Poppy Seed Roll
Poppy Seed Roll (The Nosher/JTA)
active: 3 hrs 45 min
(The Nosher/JTA) – When I go to a kosher bakery anywhere in the world, I look for poppy seed rolls. I love them for their delicate and shiny pastry and for their sweet, inky, fruity, and slightly bitter poppy seed filling. I especially love poppy seed rolls in the morning, alongside a strong cup of coffee or black tea. It’s a decadent deviation from a sensible breakfast, and it’s especially good on a Shabbat morning.
The sweet poppy seed roll is common in Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Central and Eastern European countries from Hungary, to Poland, to Ukraine, to Romania, and more. It is particularly popular during the winter holidays. In my family, my father and I have always been big fans of this pastry, and we will search high and low for a bakery that offers the best version of it. We will try different rolls and debate the finer points of each pastry: Was it too sweet? Was the ratio of poppy seed to pastry good? Was the pastry soft enough?
There’s a reason that poppy seed rolls don’t seem to be a wildly popular baked good — they are a bit fussy to make. The pastry is made of an enriched dough; it takes time for the dough to get kneaded into a silky smooth mass, it takes time for the dough to rise, and it takes a little focus and care to shape and form the rolls. The poppy seed filling also takes a little work, although you can buy pre-made poppy seed filling in a can if you want to make your life easier. One must grind the poppy seeds in batches, heat up several ingredients, and be patient with chilling time. Patience is part of the poppy seed roll process.
And yet, this is the kind of pastry that, when baked at home, offers both nostalgic satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. The dough is so smooth and inviting to work with and the poppy seed filling is glossy and pleasingly deep in color. While making this, you might feel like you’re a contestant on the Great British Baking Show in an episode where they’ve asked you to make an “Old World Classic” for the technical challenge. You might nervously hope that the filling doesn’t leak, that the dough has neither over- nor under-proofed, and that there is a perfect swirl of poppy seeds inside when it is finally cooled and you make your first slice.
When I’ve made this, sometimes my pastry did leak, and sometimes the swirl was not as perfect as I’d hoped for, and yet the flavor never suffered for it. Tasting the still warm roll in any of its forms always seems to erase the memory of the labor and any perceived imperfections. Fresh out of the oven and (patiently) waiting for the rolls to cool a bit, the kitchen gets filled with buttery, nutty, vanilla smells, and nothing feels more homey than that.