poppy seed

In Search of Poppy Seed Muffins.

Sometimes I get intense cravings for poppy seeds.  Maybe it's the Eastern European heritage, maybe it's the nutty, oily crunch only they can give a baked good.  Maybe it's because I enjoy them most as a vehicle for almond extract, since the poppy seed seems more than well suited to that bitter almond flavor.  In my flavor showdown between vanilla. lemon, and almond,  almond wins out every single time.

poppy seed bread.

It seems there are a shortage of good muffins in the world.  I think I surprised a muffin-loving friend recently when I admitted that I prefer loaf-pan quick breads to muffins.  Muffins just seem to stale quickly, and with a loaf of bread, I can slice off what I like.  Nevermind that it's tougher to transport a slice of quick bread than a muffin... 

Then there are the muffin tin liners: to use or not to use? 

But every so often, I really want a muffin.  And, I really want a poppy seed muffin.  And then I remember that I've never really found the perfect muffin to satisfy what in my mind a poppy seed muffin should be.  Poppy seed muffins seem to come in either lemon or almond flavors.  Lemon leaves me wanting as much as I like it, and almond muffins never seem to contain the bracing amount of almond extract that I so badly desire.  Most poppy seed muffins are dense and overly oily - probably because most are oil based and contain a LOT of it.  Most are crazy sweet too, containing as much sugar as flour in some instances.   A recent Internet perusal of poppy seed muffins/loaf breads met with the same results I've been accustomed to, but fortunately I was able to turn to a recent cookbook crush to meet my needs.

poppy seed bread.

I think I identify most with cookbook obsessed home cooks.  We are the lot that hears mention of a new book (or are even the ones that scan publisher websites for upcoming releases), get our hands on a copy, and then set to work making what marvels lurk inside.  I have so many titles that seem like living, breathing friends, the authors voices coaching me through the language of their worlds.  I have learned so much from so many titles, and been endlessly inspired. 

Those who are with me also fully understand the "cookbook crush", and I'll bet that a whole genre of my peers can site readily those tomes that grabbed them tenderly (or vigorously) and caused them to think of nothing other than what was on the page and on the plate for days on end.  I go through many of these each year, and increasingly there are just so many great books coming out that I never need to wonder what to make next at my house.

I began reading Cheryl Sternman Rule's Yogurt Culture a few weeks ago, excited from the first page after she opened her story in Eritrea.  Eritrea, a tiny country I couldn't have found on a world map before our in-depth geographical study of Africa last year.  It is a simple and well written book, a heavy thing that feels good in your hands, the pages thick and somewhat glossy (but not so glossy that they encourage fingerprints).  I made her recipe for 9 chocolate cupcakes right away to use up some chocolate frosting from a birthday cake commission.  I wasn't at all surprised that every family member loved them.  After the muffin discussion with my friend, I figured I needed to make poppy seed bread (or muffins) - so I looked to Cheryl's lemon almond version of a loaf cake that looked like it had good bones for poppy seed inclusion...

Lemon AND almond!  I have read poppy seed recipes for years and never have seen the two together.  And despite my almond addition, I did add the zest of 1 lemon and found it to balance everything well.  This was also a butter-based bread, with only 1 cup of sugar in pleasant proportion to the 2 cups of flour (and 1/2 c. almond meal).  I was sold.

poppy seed bread.

Billed as a loaf cake, I actually made it pretty much as written on the first go.  I baked it in small, disposable tins - disposable except I've been washing them out and reusing them since last Christmas when I wanted to give petite pound cakes as gifts.  (Sometimes, I think the best bakeware is the absolute cheapest.  The thin aluminum allows great browning on all sides.)  There was probably a bit too much batter for the 3 pans, and that's when I conceded that a muffin might be in my future.  I altered it a little bit more, decided upon using tin liners, and lined up a couple neighbors to share in the wealth of muffins.

