This enriched sweet bread has an undeniably moist, sweet and citrusy filling with pops of sultanas and the crunch of almonds. No dry or gritty poppy seeds here. It must have been over 15 years ago when I watched Elisabeth Luard, the prolific food writer host, ‘The Rich Tradition’, a cooking documentary that “explores how the customs and traditions of peasant life in Europe influenced the food people eat.” I was enthralled by the series. Even back then, I was interested in what everyone in whatever country ate on a daily basis.


An episode that stands out is the one where a very Eastern European woman, in full traditional attire, made her Poppy Seed Roll. 
I recall how she slathered the poppy seed filling onto the dough and just as effortlessly rolled it into a sausage. It came out of her oven a glorious brown log – the size of a large woman’s upper arm. She sliced through the roll, revealing a perfect pinwheel. I can remember the sound that came through as she sliced. What an impression it made. 15 years later, I have made my Poppy Seed Roll. It took me a long while to get round to making it but it won’t be long before I bake another one. It will take pride of place on my Easter table.

The Poppy Seed Roll is a celebratory bread and one variation or another of it is found in many Easter European countries. To get an idea of how it was baked, I referred to my Eastern European cookbooks and online. Differences abound but the essentials are constant -make it sweet and rich and add a touch of citrus zest in the dough. I chose to use more egg yolks and sugar to have the dough richer and sweeter. It turned out exactly the way I thought it should taste and feel on the mouth.

As for the poppy seed filling, it was more challenging. Preparations methods differ considerably. Some recipes grind the poppy seeds first and then soaked or cooked them to soften. Other recipes reverse the procedure. What goes with the seeds also varies. I have read a whole range of ingredients: honey, sugar, walnuts, almonds, citrus peels/zests/juice, dried fruit, milk, eggs. I chose to toast the poppy seeds first in a hot pan to release the essential oils.  After all, this is what’s done for spice, nuts, sesame seeds. Strangely, this step was not adopted by any recipe. Toasting, changes the smell and taste and I would not bake another roll without doing so. Once cooled, I ground the seeds and soaked them in boiling milk to soften -I don’t enjoy eating hard or gritty poppy seeds. The seeds do need an overnight in the refrigerator for the seeds to completely plump up and soften.

I have tried it both ways. Recipe One: poppy seed filling was used immediately once it had cooled. Recipe Two: poppy seed filling (that had been put in just boiling milk) was refrigerated overnight before using the next day. Big difference. Go with the latter. It is no wonder that I have read it enough times to remember bakers commenting, “it tastes better the second day.” That’s because the seeds were allowed to swell up and absorb the flavours of the citrus peel, juice, almonds, sugar, sultanas and whatever else you choose to add. Although the Poppy Seed Roll they are referring to might “taste better the second day”, the bread dough itself is no longer fresh. It is a day old.

Poppy Seed Roll With An Undoubtedly Moist Filling

Prep: 15 minutes 
Cook: 5 minutes over stove. ~25 baking time.
Inactive: Poppy Seed Filling has to be refrigerated overnight.
Level: Intermediate
Makes: ~2 loaves of bread
Oven Temperature: 350F (175C)
Can recipe be doubled? Yes
Make ahead? Prepare the Poppy Seed Filling the night before. Dough can be prepared and refrigerated 2 nights ahead. Once baked, they keep well, refrigerated, for at least 3 days.

Ingredients

1 cup=250ml=8.45 US fl oz

Poppy Seed Filling
4 oz (113 g)(~3/4 cup) poppy seeds*
1 Tablespoon candied lemon peel/grated lemon zest
3 oz (85 g)(~1/4 + 1/8 cups) sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 oz (28g) (2 Tablespoons) butter
1 Tablespoon grated lemon/orange zest
1 Tablespoon lemon/orange juice
1 oz (28 g)(~3 Tablespoon) ground or chopped almonds (latter for more texture)
2 oz (57 g)(~1/4 cup) sultanas
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg beaten
Enriched Sweet Dough
1 and 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast**
2 Tablespoons water
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
2 egg yolks
Save 1 egg white for the egg wash.
1/2 teaspoon salt
13.65 oz (387 g)(~3 cups) bread flour
3.52oz (100g)(1/2 cup) sugar
2 Tablespoon candied lemon peel/grated lemon zest
2oz (57g)(4 Tablespoons) chilled butter
* Bob’s Red Mill is what I use. Store in the refrigerator even if it is unopened. It turns rancid quickly.
** I use the French brand, SAF- instant yeast. 

Poppy Seed Filling
Enriched Rich Dough
This is the brand of Poppy Seeds I have access to.

