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A Showstopping Loaf Cake + Giveaway

by Kristina Gill

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked from readers is about being a food stylist — how to break into the field, what it entails, how to do it. Food styling, like most professions, requires practice, practice, practice. Working alongside someone who’s great at styling food doesn’t hurt either, because there is always something new to learn.

The new cookbook by food and prop stylist Frankie Unsworth, called The New Art of Cooking: A Modern Guide to Preparing and Styling Delicious Food, is a perfect reference to have on hand if you want to know how to make good-looking food. It covers tips not only for cooking, but also styling and serving the range of recipes in the book. Today we are sharing the recipe for Frankie’s Olive Oil, Poppy Seed, Lemon Loaf Cake, which is simple to make and fail-proof, along with options for three fabulous ways to top it. A loaf cake is the best bang for your buck in terms of beautiful presentations. Try it and let us know how you like it! —Kristina

Why Frankie loves this cake: When I lived in Paris, my eyes (and appetite) were always drawn to loaf cakes in patisseries, even when they were surrounded by the fanciful galettes, meringue-topped tartes and pastel colored marshmallows. This olive oil, poppy seed and lemon version is quick to make and easy to embellish with one of the three icings — the passion fruit glaze being my favorite with its mirror-like, glossy sheen and sweet but tart syrup. A loaf cake is best served with a pot of tea, fresh from the oven, but it also makes for an excellent gift bundled up in parchment paper and tied up with butcher’s string.

For a chance to win a copy of The New Art of Cooking, respond to the following question in the comments section below by November 28, 5PM: What is your go-to dessert to gift or take to potlucks? What makes it special? Do you wrap it in any particular way? We love details, so spare none! The winner will be announced in the comments section, so be sure to check in again.

About Frankie: Frankie Unsworth is a professional food stylist and writer. Having trained in pâtisserie at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, she now styles food photography shoots in her native London, as well as other locations across the world. The New Art of Cooking is her first book. You can find Frankie on Instagram @frankie_u.

Image above: Stylist’s tools

Image above: The New Art of Cooking. Photography by Kristin Perers

Image above: Frankie Unsworth

Image above: Fabrics for tabletop styling

Image above: A collection of flatware

Image above: A stylist’s toolkit

Image above: Loaf cake with three different toppings. From top: Blueberry and Yoghurt Ripple, Lavender Buttercream, Passion Fruit Glaze

Olive Oil, Poppy Seed and Lemon Loaf Cake

Perhaps it’s the simplicity of a well-made loaf cake that explains its enduring appeal. When it comes to icing, depending on the occasion I usually keep it simple with a glossy glaze of sugary syrup, such as a luscious passion fruit glaze, but swirls of lavender-scented buttercream or a rippled yoghurt icing are handy to have up your sleeve.

A slice of loaf cake bundled up in wax paper and tied with butcher’s twine makes a sweet lunchbox treat or gift. Thread a piece of lavender or a sprig of rosemary through the knot if you are feeling extra thoughtful.

Makes 1 cake, to serve 10–12


  • For the cake
  • Unsalted butter, for greasing
  • 200g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • A pinch of fine sea salt
  • 200g caster sugar (plain granulated sugar)
  • 200g natural yoghurt
  • 120ml light olive oil
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp poppy seeds
  • Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
  • Passion fruit glaze
  • Pulp of 5 passion fruits
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 90g caster sugar (plain granulated sugar)
  • Blueberry and yoghurt ripple icing
  • 50g fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2 tbsp water (if using fresh berries)
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar (plain granulated sugar)
  • 175g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 1 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • Lavender buttercream icing
  • 50ml whole milk
  • 2 tbsp dried culinary lavender flowers, plus 1 tbsp to sprinkle
  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 200g icing sugar (powdered sugar)



KNOWING YOUR OVEN  The range of time given for baking this cake in the oven may seem broad, but all ovens behave differently (as I know well from using different kitchens on a weekly basis). Get to know your oven and use your intuition, and check your cake by inserting a skewer into the center – if it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4. Grease a 2lb/900g loaf tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

Put the caster sugar into a separate bowl, add the yoghurt, olive oil, eggs, vanilla extract, poppy seeds and lemon zest and whisk vigorously using a balloon whisk or electric whisk, until fully incorporated. Gently fold in the flour mixture in two batches. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and bake for 55–70 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Leave in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool (unless making the Passion Fruit Glaze in which case, follow the instructions below).


