Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Recipe: Old World Poppy Seed Roll

Truth, like the juice of the poppy, in small quantities, calms men; in larger, heats and irritates them, and is attended by fatal consequences in excess. – Walter Savage Landor 

Swirly... and just like I remember.

Since we were in the Balkans yesterday I though I would take a short geographical jaunt to get some dessert.

I remember this pastry from many years ago. There used to be a small Eastern European specialties store in Halifax decades ago. At Christmas and Easter they used to sell this roll as well as other foreign delights. Mmmm...

Always proof your yeast. No action,
no lift...
This recipe is very much like what I remember buying. Quite a lot, actually.

Poppy seed roll is a common Christmas and Easter pastry in many Eastern European countries, including Serbia, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria and others. In Hungary it is often served with sweet wine.

Poppy seeds come from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). In an episode of the comedy “Seinfeld.” Elaine is accused of using drugs because she tested positive for opium after eating a bagel with poppy seeds on top. Highly unlikely.

Actually harvesting poppy seeds is in conflict with harvesting opium. Poppy seeds are harvested when the seed pods have dried. Opium is harvested while the seed pods are green and their latex is easily extracted.

So don’t worry about opium in your poppy seed roll. The seeds contain very little of the opiate.

The butter ready to be kneaded in.
There is a tea made from the ground seed heads called doda. In Canada and other countries the dried heads are imported for flower arrangements and then illegally used for the tea. Apparently the tea contains more significant opium quantities.

Oddly, you can legally buy and import papaver somniferum seeds to grow in your garden… Just sayin'.

From the Government of Canada Canadian Biodiversity Information facility web site:
Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is an ornamental flower that can still be found around some older homes. The plant persists by setting seed each year. This plant is the source of pharmacological and recreational drugs, as well as the poppy seeds that are used for oil and as a condiment on bagels, cakes, and other foods. 

Cattle have been poisoned in Europe after ingesting either stalks with pods that were being discarded or seed residue left over from oil extraction. Humans are either poisoned or addicted by various contained and derived chemicals found in the opium poppy (Frohne and Pfander 1983, Cooper and Johnson 1984). 

It is important to note that poppy seeds sold in stores are harmless, as the toxins have been destroyed by heat (Fuller and McClintock 1986).

I can’t find any information about how long poppy seed roll has been made, but one would imagine it would date to the introduction of yeast into baking and the importation of poppy seeds from Afghanistan and other areas in the middle east. So we can safely say several centuries.

So you can’t get a buzz by eating this. There’s another drawback as well. make sure toothpicks are handy. You’ll need them to get rid of the poppy seeds stuck in your teeth!

The dough ready to be rolled up
Old World Poppy Seed Roll
Poppyseed Filling (make the night before)*
Prep: 10-15 min
1/2 cup prunes
1 lb poppy seeds, ground
3/4 cup white sugar 
1 tbsp butter, melted 
juice and rind of 1 medium orange
1/2 cup hot milk

Purée the prunes with the poppy seeds and sugar to make a sticky mass. Add the butter, orange and milk. Purée again to mix well. Place in a container in the refrigerator overnight.

* You can also buy pre-made filling in sone places.

Yeast Pastry
Hands on: 30 min  |  Rising: 3 hrs  |  Bake: 40 min
2-1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110°-115°F)
2 tbsp sugar
After filling, let the rolls rise again for an hour.
Use parchment, not foil. Big, sticky mistake.
I didn't have any on hand. I should have
went to the store.
1 egg, separated
1/2 teaspoon salt 
2 cups all-purpose flour, or more if needed
1/4 cup butter 

Proof the yeast in the water and sugar until foamy. Then mix in the egg yolk and salt. Stir in the flour until the mixture almost comes together. 

Break the butter up into pieces on top of the dough. Knead the butter in to the dough until it is incorporated. Knead for at least 5 minutes more.

Place the dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise until double, about 2 hours.

After 2 hours, remove the dough and divide in two equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a triangle 10” x 14”. The dough will be very thin. It will rise.

Take half the filling and spread it over each piece of dough, leaving about 1” along the 10” dimension free of filling. With the ling dimension facing away from you, fold the bare 1” up over the filling and then roll into a log 10” wide. Seal the ends by pinching so the filling doesn’t escape.

Let rise for another hour on a parchment lined baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Beat the egg white and brush then top of each roll just before baking. Bake the rolls for 40 minutes.

Let cool, covered with a towel to keep the crust soft.


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  1. You mentioned “roll the dough in triangle10x14”. Shouldn’t it be rectangle???