This photo is taken from a very old slide and the plant was growing in my garden and most years looks as good as this.
However this year it has not done so well. I think it must be a combination of the alternating very dry days and the cold wet days this summer.
It is a good job I am not relying on this as my source of seeds. My best source of seeds is an indoor stall in Leeds Market. The stall sells dried fruits and nuts which are weighed out on request from large jars as well as other aids for baking.
On my first visit to Poland I went to stay with my mother’s sister and her family who had a small farm in the Masurian Lakes in the North East of Poland. This was still in Communist times.
I saw there was a huge field of large headed purple flowered poppies. My auntie had a Government contract that year to grow these poppies for the production of morphine for hospital use.
Poppy seeds of superior quality for culinary purposes are harvested when they are ripe, after the seed pod has dried.
Seeds for the production of morphine are harvested while the seed pods are green and their latex is abundant and when the seeds have only just begun to grow.
Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake
This Poppy Seed cake is inspired by one I had when I was in America. It is like a lemon drizzle cake with fewer poppy seeds than in my other recipes.
This can be made with butter or block baking margarine. I find that with many flavoured cakes margarine is as good if not better than butter.
To get the most zest from the lemons I use a fine Microplane Zester – It is the best!
60g poppy seeds
125g plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
100g caster sugar
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons of warm water
80g caster sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Pre-heat the oven to GM4 – 1800 C
Grease and line a 20cm square tin or 25 x16cm rectangular tin.
Beat the butter and sugar together till they are light and creamy.
Stir in the lemon zest.
Mix the baking powder with the flour.
Sift the flour mixture.
Lightly beat the eggs together and then beat them into the mixture, a little at a time, adding a little of the flour with the last of the eggs.
Using a metal spoon, fold in the remaining flour and the water and then fold in the poppy seeds.
Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and bake the cake for about 35 minutes, or until it starts to shrink from the sides of the tin.
In a small pan dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice over a gentle heat.
When the cake is baked remove it from the oven and leave for a few minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack.
Put a plate underneath, prick the cake all over with a fine skewer whilst it is still warm and spoon the lemon glaze over it. If any runs through spoon it back on.
When the cake is cold dust it with icing sugar before serving.
I do not know why but the smell of baking yeast cakes just fills me with warm loving feeling, it is so wonderful.
Yeast cakes feature greatly in Polish festivals and there is Babka for Easter, Makowiec (Poppy seed roll) for Christmas Eve and doughnuts before the start of Lent and New Year’s Eve and Epiphany.
Surprisingly my mother did not seem to have a great success with yeast cookery, maybe her kitchen was a bit cool, I do not know. We got our yeast cakes from her friends. I have done lots of experimenting with yeast recipes and have had a lot of success (and some failures from which I also learnt much!). I now know that you can succeed in a cool kitchen; you just have to start a day beforehand.
Watching the yeast rise still seems like magic to me even though I am well aware of the science that makes it happen. It can be unpredictable and depends on the yeast and the temperature.
I prefer to use fresh yeast but cannot always get it, so now I use dried yeast and also get good results. I have used the type of yeast that you add straight to the flour but I like to see that the yeast is active before it goes into the flour so this is not my favourite type – but I have to admit is does work in many recipes.
Many recipes use a batter starter and I like this method as you can see the yeast making the mixture really rise.
The best time to make a yeast cake is on a day when you are in and doing other things as the times for rising and proving can vary, you have to be around and do the next stage when the time is right, you cannot rush it.
One of the drawbacks with yeast pastry is that the cakes go stale very quickly so you need lots of people on hand to help to eat it all.
Poppy seeds are the blue-grey seeds of the poppy – Papaver somniferum. They have been used since antiquity and were known in Egyptian, Minoan and Sumerian cultures. They are used in European and Middle Eastern cooking and are especially popular in Jewish and in Polish cooking.
Mak is the Polish word for poppy seed and a cake made with poppy seeds is called makowiec.
This is one of the dishes served on Christmas Eve and I will be writing about the food for that evening later in the year.
Makowiec – Poppy Seed Roll
This classic yeast cake is served on Christmas Eve. Poppy seeds and honey are used to make a filling which I think is just so delicious. Some fillings also use dried fruits such as raisins but I prefer it without.
I have been searching for many years for the best recipe for this cake and I think I now have it. Many recipes that I have tried, have made a cake which is so large that it has tried to escape out of the baking tray and the oven and I have been experimenting to get an amount which is more suitable for the standard size oven in the United Kingdom.