Passion Fruit Glaze

Towards the end of the cakeʼs cooking time, scoop the pulp out of the passion fruits and place in a pan with the lemon juice and sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes or until thickened to the consistency of single cream. Strain through a sieve into a bowl, using a wooden spoon to push it through, leaving behind the seeds. Return 1 tablespoon of the seeds to the glaze and discard the rest.

When the cake is done, leave it in the tin and use a cocktail stick or skewer to poke holes all over the surface. Brush thoroughly with the glaze and leave for 5 minutes to soak in. At that point, transfer to a wire rack to cool.


Blueberry and Yoghurt Ripple Icing

While the cake is cooling, put the blueberries into a pan, adding the water only if they are fresh (none is needed if frozen). Add the caster sugar and cook for 4–5 minutes over a low heat, until the berries break down a little and the juice escapes. Set aside to cool.

Put the icing sugar into a bowl, add the yoghurt and stir to a thick paste. If it’s too thick, add only the tiniest more to bring it together (even the smallest amount can thin it too much). Spoon the icing over the top of the cooled cake and dot with some of the berries and juice, using a small spatula or a cocktail stick to make ripples or figure-eight patterns over the surface.


Lavender Buttercream Icing

While the cake is cooling, put the milk and lavender into a small milk pan and warm over a low heat to scalding point. Set aside to infuse for about 30 minutes.

Beat the butter with a wooden spoon or stand mixer for a good 5 minutes, until incredibly light. Sift in the icing sugar and continue to beat until very light. Strain in the infused milk and beat again.

Using a small palette knife, spread the buttercream over the cake in waves, then sprinkle with a little extra lavender.

Extract taken from The New Art of Cooking by Frankie Unsworth, Bloomsbury 2018.  Photography Kristin Perers

Suggested For You


  • I made a cake with Guinness cake, Jameson chocolate ganache and bailey’s cream icing for St Patricks day one year. It’s now my thing that my family expects me to bring for dinner parties, bake sales etc. I pack it usually in my grandma’s 1970’s avocado green Tupperware, not too pretty but practical :)

  • I always take potted herbs/flowers/plants and a baked pound cake with seasonal fruit depending on my assessment/knowledge of the host..

  • I love bringing my Norwegian Spice Cookies to potlucks. They’re easy to make with pantry staples and a great flavor profile for fall and winter. Plus, they’re a crowd pleaser given that they aren’t super sweet or rich. I haven’t gifted these yet so I simply arrange them on a plate for presentation. But now that I’m thinking about it, framing with a few rosemary sprigs and winter berries would be lovely!

  • I make the most fantastic brownies. I’ve perfected the recipe to contain the maximum amount of chocolate suspended in a glossy gooey dough. I use 1 lb. of TCHO dark chocolate baking drops for a 9×13 pan. I line the pan with parchment. Once the brownies are baked and cooled I lift the brownies out of the pan and put them in the refrigerator to chill. Once cold I cut the brownies with a pizza cutter as this is the best way to get very precise professional looking edges. Stacked on a red plate, they are divine.

  • I usually bring homemade jam, in mason jars, naturally! If I have time, or feeling extra fancy I’ll make labels with brown paper, and tie them on with butchers string. Sometimes a rosemary spring makes it in the bow, especially if it’s an ingredient in the jam!

  • For casual gatherings, I make Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake and bring a side of fresh berries. I buy festive disposable pans for the loaf. Let’s be honest, loaf cakes are underestimated treats. This cake coupled with a cup of coffee and tea is comfort and cheer on a plate.

  • I take my mother’s Sherry Trifle. Always a hit. It’s great because even a non-baker can assemble it with pound cake, sherry, Bird’s Custard, and whipped cream. I always add some colorful fruit among the layers of cake and custard. Makes me think of her and how she tried to make events special even though she didn’t like to cook and wasn’t very good at it. Sitting resplendent in its footed glass bowl, the trifle makes a statement on any table.