Almond Lemon Poppy Seed Bread (or Muffins) (adapted from Cheryl Sternman Rule)

makes 15-16 standard size muffins, 1 9x5 sized loaf, or 3 3 1/2x6 mini loaves

  • 10 T. room temperature butter (that's 5 oz.)
  • 2 c. AP flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. blanched almond meal
  • 3 T. poppy seeds, preferably fresh Dutch Blue ones
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 2 room temperature eggs.
  • 2 1/2 - 3 t. almond extract, depending on your level of almond love
  • 1 c. plain yogurt (not a thick Greek style)

Preheat the oven to 350, and butter your loaf pan(s) or line muffin tins with liners.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, almond meal, poppy seeds, and lemon zest together until well blended.  In the bowl of a stand mixer (or another bowl with a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar until lightened and "fluffy", about 5 minutes.  Mix in the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the almond extract.  On low speed, mix in half of the dry ingredients until just blended.  Add the yogurt, also blended until just incorporated, then add the final half of the dry ingredients.  Mix well, but don't overmix - and use a spatula for the final few strokes to be sure there are no dry pockets.  The batter will be somewhat stiff.

Portion into the prepared muffin tins (or loaf pans), filling about 3/4 of the way full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes for muffins, slightly longer for mini-loaves, and 45-55 minutes for a large loaf.  A tester should come out cleanly from the center and the tops should be slightly browned.

Leftovers store well at room temperature for 2 or 3 days if covered tightly with glass.

poppy seed muffin

I'll admit that these taste best after just coming to room temperature; the tops have a slight crust that disappears by the next day.  But the airy yet stable structure of these muffins are just what I have been looking for, and I was able to enough almond extract to satisfy myself and 3 tablespoons of poppy seed are enough to give them a good crunch in every bite.  You could decide to glaze these with confectioner's sugar thinned with lemon juice, or more almond extract (and milk or cream instead of the lemon juice) - but they are just fine as is.  Next time I have the craving for a poppy seed muffin, I'll know just where to turn.

poppy seed muffin

Daring Baker Challenge March 2011: Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

I am no stranger to coffee cake. In fact, I'm no stranger to poppy seed filled coffee cake since it probably ranks as my favorite dessert of all time. So, when I saw the challenge this month, I knew immediately I would make a version of poppy seed coffee cake - only I would challenge myself to make poppy seed filling from scratch as well.

The recipe that this month's challenge was based on was found by Jamie in her Dad's recipe collection. It is fairly similar to the yeasted dough that my family uses to make coffee cakes, just slight variations in quantities of milk and eggs, and the use of butter instead of oil. I was a tad overzealous in my filling - and my result was maybe not quite as photogenic as it could have been, but it sure tasted great. It's possible that I will never buy a can of poppy seed filling ever again.

In my small amount of research on poppy seed fillings, I found that most eastern European countries have their own version of bread or rolls (or cookies) made with a filling of these ancient seeds, as do far east countries like India and Iran. It's comforting to know that I am not alone in my passion for the poppy seed. My Croatian friend, Sasa, tried the finished bread and said that her Grandmother made something similar just without the almond. That is something that I just can't help adding; I prefer heavy doses of almond extract with my poppy seeds.

I visited the Spice House twice for poppy seeds this month, once earlier when I got some fresh seeds to try sprouting, and again when I discovered I needed a full half pound to make paste. Poppy seeds can be hard to grind, and the Spice House actually has an antique mill they use to grind your poppy seed to order if you desire. (Only the downtown location has the mill, and they recommend calling ahead since it is a slow process. The ground seeds are also available online.) I decided to get the whole seeds, and in a no-guts-no-glory fashion dumped them straight into my Vita-Mix to see if I could do it myself. I could, and in about 30 seconds, I had pure poppy seed paste.

homemade poppy seed filling.

I promise you that if you can't get enough poppy seed, this is the filling for you. It's pure poppy: slightly bitter, slightly nutty, and with the addition of almond extract, dare I say perfect.

Poppy Seed Filling (adapted slightly from Hepzibah)

(my yield was 1 pint plus a generous cup)
  • 8 oz. poppy seeds
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 3/4 c. white sugar (I used sucanat)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 t. almond extract
First, grind the poppy seeds (processing them in the Vita-Mix for under a minute on variable speed 5 did the trick) in a mill or coffee grinder.

Combine the milk, butter, and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook on low heat, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves. Gradually pour a little hot milk into the beaten eggs, whisking constantly. Return the egg and milk mixture to the saucepan.

Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a metal spoon. (Custard should coat a spoon, and a should not run into a line drawn by your finger.) Add the poppy seeds and stir well to blend.

