Baking with Beer: Lemon-Poppyseed Hefeweizen Tea Cake
Well, that’s a mouthful. The cake on the other hand is not: it’s light, delicate, crumbly in the best way, tart, sweet, and delightfully beery. This is a simple recipe that makes a not-too-fancy sweet treat to have around the house–or you can definitely dress it up with some add-ons and serve it for dessert, bring it to a BBQ or put it on a brunch platter.
Let’s Talk About Cake
Cake is a great application for beer because most cake recipes call for a liquid element (typically milk or buttermilk). Milk is slightly sweet, as is beer, so the two are often easily exchanged. There are obvious differences to keep in mind: beer is fat-free, so the final product may be slightly less rich, but this is usually not noticeable. Beer is full of flavors, some of which are compatible with the cake recipe and some of which are not. When beer is cooked and/or reduced, these flavors are typically more prominent, so be conservative. Super dank IPAs are not my top choice for baking–save those for the pint glass, not the cake pan. Beer is carbonated and can add additional leavening, which lightens batter. If this is not desired, you can use flat beer instead–just plan ahead. Lastly, if a recipe calls for buttermilk or another sour liquid, you may want to add a sour element such as a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar (or use a sour beer). Sometimes this acid component is for flavor and sometimes this may be the key to leavening–keep an eye out for baking soda only recipes where you’ll need the acid to react.
I chose a classic German Paulaner Hefeweizen for this cake–a nice estery and grainy option. You can do the same, or grab an American Hef! This cake would also work with most wheat beers or lightly-hopped golden ales. I can also see it with a saison or Belgian blonde, depending on flavor and bitterness levels.
Need to Knows
If you bake in the morning, you’ll have cake for afternoon tea. If you bake in the morning, you’ll also have part of a beer left that you probably shouldn’t waste. Just drink it, it’s allowed. It’s baking cleanup!
Start with very soft butter for a quick process. Use freshly-squeezed lemon juice (not bottled). Make sure your poppy seeds are not too old (I store mine in the freezer). Butter and flour your pan very well. If you can wait to cut into this cake until it’s totally cool (good luck), it will slice much cleaner!
Lemon-Poppyseed Hefeweizen Tea Cake
Makes one 22 x 11 x 8 cm loaf (roughly 9 x 5”)
8 oz. AP flour (a scant 2 cups, not packed)
scant ½ t. salt
¼ t. baking soda
1 ½ t. baking powder
1 ½ T. poppy seeds
4 oz. (1 stick or 8 T.) unsalted butter, softened
¾ c. white sugar
2 large eggs
¾ c. Hefeweizen (use from top of bottle for light flavor or from bottom for extra)
1 T. fresh lemon zest (not packed–from about 2 medium lemons)
3 T. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Heat oven to 350. Prepare loaf pan with butter and a dusting of flour.
Cream butter in mixer (recommended, though possible by hand with generous energy). Add sugar and continue beating until light, about 4-5 minutes. Combine all other dry ingredients in separate bowl. Slow down beater and add lemon zest, lemon juice and eggs. Scrape down sides periodically. Add beer and mix until semi-combined (it may look broken and that’s alright). Add dry mixture and mix just until combined. Pour batter into pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating once halfway through. Test with a toothpick. Outside should be light golden brown, and a long crack may appear on top–that’s okay. Remove and let cool in pan for 15 minutes on a rack or until you can comfortably handle the pan with bare hands for a few moments (note: this may be longer for you, I have ex-line cook hands). Gently invert onto a cradled tea towel or carefully on rack if you like living dangerously, then replace upright. This part is scary. Baking is exciting!
Let cool completely before slicing carefully (I use a sharp serrated knife, but any very sharp knife will do).
I like this cake as-is, alongside a cup of tea for an afternoon pick-me-up, but I’m usually a sweets purist, and you may want it another way. Fancier ideas follow.
- Dress it up with a powdered sugar-lemon glaze (combine 1/3 c. sifted powdered sugar with 3-4 t. lemon juice and whisk well) drizzled on top or alongside.
- Serve with fresh seasonal fruit (peaches? cherries? nectarines?)
- Add lightly-sweetened whipped cream and an extra squeeze of lemon.
- Serve with salted butter and jam for extra decadence.
- Have some honeyed greek yogurt alongside for a breakfast experience.
And there you have it! Cheers to cake and cheers to you!