For as long as I can remember, my father, a lover of all sweets, has had a soft spot for Eastern European-style poppy seed rolls, or mohn rolls. Like clockwork, in every country, city and neighborhood that we venture to, we seek out bakeries that carry the mesmerizing black and white spiral of poppy seeds and sweet dough.
My grandmother, Eva, made poppy seed filled hamantaschen using fluffy, water challah dough. For the filling, she would buy a can from the local Eastern European shop (typically Solo brand), and add vanilla, chopped nuts and a bissel (or a little bit) of orange zest until it tasted just right. While there’s no harm in taking shortcuts (trust me, I always have a can of poppy seed filling in the pantry), I’ve included a recipe for homemade poppyseed filling with just a few ingredients using coconut milk, honey, vanilla, almonds and a touch of sea salt. It’s my own updated version of the beloved old-country recipe.
This recipe uses a sweet challah dough and a “braid” to just cover the filling. While I made these into 16 smaller rolls, feel free to experiment with a giant poppy seed challah, or shape them into hamantaschen for the holiday of Purim.
For the dough:
- 1 package instant yeast
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 cup lukewarm water, divided
- ⅓ cup neutral oil
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 4-5 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp sea salt
For the poppy seed filling:
- 1 cup poppy seeds
- 1 cup canned coconut milk
- ½ cup honey
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup almonds, chopped
- 1 pinch sea salt
- Combine yeast, sugar, and ½ cup water in a bowl of a stand mixer. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, or until the yeast starts to foam or “bloom.” If the yeast does not bloom, you may need to get yeast that is more fresh.
- Add remaining water, oil, honey, vanilla, and lemon zest, mixing on low to combine. Replace the paddle for the dough hook.
- Add flour and salt, one cup at a time, mix on low using the dough hook. Knead the dough until smooth and no longer sticky, adding more flour as needed. Transfer to a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with a clean, damp towel, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Punch down the dough, and let rise for an additional 15 minutes.
- For the poppy seed filling, combine the poppy seeds and coconut milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a low boil, and simmer for 6-8 minutes, or until the coconut milk has nearly evaporated.
- Use an immersion blender, food processor or blender and blend until most of the poppyseeds have broken down. Alternatively, blend the dry poppy seeds in a spice grinder before heating with coconut milk.
- Stir in the honey, vanilla, almonds, and sea salt. Place in the fridge until ready to use.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking trays with parchment paper.
- Divide dough into 16 even pieces. Cover, and let rise for 20 minutes.
- Roll each ball unto a rectangle, about ¼ inch in thickness.
- Place 1 heaping tablespoon of poppy seed filling going vertically down the center.
- Using kitchen shears or a small knife, cut 3-4 ½ inch slits down the sides to make “strips”
- Starting at the top, fold the dough strips diagonally over the filling to create a braid appearance, alternating each side to criss-cross the strips. Transfer to the lined baking tray. Repeat with all dough pieces.
- For the egg wash, whisk the egg and 1 tbsp water in a small bowl. Brush each bun with egg wash.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through.