  • I have a lot of dairy/gluten free friends with a myriad of nut allergies, so making a dessert that’s delicious as well as edible for everyone is always an adventure. One year for my birthday, my sister brought over a plate of lemon bars she had made that fit all the requirements – and the rest is history. They are so delicious and gooey, no one ever knows they’re missing the usual butter or flour. Simple display is always the way to go for these – piled up on a flat white plate, to be whisked out from under a tea towel upon arrival.

  • It really depends on the time of year.
    For xmas/chanukah, I bring a mild Alpine Gingerbread cookie from a recipe a friend gave me that has been in her family for more than 150 years. I generally go with the traditional gingerbread man shape but if it is a fancy dinner party, I will go for round or rectangle shaped cookies.
    For Spring, I like muffins like lemon poppyseed or blueberry in pretty cupcake wrappers and packaged in clear plastic with ribbon or raffia.
    For the summer, I bring some sort of fruit pie with a sour cream crust. I make sure to decorate the edges but you can DEFINITELY tell that it is handmade because I am not “that” good. Transporting is always an issue so nothing fancy here, just prayers for an undamaged pie.
    And finally, for fall… Muffins again, but apple cider flavor instead. One time I tried putting cinnamon sticks on top but they broke and made a mess. #CestLaVie

  • I usually take different cakes to potlucks, but the one I seem to be taking for many number of times is a meringue roulade with rose flavoured cream, pistachio and fresh raspberries. I usually make the roulade in the morning and put it in one of my prettiest serving platters and keep it in the fridge. Then while I am driving my other half gets to keep it safe during the journey. I don’t really cover it as the drive is mostly 10-15 minutes.

  • My go-to dessert to take to potlucks is homemade chocolate chip cookies. I love that they are not only tasty, but they are portable. It only takes a clean hand to enjoy a cookie, no plate or utensil needed. Depending on the occasion, like a kid party, I will add M & M’s or other candy.

  • i tried a new recipe on my lot at work for my birthday this year – flourless cake (using lindt chocolate, 8 eggs, xylitol, etc, and served it in red teacups with frozen yoghurt and fresh strawberries). EVERYBODY ate it and LOVED it, including the fussy crossfit-fanatic freelance designer sitting next to me. and he NEVER eats anything…

  • I like to bring Texas chocolate sheet cake cookies. They’re not as messy as the actual cake version, so anyone can grab one. My mother and her family are all born and raised in Texas, so I always think of them when I make the cookies.

  • I love making sweet potato pie. I still meet so many people who haven’t tried it or think they hate it but I convert them.

  • This recipe looks amazing! I’ll have to try it soon.

    I usually make a crème fraîche plum cake with plum caramel sauce (recipe is on Food 52 and I’ve switched up the fruit depending on the season). It manages to look impressive, but it’s not a difficult recipe. I serve it on a depression era glass plate that belonged to my grandmother. I have a glass cake stand that I use for special occasions.

    I also love a good pie or rustic tart, and I have a beautiful (and enormous) pie plate that I bought at Anthropologie years ago.

  • Not entering comp, but I just wanted to let you know I’ve just made this cake (passionfruit glaze) and it was delicious :)

  • Baked treats are a favorite gift. Chewy chocolate chip cookies, bite sized and wrapped in parchment paper, in a white bakery box and tied with twine. Seasonal embellishment on top. 🤗

  • My go-to cakes are a 7-Up cake with a lemon-lime glaze or Pineapple Ginger pound cake with pineapple chunk glaze. I think I get invited so I can bring one or both of these! LOL

  • I want to make this poppy seed-lemon loaf real soon, the photos are just beautiful!. My go to dessert to bring as a gift or a potluck is a rustic, seasonal fruit or berry galette, made extra special with either a nut crumb topping, or with a jar of homemade salted caramel sauce to warm and then drizzle over slices when served. Frankie’s book looks amazing! Happy Thanksgiving.

  • My go to dessert for pot lucks is My Turn for Treat Bars which makes a sheet-pan of bars with chocolate chips,walnuts, applesauce, cinnamon and a topping with crumbled Corn Flakes/brown sugar/butter sprinkled on top. The topping is addictive along with the rest of the bars.

  • Tina Batori you are our winner! Your go to gift of a Sherry Trifle was not only unique here, but it provides an idea for the non baker and baker alike to make their own versions!