Method

Grinding Candied Lemon Peel
1. If using candied lemon peel – grind it. If you are using candied lemon peel similar to the ones I use (refer to photograph of ingredients), it needs to be grounded with the sugar. To keep yourself organised, ground the candied lemon peel required for the (1) Poppy Seed Filling separately from that required for the (2) Enriched Sweet Dough. You cannot grind candied lemon peel on its own as it will clump.
(1) Poppy Seed Filling
1.  Grind the candied lemon peel with the 3 oz (85 g)(~1/4 + 1/8 cups) sugar and you should be fine. Let the machine rest at 10 seconds intervals so it doesn’t heat up and melt the sugar. Set aside.
(2) Enriched Sweet Dough
1. Grind the candied lemon peel with the 3.52oz (100g)(1/2 cup) sugar and ~ 1/4 cup bread flour (taken from the 3 cups of bread flour). The flour helps to reduce the clumping. Set aside.

Poppy Seed Filling
1. Heat up a frying pan on high. When hot, add the poppy seeds and toast for ~1 minute, stirring all the time to avoid burning. It will turn a slightly darker shade. It might be hard to tell visually when to stop toasting as poppy seeds are dark grey – black. I suggest you always stir and toast no longer than 1 minute. Go with your nose. It will smell toasted.Transfer to an awaiting plate to cool. Do not leave in the frying pan as the residual heat might burn the seeds. When completely cooled, grind them in your food processor or spice grinder.

2. My food processor is very powerful and will grind the poppy seeds to a fine powder. It appears that a lot of food processors are not. In which case, you would need to use a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. Machines need to be rested every 10 seconds or so to avoid overheating and warming the poppy seeds so much that it begins to clump up. Set aside.
3. In a saucepan, bring the milk and butter to a boil. Once you see the first few bubbles, add all the toasted ground poppy seeds and stir quickly to mix so that the milk does not get a chance to boil over. Turn off the burner but leave saucepan on burner.

4. If you are using candied lemon peel, stir in the candied lemon peel and sugar that you had ground up earlier.
5. If you are not, stir in the sugar and the 1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest.
6. Next, stir in the 1 Tablespoon grated lemon/orange zest and 1 Tablespoon lemon/orange juice. Let the mixture cool, allowing the seeds to soften in the liquid.
7. Once cooled, stir in the sultanas, almonds, vanilla extract and beaten egg.

8. Refrigerate overnight and up to a day ahead before using.  This resting period is necessary as it allows the seeds to soften and soak up all the flavouring. I had in an earlier bake, used it immediately after cooling and it was quite clear that the poppy seeds in my baked loaf would have benefited from an overnight steeping. The filling was gritty and a little lacklustre in taste. However, the loaf tasted much better the next day when the poppy seeds had time to plump up and soak in all the lemon/orange flavours and the sultanas were extra plump as well.

Enriched Sweet Dough
1. Mix the yeast with 2 Tablespoons water and a pinch of sugar.  Instant yeast does not usually require a separate activation but I like to do so for this recipe as this is a rich dough high in sugar so a little initial yeast activation does help the rise. Set aside.

2. If you are using candied lemon peel, it should have already been pre-grounded with the sugar and ~1/4 cup bread flour. (Scroll to the start of Method).
3. Mix all the eggs with the milk and salt. Set aside.

I have included instructions for both mixing dough with a mixer (KitchenAid) and by hand.

Using a mixer
1. I use a standing mixer, my KitchenAid. A hand held mixer will not be powerful enough to work this dough.
2. Attach dough hook to beater shaft. Lock in the mixer bowl. If you are using the pre-grounded candied lemon peel+sugar+~1/4cup flour mix, add that to the bottom of your mixer bowl. If you are not, add the sugar and the 2 Tablespoons grated lemon zest to the bottom of the mixer bowl.
3. Next, add the bread flour, yeast+water mix and the eggs+milk mix.
4. Start the machine on low and work it up to medium and let the machine run without adding anymore liquid or flour for ~5 minutes. It will look wet and sticky.

5. With the machine running gradually add in the cubes of butter down the insides of the mixing bowl. This takes me ~ 2 minutes. Let the machine knead it in for another ~5 minutes. This will be a sticky dough so do not be tempted to add additional flour.

6. It will look smoother and silkier.

7. If the dough feels at all tight when you pull on it to stretch it (with buttered fingers as the dough will be sticky), run the machine another few minutes. You want an elastic dough that gives you an easy stretch and the stretched portion of dough will look translucent, almost like a window pane.
8. Butter your hands well and with the help of a buttered dough scraper, scrape sides of bowl clean. Pick the dough up and form into a round ball. Tuck loose ends under the dough. Before returning dough to mixer bowl, butter the bowl. Return dough to mixer bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until almost double in size.