Remove from heat and add almond extract. Cool to room temperature before using or storing in the refrigerator for up to five days. I assume that it would freeze well, which I will try after I make some into Hammentashen.

When it came time to fill the coffee cake, I decided that the filling wasn't as much like the Solo Poppy Seed Filling that I was accustomed to. It tasted great, but lacked the whole poppy seeds. (I have to say, I was shocked that the Vita-Mix ground those minute things up so well!) I decided to add another 1/2 t. of almond extract and a heaping 2 tablespoons of whole seeds to the paste along with another little pinch of salt. Then, I was satisfied with it's toothsomeness. Next time, I may choose to grind only half of the poppy seeds for the filling.

My family's coffee cake does not have a layer of meringue in the filling, and I liked this addition a lot. If I can ever break away from poppy seed filling, I would like to try this method again using some of the suggested fillings from our Daring Baker hosts: Ria's was an Indian version with cashews, chocolate and garam masala and Jamie's was chocolate with cinnamon sugar and walnuts or pecans.

I used a fork to spread the filling on top of the meringue, but it ended up mixing together.

I made a half recipe of the coffee cake dough (enough for one large coffee cake), and used 2 egg whites for the filling. I also cut the other meringue ingredients in half, and everything turned out fine. The only problem I ran into was using too much filling.

Meringue Filling for Coffee Cake (Daring Baker Hosts)
  • 3 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. (110 g / 4 oz.) sugar (I used sucanat)
In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt, first on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high and continue beating until foamy and opaque.

Add the vanilla, and then start adding the sugar, a little at a time as you beat, until very stiff, glossy peaks form.

The finished cake bakes at 350 for about a half hour, until it is golden brown. You can, of course, shape it any way you like. Had I not filled it so full, I would have liked to twist the edges over like this. It makes a pretty pinwheel design. I think part of the reason I loved this cake was that it wasn't so sweet. When the cake was completely cooled, I drizzled it with simple icing made with confectioner's sugar, a bit more almond extract - since I can't help myself - and a touch of milk.

It really is a bread-like cake that pairs well with coffee: so mission accomplished! It also bears noting that most fortified doughs lose a lot of their charm by the second day. This cake stayed a bit "fresher" I felt, and was still soft when covered overnight with aluminum foil. It was also on the less-sweet side of dessertdom, I think in part since I used sucanat for the first time. Sucanat is an unrefined evaporated sugar cane juice that is granulated like sugar. It tastes less sweet than sugar to me, and I liked the way it worked with this recipe. Who knows, maybe I'll try this recipe again using some sourdough starter for the leavener, transforming it completely into a whole food.

You can find the dough recipe along with all of the variations for yeasted meringue coffee cake at the Daring Kitchen website. Also, be sure to take a look at Ria's and Jamie's sites - they are both beautiful and filled with inspiration. Thanks to them both for a great challenge!

The little bites don't count, right?

Elevenses: A Challenge I Didn't Even Have to Think About.

Last week, I read about the history in England of 'elevenses' thanks to Buttermilk Party Cake. I feel I'd fit right in over the pond, since eating 5 times a day - two of them containing a baked good of some sort - sounds pretty enticing to me. Personally, I love the Hobbit-ish ideal of "Second Breakfast", and if I have a sweet around, usually have it in the morning between breakfast and lunch.

Frequently when I visit my Parent's home, there are all sorts of wonderful things, indeed an array, of desserts to be sampled and enjoyed. Since my Mom knows I love any and all sweet notions, she bakes up a storm in anticipation of my arrival. Of course I would think it's all for me, but the truth is, I get my sweet tooth from both my Mom and Dad. They often have desserts (plural) around, even if they would be frozen when you happen to drop in.

Last week was no exception, and on the train ride over, I half expected this Poppy Seed Coffeecake to be on the counter when I got in. I wasn't disappointed. There it sat, in all it's fresh-baked glory, fat with a poppy seed middle and spiked on top with almond extract glaze. When I say that this could be my most favorite thing to eat in the baked category, I would not be far off. I almost could hate seeing it there, since I know full well on first glimpse that almost the whole pastry will end up in my belly. Here is the beautiful specimen she created:

My Dad, strangely, doesn't care for poppy seeds, so to my fortune, half the cake was all mine (well, and my Mom's). The other half was filled with apricot for him, and I carefully left it all for his enjoyment. This dessert is really best the day it is made, but I will still happily gobble it up with coffee as it "stales gracefully", to borrow a quote from Jim Lahey. It can please a number of people, since you can fill it with any kind of filling. My favorite is Solo Poppy Seed filling, but any homemade preserve or filling would also work.

