I know Christmas is long past, but Makowiec - which is a sort of poppy seed roll - probably counts as my favourite cake in all the world, and not long ago, somebody asked me if I might be posting any Polish recipes on this site. I will - after all, food looms quite large in the Amber Heart - and here's the first of many. You can make it for Easter, instead of Christmas. But it's a bit of a cheat, really.Polish cuisine (and Austrian too) uses poppy seeds not just in bread, but in a variety of desserts and cakes. As in Austria, many of their cakes and pancakes and pastries involve yeast as a raising and lightening agent. I once spent Christmas in Warsaw with my Polish relatives. All the food was excellent, but it was the poppy seed cake, aromatic and delicious and strange, which I remembered more than anything else - the poppy seed cake which still seems to me to be the 'taste of Poland.' Sadly, it's hard to find and difficult to bake. Or it was, until very recently.
But now, Polish delis are springing up all over the place - we have one in Ayr called The Polish Cottage, and occasionally you'll find a piece of Makowiec in their chill cabinet. I browse around this shop a lot, listening to people chatting in Polish, reading the labels (they stock some of the best jam I've ever tasted) and sampling the salamis, But it was only on my most recent visit that I spotted the can pictured above and realised that you can now buy the filling for poppy seed cake ready made - a filling which was always tricky to make, involving cooking and grinding something that's impossibly fine anyway! This is a can of 'poppy seed mass' with ground seeds, orange flavouring and a few other things. I know it's a bit of a cop out, but I couldn't resist it. I haven't made my 'instant' Makowiec yet, but I will. And meanwhile - here's the recipe for the characteristic yeast pastry which you'll need to contain the seeds.
Cream 2 oz fresh yeast with 3 tablespoons of cream, sour cream if you can get it, and a teaspoon or two of sugar. Leave aside in a warm place until it begins to bubble a little.
Rub 6 oz of butter into 1lb of plain flour sifted with a scant half teaspoon of salt. Add 2 heaped tablespoons of caster sugar, and then work in the yeast, two whole eggs beaten with one or two egg yolks (eggs vary in size) a teaspoon of vanilla essence and (if necessary) a little milk. Work the dough well, by hand. It shouldn't be too stiff or too wet but like a soft pastry. You can add a little grated orange peel if you wish.
Roll it out thinly into a rectangle on a lightly floured board. Spread the poppyseed filling evenly (and quite thickly) over the dough, leaving a margin all round of about an inch or so. Then roll up carefully and seal the edges with a little milk or beaten egg. Transfer this to an oblong buttered pan (you can line it with foil if you wish) and allow to rise for an hour or so. Pierce the dough once or twice with a skewer to prevent it from splitting. Then bake in a medium oven for about 45 minutes. It should be brown and well risen.
This recipe, incidentally, comes from a wonderful old book called Old Polish Traditions in the Kitchen and at the table, by Maria Lemnis and Henryk Vitry, which is crammed not just with excellent recipes, but with lots of fascinating information about Polish history and cuisine.You can use this pastry for all kinds of other things - especially those wonderful Austrian pastries with plum jam and cream cheese. And you can buy that rich plum jam - more like a plum butter than a jam - in your local Polish deli too.