Some years back, I discovered a chocolate “cake in a cup” recipe online to make a one-serving (or two, if you have a friend handy) instant cake in the microwave. Chocolate cake in a cup (I use a variation on this recipe and add chocolate/peanut butter “frosting”) was SOOO good, that for the longest time I could see no reason to pursue any other cake-in-a-cup flavor. After all, when chocolate cake is constantly, instantly, available, why would I ever eat any other flavor of cake?
But recently, I was again lamenting the local unavailability of lemon poppyseed muffins. In days of olde, I lived near a grocery store that made delicious, lemony, poppyseed muffins, which is really the only flavor of muffin worth eating other than chocolate (and realistically, a chocolate muffin is basically chocolate cake). You could buy the muffins individually in the bakery department, which was a nice reward for an exhausting shopping expedition. The craving for them had been instilled long ago by sharing them with my mother when she occasionally purchased them. Then, they stopped making them. They started making almond poppyseed muffins instead. Now, I have nothing particularly against almond poppyseed muffins, but they just aren’t a suitable replacement for lemon poppyseed! Lemon and poppyseed are one of those magical pairings of flavoring that somehow far outshines the individual flavors. Almond and poppyseed… eh. For a while I could find almond poppyseed with lemon, which was fine, but then the lemon dropped out altogether. I don’t know why. The same thing has happened at other grocery stores, since. Wherever I go, I see almond poppyseed with no lemon. I look at the ingredients to see if there’s lemon anyway, despite the label. There usually isn’t.
On the rare occasions that I still do encounter lemon poppyseed muffins in the wild, they’re usually in one of those fourpack containers, so I’m obliged to buy the entire fourpack, possibly share one with my son, and then eat the rest myself over an excessively short period of time before they go stale. Then I feel bad, both about the lack of lemon poppyseed muffins in the world, and the uncomfortable personal sacrifice where I didn’t really need to eat that many muffins. This is essentially the same problem with me making a whole batch of them myself, and why I have not done so… it would be like the fourpacks, but even more to consume doublehandedly and feeling worse afterwards.
Then, it occurred to me that cake in a cup didn’t have to be just cake. A lemon poppyseed muffin is basically cake; cake that somehow never makes it to full size (I wonder why not? Maybe because frosting it would be overkill). A lemon poppyseed muffin-in-a-mug solves the same problems that delicious chocolate cake-in-a-cup solves: instant gratification of treat cravings without having an inordinate amount of leftover treat sitting around that you then are obligated to finish eating.
I first tried several recipes I found online. They were disappointing, especially compared to how good the chocolate version of cake in a cup tastes. I realized serious experimentation was in order, and set out to make numerous experimental batches, after trying several existing recipes and reading up on general cake-in-a-cup tips. It was trickier than I expected. Quite a few of my early experiments, I couldn’t even bring myself to finish eating. (You’ll notice my recipe, unlike many, does not include egg. I had a lot of discarded “lemon souffle”-type concoctions before moving on from that).
The recipe given here doesn’t include any milk products, which makes it suitable for those who do not eat dairy (like the chocolate cake recipe I use). I actually can eat dairy , but if you’re allergic to dairy, this is a bonus. Suffice to say it’s hard to incorporate milk products and lemon happily in a simple microwave concoction.
My recipe is also designed for ease of use. This is for instant craving satisfaction in a microwave. There’s no melting or beating or combining ingredients in separate containers or saving bits of leftover egg. All you need is one mug and one fork (for both mixing and eating) and assorted measuring spoons.
The secret ingredient that REALLY makes this recipe deliciously lemony is an old favorite: True Lemon powder! I’ve reviewed it before and often used it as a popcorn topping, and I tend to use it in other recipes calling for lemon (like shortbread) as I rarely have fresh lemons or zest on hand for long. I was delighted to discover recently that they have now come out with a True Orange that does not contain any artificial sweeteners, so I may be experimenting with that as well 🙂 (True Lemon does not have any sweetener added at all).
You can make the recipe without True Lemon, by substituting lemon juice for part of the water, but I highly recommend making it with True Lemon for a very fresh, zesty lemon taste. (No, they didn’t pay me to say that, they don’t even know about my experiments. It’s just very handy to have around).
True Lemon is now available in both a shaker bottle and in small individual packets that you can add to water for flavor. I recommend the shaker bottle rather than the packets because it’s easier to use in cooking. Also, the packets seem to have a finer powder, so they don’t convert to the same cooking measurements as the shaker does (I’ve included amounts for both in the recipe, however, in case the shaker isn’t available locally or you already have packets on hand). If you can’t find them locally, they do sell online as well, but of course that’s not as handy for instant gratification! I’ve also included instructions for lemon juice substitution if you want to try that out :). It’s good, just not AS good. Unless you have a fresh lemon handy and you squeeze it right now and zest it and add both, then you might have a superior product. I’ll already be finished eating mine by then, so I will be willing to share in yours and compare :). Basically, feel free to gourmet it up, but the version below is focused on low effort and high return in just a few minutes and it tastes amazing.