Also the shape of a nice roll of cake has eluded me till now, mine seemed to rise too much and crack and spread across the baking tray with all the filling escaping!
On a visit to Poland I was given a suggested that you wrap the rising yeast roll in greaseproof paper to keep its shape and this worked. So at last I have the size and shape that works well.
Without a doubt this recipes is time consuming – so in my next posts I will give some easier simpler variations which are also delicious.
There are 3 parts to the making of this cake: the poppy seed filling, the yeast pastry and the icing.
Poppy Seed Filling
I make the poppy seed filling first, or during the time the yeast is rising, as it has to be cool when used. You can make the filling ahead of time – there are several stages where you can leave it to finish later. I often make till until the addition of the butter and add the rum and egg just before I need it. You can also freeze this filling at this stage.
200g poppy seeds
500ml milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
50g ground almonds
120 ml runny honey & 1 tablespoon
1 large egg – separated
1 tablespoon of rum
¼ teaspoon of vanilla essence
Put the poppy seeds and milk into a saucepan and simmer then together for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop any sticking or burning. The aim is to cook the seeds and adsorb as much of the milk as possible. You need to watch this carefully and keep adjusting the heat to stop the mixture burning.
Using a fine sieve, strain the poppy seeds from the liquid – leave this for a while to remove as much liquid as possible.
The poppy seeds need to be crushed, I use a hand held blender for about 5 minutes which I find is the easiest way but you can use a pestle and mortar or a mincer.
Once crushed, place the poppy seeds back into a saucepan and add the ground almonds, the vanilla essence and the 120ml of honey and mix thoroughly.
Add the butter to the mixture and simmer gently for about 5 minutes and then leave this mixture to cool completely and then add the rum.
Whisk the 15ml (1 tablespoon) of honey with the egg yolk until this is thick and creamy and then add this to the mixture.
Just before you need the filling, whisk the egg white until it is stiff and then fold this egg white into the poppy seed mixture.
This is made in 2 stages
5g fresh yeast or a 1/2 teaspoon of dried yeast
40g plain flour
60ml of milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
Mix the ingredients together in a bowl then cover this with a tea towel or cling film and leave the bowl in a warm place for 3 hours.
After this place the bowl in the fridge – you can leave this overnight.
Rest of Dough
10g fresh yeast or 1 teaspoon of dried yeast
60ml milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
1 egg and 2 egg yolks
300g plain flour
pinch of salt
100g butter at room temperature
Warm the milk slightly and put it into a large bowl, add the yeast and sugar and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes or until you can see that the yeast is active and rising.
Add the starter, the egg and egg yolks, the pinch of salt and the flour. Mix and then knead the dough until it forms a soft ball.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel or cling film and leave for 15 minutes.
Add the butter in tablespoonful amounts to the dough, kneading slightly at each addition and then knead the dough for 10 minutes. The dough should be soft and elastic but not sticky, if it is too sticky add some more flour knead till it is the correct texture.
Place the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel or cling film and leave to rise.
Putting together the poppy seed roll
Have ready a greased baking tray as the size of rectangle of dough you need is governed by the length of the baking tray.
When the dough is ready, roll it out into a rectangle of around 20cm by 25cm. It will be about 1cm in thickness.
Place the filling onto the dough leaving about 2cm clear at all the edges.
Roll up the poppy seed roll lengthwise and then enclose the roll reasonably tightly lengthwise in greaseproof paper, do not cover the ends of the roll which will rise and expand lengthwise.
Place the roll onto a baking sheet with at least 5cm at each end to allow for the expansion and leave this to rise for about 1 hour.
Pre heat the oven to GM4 – 180oC
Place the risen roll into the oven with the greaseproof paper still on.
Bake for about 40 minutes and then cool on a wire rack, remove the greaseproof paper as soon as the roll has cooled slightly.
Before serving dust the roll with icing sugar – or you can glaze it with a thin lemon icing.
I cut the short end of the roll off and do not serve these.
Juice of ½ lemon
100g icing sugar – sieved
The amount of icing sugar you need will vary, depending on the size of the lemon and the dampness of the sugar.
Place the lemon juice in a bowl and slowly add the sugar mixing it with a wooden spoon is best, use more or less sugar to make a soft runny icing which will coat the back of the spoon.