Working dough by hand
1. If you are using the pre-grounded candied lemon peel+sugar+~1/4cup flour mix, add that to the bottom of  a large mixing bowl. If you are not, add the sugar and the 2 Tablespoons grated lemon zest to the bottom of the mixing bowl.
2. Next, add the bread flour, yeast+water mix and the eggs+milk mix.
3. Use your hands to work it in to a rough ball.It will be very sticky.
4. To start kneading, you have to work with pushing the dough out with the palm of your hand and pulling it back with your fingers. As the dough will be sticky, use a butter dough scraper to help you pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl or butter your hands. Knead for ~10 minutes. It should get smoother and more pliable as you knead. If you think it is impossibly sticky, add 1 Tablespoon of flour. Bear in mind that if you add too much flour, you loaf will bake out more dry than moist. Go slow with the flour.
5. After the initial 10 minutes of kneading, gradually add the cubed butter and work it in. This will take another 5 to 10 minutes of kneading. It might become frustratingly sticky at times but that is fine. It will get less so as you knead.
6. By this time the dough will be smooth, soft, silky and still sticky! But less so. If you pull on the dough and if it feels at all tight continue to knead. You know you are doing well when you can easily stretch the dough without much tension. Shape into a round ball, tuck loose ends under the dough.
7. Butter your bowl which should be large enough to allow the dough to almost double in size. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise until almost double in size.

Resting the dough
1. This dough will take ~1 to 1.5 hours to rise. Alternatively, at this stage, the dough can be refrigerated to rise in a buttered container (with a lid) up to 2 days. The container should be at least 2X the volume of the dough to allow for expansion. When you are ready to use the dough, it can be used directly without letting it come to room temperature. It would actually be easier to work a chilled dough.

Rolling and filling the dough

1. Flour your work surface lightly. Punch the dough down gently, removing any air bubbles along the way. Do not overwork the dough.
2. Divide the dough into 2. Do not try and make only one roll. I did just that and it is ridiculously huge and when you slice it up, it occupies half of your dinner plate. This is a sweet bread so smaller slices that fit your dessert plates is more ideal.
3. Roll the dough into a rectangle, working out the air pockets as you do so. There is no need for exact measurements. Just keep in mind to roll it no thinner than 0.4′ (1cm).Why? Too thin and you might create a weak spot for the filling to burst through.
4. Divide the Poppy Seed Filling into 2.
5. Spread one half on the rolled dough, leaving a ~0.78″(2cm) border. Don’t spread it beyond as you risk the filling flowing out during baking.
6. Most recipes will tell you to roll from the short end and I guess that is to create as many poppy swirls as one can. I wanted one loaf that would be horse shoe shaped and another that was just linear.
7. For my horse shoe shaped loaf, I rolled from the long end. This gave me a better length to form a decent looking curve.
8. For the linear loaf, I rolled from the short end.(Did I notice any visible difference in the swirls once I sliced through the baked loaf? No.)
9. Secure the ends well by pinching them together and tucking them under. Do this as best as you can.
10. Transfer to a parchment paper/silicon mat lined baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise for 45 minutes to an hour or until it has almost doubled in size. Do the same procedure for the second loaf.

Ready for baking
1. When the oven is hot enough (350F)(175C),  brush a beaten egg white over the 2 doughs.
2. Bake immediately, lower middle rack for ~25 minutes. Half way through baking, you need to cover the bread with aluminium foil to prevent them from over browning. The loaves are baked when they sound hollow when tapped at its base.
3. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and eating.
4. I store the loaf in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container not only because I like it cold. The moist filling will keep longer in cooler conditions.

Tips

Other Easter Breads you might like to bake

(1) Greek Easter Bread, Tsoureki has the unique flavour of mastic and mahlep in it. A spice which I have to make a special order for as it’s not readily available. This bread pulls apart almost like cotton candy. No mastic or mahlep? Substitute with anise extract.

(2) Russian Easter bread, Kulich with it’s cream cheese like accompaniment, Pashka is also wonderful to eat. I make it rather often but I simplify it by baking it in long loaves and not into tall cylindrical shapes. It is a very rich and sweet bread studded with dried tangerine peel, sultanas and nuts. Sometimes, I bake them just to make Bread and Butter Pudding!

(3) Hot Cross Buns.  The Easter bread that I grew up eating. Although those that I had back then looked and tasted nothing like these yummy yummies.

WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?

I have been wanting to bake Babka.  Not any Babka but the one I saw Elisabeth Luard help some Eastern European housewives bake on her TV show, A Rich Tradition (mentioned in my preface). Even though it was screened a long time ago, I can still recall the effort that went into kneading literally a ‘troughful’ of sticky dough -all the ladies had to go into a relay system of 10 – 20 minutes each, bending over the trough to get the kneading done. There was certainly a lot of dough! Well, they were baking for Easter which can be a bigger celebration than Christmas. The final product were rounds and rounds of braided dark brown coloured Babkas. Why were they all round? The families’ cooking pots were used for the baking!

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