Choose a largish mug. As you can see from my picture, my mug isn’t all the way full, but my super small mug was too small as it does bubble up a bit during cooking. Pick a mug that holds more than 1 measured cup. See the additional tips section after the recipe for mug selection advice for cakes-in-cups in general.
Recipe: Lemon Poppyseed Muffin-In-A-Mug (1 serving)
In the mug, add the following dry ingredients:
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons dried potato flakes (instant mashed potatoes in dry form)
1 Tablespoon white sugar
3/4 teaspoon or scant 1 teaspoon True Lemon powder from shaker (use the larger amount if you like it more lemony… I do). If you have the packets, use 3-4 packets.
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
2 grinds of nutmeg (if you have a nutmeg grinder, otherwise a small pinch if it’s pre-ground)
MIX dry ingredients well with a fork! (a short or “dessert” fork probably works best).
Dump liquids on top:
1 Tablespoon mild-flavored cooking oil (I used canola)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste
scant 1/8 teaspoon almond bakery emulsion (about 10 drops)
2 drops lemon oil
Pour on top:
2 1/2 Tablespoons water
Mix again very well with the dessert fork, taking care to scrape the sides. It will be foamy. Don’t bother tasting it at this point, it’s not a recipe where you can enjoy licking the batter because of the activating baking soda.
Quickly pop in the microwave on the “High” setting and cook for between 1:05 – 1:30 or so minutes until top is not tacky or wet and sides pull away slightly. TIME WILL VARY because microwaves and mugs are different.
How to Tell if It’s Done
You can get a better idea of the exact time for your microwave and mug by keeping a close eye on it while cooking the first time or two. I recommend setting it for longer than the expected time, and when it gets to about a minute, see if it’s still liquid/actively rising. If you open the door and it starts to deflate, it’s not done. The surface will rise and then fall slightly while cooking, but when it’s finished cooking it will not “collapse” more when you open the door. If it starts to deflate, immediately close the door and resume cooking for another 5-10 seconds depending on how close to done it looks (this will not excessively harm it, but don’t stop and take it out of the microwave and let it linger at this point or it will deflate too much if it’s not cooked all the way). If you open the door and it doesn’t deflate, check if the top is still wet. Slight wetness around the edges of the cup is okay, but you should be able to touch the top of the cake with your finger halfway between the center and the edge and not have any cake come away stuck to your finger.
When done, it will be slightly pulled away from the wall (perhaps not all the way around) as shown in the picture. If the top of the cake sticks to your finger when you touch it gently, continue cooking in 5 second increments, checking each time without removing the cup. Note how long it took in all, and next time you make it, use that for your approximate cook time. My microwave (900 watts) takes about 1:10 for a single mug, but almost 2:00 for two mugs at once. Undercooking will not harm you but will result in a slightly wetter, less fluffy cake. Overcooking will result in an unpleasantly dry and chewy cake. Err on the side of slightly undercooking (the heat from the mug will continue slightly cooking wet edges after you take it out anyway).
Eat with your same (rinsed) fork 🙂 (while warm recommended). Don’t bother trying to take it out of the cup, who wants to wrangle a muffin wrapper anyway?
Additional cake-in-a-cup tips:
Use a wide, round-bottomed mug. I’ve read some suggestions about using a narrower mug because it makes it rise more, but it doesn’t cook as evenly. Some people look at cake-in-cup in a larger mug and are displeased because the mug looks half empty. Others say it is half full. I say, are you going to eat that? Also, wider mug equals more “top” to the muffin, and some people say that is the best part (with this recipe, all the parts are best though, because there are no burned, crusty edges and no wrapper to deal with).
The rounded or wide-angled bottom (so there is not a right angle between the flat floor of the cup and the straight side of the cup) goes for any cake-in-a-cup recipe…. it makes it harder to mix the wet and dry ingredients if you have that “corner,” and you’ll generally end up with some unmixed stuff stuck there. Or you could break out a rubber spatula… but who wants that fiddle-faddle on this kind of recipe. To effectively mix with the fork, choose rounded sides.
After mixing (foam will subside slightly as you get it more mixed)
Which reminds me… you might think a spoon will mix the rounded sides better because the fork tines keep unpleasantly scraping against them and making that fingernails on chalkboard sound and a spoon is curved, like the side of the cup. But if you try to mix it with a spoon, the dry stuff globs up in the bowl of the spoon and doesn’t mix properly and then you have to scrape it out with your finger and it takes that much longer and doesn’t mix as well. Each ingredient has such a small portion in this tiny recipe that they really need to integrate (and quickly, before the foaming action dissipates). I’ve tried both spoon and fork; the short fork works best. It also works better for eating it later because it separates the crumb in a lovely way without squashing it. (I eat my chocolate cake with a spoon because of the frosting).