Buttermilk Party Cake is hosting an "Elevenses Roundup" with favorite reader recipes to be posted on June 11th. When I saw my favorite baked good sitting there on my Mom's counter, I knew right away what I was going to submit to Stephfret. Do you have a favorite to submit to her by the 10th? The link above will lead you to a charming English world, another of my new favorite food blogs, and also tell you how to enter your dessert for elevenses viewing.

My Mom uses an old-fashioned bread roll dough as the "cake", which you could also decide to form into rolls if you like. The other fun thing about this recipe is that you can use any number of coffee cake forming methods. We like to make a ring and carefully slice most of the way through. To make it look a bit fancier, you can give each cut portion a half twist so that the spiral filling faces upward. However you fix it, it's not going to last long.

This is an enriched yeast dough, but is fairly forgiving. You can also store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, though my Mom prefers to use it straight away. Feel free to experiment with all manner of fillings: cinnamon-raisin rolls, or orange rolls, strawberry or raspberry filling, the possibilities are endless! Also keep in mind you can form it into a ring as I do, or any other traditional coffeecake shape, taking into account the thickness to which you roll it.

Poppy Seed Coffeecake (from the kitchens of Dolores Mendez and June Orlikowski)

makes enough dough for two coffeecake "rings" or 24 rolls
  • 1 cup skim milk, scalded
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. oil
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 1/2 c. AP flour
  • 1 scant T. yeast (active dry, or instant)
  • 1/4 c. warm water
  • 1 can Solo Poppy Seed filling
In a small saucepan, scald milk. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add hot milk, oil, sugar, and salt and let the mixture cool until tepid, about 110 degrees f. Once mixture has cooled, add yeast and water mixture and beaten egg. Then, add 1 1/2 flour and beat well to incorporate ingredients using the mixer's paddle attachment. Then begin to add the rest of the flour. You may not need to add it all, you are just looking for a nice cohesive dough that is soft and not too sticky. Turn it out onto a floured surface, and knead by hand, added flour if necessary to create a nice soft dough that isn't sticky.

At this point, you can roll it out or store it in the refrigerator. If you are going to use it right away, place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and let rise covered with a tea towel in a warm place until doubled, 1-2 hours. (If you are refrigerating the dough, let it come to room temperature and then proceed.) Cut the dough into two portions, and working one at a time, roll the dough into a large rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Spread the filling evenly over the surface, leaving a 1/2 inch border all the way around. Roll up into a long log, and gently join the ends into a ring. Slice portions evenly around the ring starting at the outside edge, without cutting through the middle, at about 1 1/2 intervals.

Cover with a towel and let raise in a warm place until about doubled, about an hour depending on the room temperature.

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes until nicely browned. The time may vary based on your shape.

When it has cooled, you can glaze it with a simple powdered sugar glaze. My family doesn't use a recipe for this, so I will tell you our very uncomplicated method... The cornstarch in the powdered sugar acts as a thickener, requiring very little effort and a completely to taste recipe:

Coffeecake Glaze:
  • confectioner's sugar
  • milk
  • almond extract (or vanilla)
To an amount of confectioner's sugar, add as much almond extract as you like, I like a lot! - in fact I don't even measure, I just pour it in and keep tasting until the almond suits me. Then, while stirring with a spoon, add enough milk to make it glaze consistency. Drizzle it over your cooled coffeecake (or bundt cake, or any other cake needing a glaze... adding some cocoa powder to the powdered sugar if you'd like a chocolate glaze).

When storing any leftovers, just lay a sheet of waxed paper over the top - otherwise the glaze can become sticky.

You can garnish your coffeecake with nuts or seeds, whatever would complement your filling and look nice. And should you be a bit phobic about baking with a yeasted bread, don't be. This is a perfect dough for practicing, since it will no doubt be edible no matter your trepidation... If you have a favorite enriched dough, (or even a store-purchased one) I'm sure you will also have good results to enjoy with your tea or coffee for your next elevenses.