So that is the end of my first recipe, which does take quite a while to make but I felt I had to include this traditional version especially now I have mastered it.
There are many other poppy seed cakes and I will be continuing next with a few of these. They quicker and easier to make but are still very delicious and also a few recipes for poppy seed cakes which have evolved from these.
There seems to be is no end to the variety of cakes in Poland: yeast cakes, tort(layer cake), poppy seed cakes, apple cakes, cheesecakes, cakes with berries, honey cakes, cakes with nuts and many more. I could write a book just on cakes alone, even on just one type of cake.
The influence of France, Austria and Hungary can be seen or rather tasted in some of the cakes and pastries. This has come about through royal alliances in the past with foreign princesses bringing their chefs to Poland.
There are special cakes for different days of the year especially Easter and Christmas Eve.
A Few Notes on Ingredients
I have adapted some recipes, as did my mother, to take into consideration the availability of ingredients here in England.
Cream in Poland is smetana – soured cream, and before its general availability in England we would use single or double cream with lemon juice added to it.
As in many countries in Europe, there is not any self-raising flour in Poland. There are different flours for bread making and there is a special plain flour for cake making to which you have to add baking powder. Many recipes use potato flour and sometimes cornflour.
Sugar in Poland is from sugar beet and is white sugar so there is not a tradition of cakes with brown sugar or syrup or treacle. Strangely enough the sugar is granulated or icing there is not any caster sugar.
Butter in Poland is unsalted and this although is better for baking and certainly for making butter cream, I do not find it makes enough of a difference to go out and get this type specially, salted will do if that is what you have.
Tort is usually layered up with rich butter cream or similar.
My parents met in England after the Second World War. They had come from different parts of North East Poland through many countries and many hard times; they met in Hereford and married there.
I was born in Penley (Polish Hospital) in the then County of Flint in North Wales.
I grew up in Lancashire with a large Polish community around us and my mother cooked very traditional Polish food.
I now live in West Yorkshire and continue to cook traditional Polish food although often with a modern twist.
The winters are long and hard in Poland and the traditional dishes use ingredients which will survive through these winter months: smoked meats, picked herrings, potatoes, cabbage, pickled cabbage and gherkins, dried mushrooms, buckwheat, rye, dried fruits, poppy and caraway seeds and honey.
The summers are usually warm and there are lots of red berries, apples, fresh dill, flat leaved parsley, tomatoes, carrots and spring onions. Soured milk, soured cream and curd cheese feature in many dishes as this was the way to extend the life of dairy products before refrigeration. Much of the summer produce that was not eaten would be preserved for the winter by drying, bottling, pickling or made into jams.
Both my parents had grown up in the country side on small farms and their families had grown crops, kept animals and knew how to cure meats and preserve fruit and vegetables.
My father’s family’s land had some woodland and bordered onto a small river, and he used to say that with this they were very rich as they could hunt for small animals and birds, catch fish and find mushrooms, nuts and berries.
The Poles are very hospitable and passionate about good food, no guest invited or unexpected is ever sent away hungry. My childhood memories are filled with every occasion possible celebrated with tables filled with delicious food and people of all ages together.
The Polish kitchen seems to rely on one cook who spends a great deal of time preparing food for the extended family and “fast food” is not a description one would use of many of the dishes. However although many take a while to prepare they can then be left to cook slowly and are ideal to be reheated so there is no last minute panic and what is made can serve for several meals.
I would help my mother in the kitchen and when we went to visit my father’s family in London I would always be interested in what was the same and what was different and looked for new ideas.
I visited Poland for the first time in 1979; a time of shortages and queues however I have never tasted food with so much flavour as then. I tried old favourites and found new ideas. When I visited family and friends in the United States of America a few years later I once again tried lots of my old favourites to eat.
I have now visited Poland many times, sometimes to aunts and cousins on both my mother’s and father’s side and also to places in which I do not have family and have then eaten in hotels, restaurants, cafes and found teashops with such a variety of cakes that I have never been able to sample everything in the time I was there.
I am always pleased to have such wonderful food and take the opportunity to have my favourite dishes but in the last few trips I have been doing some research into regional variations and new versions of older recipes.
In my blog I will feature a selection of my favourite recipes from family and friends and some new discoveries, as well as some dishes that have evolved from older recipes.
So as you follow my blog and try the recipes may I wish you, as they do in Poland before eating, smacznego! (may it taste delicious).