You may notice some unusual ingredient choices :). The potato flakes add a lovely light, fluffy texture (this cake is not heavy and dense like most store muffins). You can make it without (substituting additional flour instead) but… it’s not going to be as good. I’m now adding potato flakes to all my cakes in a cup. Wow. The potato and nutmeg also add a dash of “umami” flavor that rounds out the overall flavor in a great way… if you leave them out it will probably taste a bit flat and blah. But it’s up to you. I recommend trying it this way even if you don’t like nutmeg, it doesn’t give it a noticeably nutmeggy taste but it does improve the overall taste profile.
The almond flavoring (LorAnn’s Almond Bakery Emulsion) is optional (some people really detest almond flavor) but after all, as long as I’ve got my lemon, I kind of like the hint of almond. Maybe I got used to tasting it in the muffins of old. If you use another type of almond flavoring such as an extract, the amount will probably be different, so start with this amount and experiment. Don’t bother trying this flavoring out of the container, it’s REALLY strong, that’s why I’ve used so little. You can reduce it more if you don’t like almond… I have it to the point where it’s a very slight hint but not much. I got this flavoring at Michael’s in the cake section, and it does not include alcohol (unlike most other almond extracts). This is also why I use vanilla paste instead of typical vanilla extract.
If you don’t have vanilla paste, you can substitute vanilla extract, just don’t overdue the vanilla. In many recipes I just dump in a dollop of vanilla paste (usually more than called for) because I like the taste. You don’t want to do that on this recipe because it will compete too much with the lemon and poppyseed taste and will be overly vanilla-ey, so measure it. It’s helpful to rub a bit of oil on the measuring spoon to get the vanilla paste to fall out of the spoon easily (also goes for the almond flavoring).
The color of the poppyseed muffin cake will be quite pale yellow since it does not contain egg (trust me on this one, the egg had to go). I toyed around with a few options to enhance the lemony color but none of them were particularly satisfying so I accepted its paleness 🙂 (I think some store versions use food coloring, you’re welcome to go that route if you want but you probably just want to eat it already!).
I tried a variation with sparkling sugar sprinkled on top (as per some lemon poppyseed store muffins and a poppyseed quickbread I make in the oven) but even with my sweet tooth, it just doesn’t need it to be perfect! If you want to try it on this, though, make sure you put it on *after* it is done cooking, unlike when you’re baking a sugar-sparkled oven-baked item. Before is disastrous. Truly.
Feel free to adjust the amount of True Lemon in the recipe to make it more or less lemony to your taste :). If you do not have True Lemon, you can substitute lemon juice for some of the water (start with 1.5 T lemon juice + 1 T water). Put the water in first, then the lemon juice (it will be somewhat more reactive than True Lemon powder, and you don’t want a homemade volcano science experiment effect). I don’t recommend replacing all of the water with lemon juice, but you can adjust the ratio to taste.
Fiinal tip: don’t put your ingredients away just yet in case you want to make another one right away and tinker with your personal level of lemonyness, or just because you can’t believe it went so fast :). Enjoy!
Making More Muffins
You can double the recipe, either to make 2 mugs at once or to make one extra-big serving. (Seriously extra big, you might want to use a bowl if you did this, as pictured below. Don’t forget it foams up during cooking). This works fine, just remember you’ll have to cook it a bit longer with 2 mugs or one big bowl in there.
Here’s a convenient doubled recipe (I often make for two if my son and I are having cakes in cups for movie snack):
Lemon Poppyseed Muffins-in-Mugs for 2
– or –
One Big Muffin
In one of the mugs (whichever one is easier to mix in) or a single bowl, combine the following:
Add dry ingredients:
4 Tbsp white flour
3 Tbsp dry potato flakes
2 Tbsp white sugar
2 tsps (scant) True Lemon from shaker or 7-8 packets True Lemon
1 tsp poppy seeds
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 pinches salt
4 grinds nutmeg
MIX dry ingredients well with a fork!
Dump liquids on top:
2 Tbsp cooking oil (e.g. Canola)
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
1/4 tsp (scant) almond bakery emulsion (about 20 drops)
4 drops lemon oil
Pour on top:
5 Tbsp water
Mix again well with fork until all combined.
If you are making 2 servings, scoop about half the final foamy stuff into the 2nd cup, and cook them at the same time (try not to have ingredients up the walls of the mug, shove it all down together in one blob). It comes out to about 2 minutes for me, but monitor the cooking time using the same hints as for the one-mug recipe: not tacky on top, not deflating when the door is opened. Two different sized mugs might cook at slightly different rates.
Let me know how it turns out for you in the comments section! 🙂