famous cake that people will travel for thousands of miles and pay loads of money just to taste. And all because Grandma wouldn’t share the recipe! Gotta love it!

  9. Erica Lea says:

    Oh my! Thank you all for your encouraging words. You are so kind.

    Amanda: I understand how you feel. I really love and respect my Grandmother, so I want to honor her wishes!

    Melanie: Awww, thanks Melanie! You are so sweet. :D

  10. emily s says:

    You grandma seems like such an amazing woman! My great-grandma was well known for her talent in the kitchen (her parents owned a restaurant!) and I wish that I had time to learn by her hands before she passed away… thanks for sharing Erica. I may have to make up a copycat recipe … although I’m sure it will be far under par! : ))

  11. astheroshe says:

    WOW that really looks amazing. I love seeing your grandma’s hand in the pics. So graceful and full of wisdom.

    I never had the opportunity to bake anything with either of my grandmothers. I pray i will someday be one. You are blessed.

    The torture of no recipe.. . Oh Grandma, you are killing me! :) She sounds like a “”tough cookie””; I’m sure there is something out there close in recipe..but will not have that extra grandma love in it. :)

    Thanks for sharing….

  12. Katherine says:

    Haha well, it’s a shame we can’t have a recipe, but it’s still so much fun to read these segments. The cake does look delcious, your Grandma knows her cooking/baking :)

  13. Emily says:

    Just wanted to write a quick note that I linked to your blog through foodgawker – the cake looks delicious. I wish I could make it! Also, I had so much fun reading this and your other blog – I grew up as the oldest of 6 kids in a family of 8 in rural Maine and that’s why I love cooking (and gardening) so much. I had a lot of experience cooking huge amounts of spaghetti sauce and making cookies that would disappear before I even finished cooking them!

  14. Elleny says:

    I want this recipe SOOO bad- I absoultely love poppyseed. I found the best vegan poppyseed cookies the other day at my university bookstore and I haven’t been able to find the recipe anywhere. So sad :( Looks delicious though!

  15. I unfortunately never met my grandmother but today I’m trying one of her recipes that my aunt has been making for a very long time. I’m nervous! I want it to be as perfect as I heard she used to make it.

    As for the torte… I love it! I really really really like poppy seeds, and custard. I might skip the frosting but I’m definitely making this very soon! looks delicious!

  16. Marion says:

    Why oh why oh why cannot you give out the recipe?!
    This would be number one in my baking list definitely!

  17. Paige says:

    Our family has an old recipe almost identical to this one … it’s the best cake in the world! Our filling is a little different, but fairly similar. We only get it for birthdays – a special treat. I’m hesitant to give out the recipe as well.

  18. Lindyloo says:

    Loved the photographs particularly the one of a pair of older hands and a pair of young hands working together. Can you keep working on your Grandma to ’share the love’ alternatively, can you get her to publish her own cookbook. Cheers and thanks

  19. ChristineD says:

    Please work on a cookbook so you can share this and other wonderful recipes.

  20. Julie says:

    This looks delish. I am not saying it’s identical, but midwest living has an online recipe for “perfect poppy seed torte”. It might be a good starting point for those who want to try this.

  21. I’ve just posted about some poppy seed butterfly cakes I made with a custard/pastry cream filling inspired by this – hope you don’t mind!

  22. Liz says:

    No recipe? Whats the point? Food blogger not sharing the recipe? That’s a first…

  23. Dawn says:

    Erica! Wonderful as usual! It’s been awhile since I visited your blog and of course I was ecstatic to see all of the lovely recipes! I don’t find it odd at all that your generous grandmother doesn’t want to share her recipes. I’ve met so many people who won’t share recipes with me in my everyday life (church friends, family members…)- so I wouldn’t expect that someone I barely know would give out a “family-secret”. I wanted to comment though on how special I think it is that she is passing the torch on to her grand-daughters. I love the photos! For years my grandmother made a wonderful cake at Christmas. Red velvet! When I asked her for the recipe, she told her she’d give it to me “at some point”. I almost cried when years later I received a lovingly-tattered, yellowed piece of paper in her writing, with the recipe scrawled down. She told me she was finally ready ;)

  24. Sunny Tang says:

    Frankly, I am disappointed in both this post and in your grandmother. What kind of a person feels obliged to taunt us with pictures of food that we can never make? My grandmother died last year, and she was known for her generosity and delicious food. She always encouraged me to share my recipes with everybody and allow others to share in the joy of cooking. I hope that your grandmother comes to her senses before it’s too late. I’m sorry for my candor, but this is a very personal issue that really affects me.

    An atheist young woman,
    Sunny Tang

  25. Dani says:

    I really liked following the pictorial of making the cake. There is so much value in the photo of your grandma’s hand over yours. Sometimes a recipe is a labor of love and I, for one, understand your grandma’s hesitation to share it. Thank you/ her for the tip of soaking the seeds.

  26. Sunny Tang says:

    I like you Fran.

  27. L. says:

    Hey, just wanted to say that this post inspired me to try and make a poppy seed torte, using the recipe in the comments above, so thank you :) I think you’re so lucky to have a grandmother to pass down recipes to you; no one in my family cooks/bakes except me, so I’m on my own!

  28. Jana says:

    This looks exactly like the cake that my mom makes every year for our birthdays… she got the recipe from her grandmother… it is the BEST cake!! It looks exactly the same… well not exactly we use real whipped cream as the frosting. Yours I can’t tell if it’s whipped cream or frosting… that would change the taste. Hum….

  29. Ri says:

    I understand that this is not the same recipe, but still

    There is a Poppy seed cake recipe here that you can use for the layers:

    Creamy Custard here:


    Joy of Cooking book has recipe for the Poppy Seed Custard Cake, just google it.


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