One of the things I found rather interesting during my first travels abroad, was that poppy seed rolls, cakes, buns and other baked little heavens, were hugely unavailable in local bakeries. I was both surprised, that I had noticed the lack of thereof, as I hardly noticed their uniqueness growing up, and considered insane when asking for them in bakeries, as if they were supposed to be something of an everyday item.
With the time being, I found myself increasingly craving the satisfying, rich, every time bewilderingly delicious sweet poppy seed filling. And I wanted it in a form that has stuck in my memory as festive, a symbol of Christmas, Easter, weddings, birthday parties and other joyous celebrations. Makowiec, or how it’s called where I come from: strucla makowa (also known under simple strucla), a strudel-like yeast cake, with a poppy seed filling, enriched with raisins, nuts, candied peel, honey and other delicacies. Making a strucla however, is not something everyone can do. In fact, it is considered quite a skill, and announcing readiness to actually baking one might be seen as an act of madness. Not to mention that, the risk increases with the number of people in the family and friend circle who can actually pull it off.
With a bit of determination, though, and maybe a good recipe at hand, impossible is nothing. And so I present you all strucla makowa, probably the most beloved (if not always realised) cake in Poland, which – if made well – will steal your heart immediately.
POLISH POPPY SEED CAKE
3,5 cup wheat flour
180ml warm milk
150g melted butter
6 egg yolks
45g fresh yeast
6 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
1,5 tbsp vodka
poppy seed filling
500g dry poppy seeds
50g chopped walnuts
3 tbsp honey
few drops of almond extract
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp candied orange peel, chopped
6 egg whites, beaten
2 cups icing sugar
juice of half a lemon
2-3 tbsp water
HOW TO MAKE?
1. Crumble the yeast into a small bowl, add 3 tbsp of sugar, warm milk and few spoons of flour. Mix well. Set aside for about 10-15 minutes, until the mixture doubles in size.
2. Add flour and the rest of ingredients for the pastry (apart from melted butter and yeast mixture) into a big bowl, and mix well. Add melted butter (cooled) and yeast mixture, and mix everything together with a wooden spoon until no dry patches left. Transfer onto floured pastry board and knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Return the pastry into the bowl, cover with a cloth and set aside for at leats an hour, or until doubled in size.
3. Prepare the poppy seed filling. Add boiling water into the bowl with poppy seeds, then get rid of the water and leave in the sieve to drain properly. Grind the poppy seeds in the meat mincer three times. When ready, add all the poppy seed filling ingredients to the ground poppy seeds and mix thoroughly. Lastly, add beaten egg whites and mix in delicately with a wooden spoon.
4. When the dough has risen, transfer it to a pastry board and divide into three even parts. Roll out the first part into a 3mm thick rectangular shape. Using a spatula, spread 1/3 of the poppy seed filling on top, then roll into a roulade.
5. Grease a baking parchment sheet with oil, then place ready strucla roll on top and wrap into the parchment twice, making sure there is about 1cm gap on top. Repeat with remaining two parts of pastry dough.
6. When all the strucle are ready, let them rest for about 15 minutes before baking. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
7. Place the cakes (together with baking parchment!) on the baking tray and bake for about 30-35 minutes.
8. After baking, let the cakes cool while preparing the icing. To do so, mix icing sugar, lemon juice and water with a whisk, until smooth and glossy. If the icing is too thick, add a bit more water or lemon juice, if it’s too runny – add some more sugar.
9. Decorate the cakes with icing and chopped candied peel. Make sure the cakes are not warm, otherwise the icing will not stay on top. Enjoy!