Like leftover confetti after a celebration, poppy seeds are sometimes seen as superfluous ornament on Kaiser rolls, bagels, and the incessantly pedestrian lemon-scented muffin. But there’s far more to this story. Regardless of their baked-goods ubiquity (enjoyable truth: it takes tens of millions of poppy seeds to compose a pound!), these sun-dried specks, harvested from the pods of the poppy flower, are not often given an opportunity to indicate off their true taste—nutty, fruity, floral, and earthy—each spice and seed in a single. Optimistically, a handful of nostalgic bakers are bringing innocuous poppies again to the forefront via cautious sourcing and daring recipe selections which can be something however stale.
A profusion of purple and white poppies have lined the fields of Afyonkarahisar for 1000's of years—a metropolis in Western Turkey’s mountainous countryside whose title contains the phrase for poppy (“afyon”). “It’s been Turkey’s heart of opium poppy cultivation for millennia,” says Ethan Frisch, an ex–pastry chef and the cofounder of Burlap & Barrel, a five-year-old single-origin spice firm based mostly in New York Metropolis. Although the Turkish authorities banned the rising of poppies for opium just a few a long time in the past, the nation’s nonetheless a serious producer of culinary poppy seeds.
One of many merchandise to reach from Afyonkarahisar is Burlap & Barrel’s blue poppy seeds, which Frisch notes have “hints of dried violet, hazelnut, and plum.” He’s launching a white poppy seed this month, a range that’s typically seen in South Asian delicacies: floor right into a powder to thicken sauces, stored complete so as to add texture to rice dishes, and used each methods to complement curries. Due to their excessive fats and protein content material, poppy seeds can spoil rapidly. Frisch’s suggestion for storing them is all the time the identical: “They don’t get higher with age, so don’t retailer them, use them.” This contains candy and savory functions.
Except for Turkey, the Czech Republic is likely one of the prime three nations (Spain is the third) for poppy seed manufacturing globally—and it additionally occurs to be the place chef Annamaria Brezna, proprietor of Dolina, an Japanese-European cafe and bakery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, grew up. Though there's a lengthy historical past of utilizing poppy seeds in Czechoslovakian baked items, Brezna says her signature merchandise, makos dios, a poppy seed walnut cake with raspberry preserves, is definitely historically Hungarian.
“Whereas in search of good gluten-free choices for her bakery, a buyer beneficial I do that cake at Crixa Truffles in Berkeley, California,” says Brezna, who was wowed by how poppy seed–ahead it was—with out being bitter. She then tailored the recipe for the high-altitude baking in Santa Fe, gently incorporating egg whites for a lighter crumb. With this cake, Brezna doesn’t want to make use of substitute flours or tapioca, as many gluten-free recipes do—the poppy seeds, floor right into a flour, create the fragile crumb that provides this cake its ethereal texture.
Brezna stands by the method of grinding her personal poppy seeds—it’s the one option to extract the actual taste, which is discovered of their oil. “Common grinders don’t work,” she mentioned, referring to a burr mill’s benefit. “It's important to press the juices out of the poppy seeds, not simply break the seeds.” After utilizing her grandmother’s grinder for years, Brezna now makes use of a Mahlkönig espresso grinder, and he or she labored straight with the corporate to vary the gears within the machine for a finer grind. The result's a very aromatic and contemporary poppy seed—one which’s intoxicatingly entrancing.
Poppy seeds discover their method into lots of Brezna’s pastries, as a paste (floor and combined with sugar and honey) in her cherry strudel, and in makovník, a yeasted bread that’s swirled with grated apple and poppy seeds. She buys them via the La Montañita Co-op, which will get their poppy seeds via UNFI—who additionally provide Entire Meals and different pure grocery shops.
The aroma of the bottom poppy seed is profound—smoky and candy like a freshly rolled cigar—nevertheless it additionally “brings that factor of earthiness to baked items, so that you don’t really feel such as you’re consuming one thing overwhelmingly candy; it feels extra like a day meal,” says Brezna. Dolina makes one makos dios cake per day, and two on weekends, with every cake utilizing about one cup of poppy seeds. All advised, Brezna grinds about 15 kilos of poppy seeds each week, which, if you happen to had been shopping for for dwelling use, would value about $150 via a vendor like nuts.com! “I wish to freeze my poppy seeds—they get rancid in a short time if you happen to don’t use them immediately,” Brezna says.
Michelle Polzine opened 20th Century Cafe in San Francisco in 2013, as a shrine to one of the best baked items of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, and he or she agrees that baking with contemporary poppy seeds is greatest. As she states in her just lately printed cookbook of the identical title, “Most purveyors of poppy seeds do not know the way to retailer them and can unwittingly promote you stale crap. Good ones ought to scent musty, just like the forest after it rains or time journey.” She buys hers from Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco’s Mission District. “Search for natural seeds from a good supply that shops them in a refrigerated part,” Polzine suggests.
These seeds go into her mohnkuchen, a German model of makos dios, and function a filling for flódni as properly, a Hungarian multilayered pastry by the use of Jewish Budapest—each poppy seed revelations. After which there’s her poppy seed ice cream, which, just like the mohnkuchen, has no vanilla or lemon zest—it’s simply pure poppy taste. “They’re actually bitter, so you continue to want acids and salts,” however not a lot that they masks the poppy seed’s true style. Polzine additionally makes use of them in savory functions for a mysterious crunch, or to maintain issues from sticking, like coating pierogis earlier than frying them in butter, stuffing them inside a knish, or making a poppy seed spaetzle for a rooster paprikash.
Most baking functions name for floor seeds, one thing Polzine tinkered with for a very long time. Mortars and pestles proved futile. “The winner for one of the best ways to grind poppy seeds was a regular blender, like a Vitamix.” She’s cautious to grind them in small batches, in order to not overwork the machine. “You’ll know if you happen to grind dangerous poppy seeds—they scent like Play-Doh,” she says. Polzine makes use of the deal with of a spoon to free the seed from the blade (whereas it’s not working), and as soon as absolutely floor, they need to have the feel of moist soil.
Texture is strictly what drew Laurie Ellen Pellicano to poppy seeds at first. “You want so little to make an affect,” says Pellicano, the previous head pastry chef of San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery, now a New York Occasions recipe developer and TASTE contributor. She calls them “nature’s sprinkles,” utilizing their bumpy character on the outside of every little thing from sugar cookies to cheddar crackers. However there’s good purpose to characteristic them as extra of the primary occasion, as seen within the many snacks Pellicano sells on-line (see her shortbread button tin) and her NYT recipe for lemon poppy seed cookies.
Many bakers are used to toasting nuts and sesame seeds earlier than baking them, and poppies aren't any totally different. “Because the temperature of most completed doughs doesn’t exceed 210ºF,” says Pellicano, “I normally toast the seeds first in a 300ºF oven. This fashion, it offers them extra taste and crunch.” She’s at the moment engaged on a recipe for lemon and orange poppy seed bostock. Ordinarily, the soaked brioche pastry is made with almonds, however Pellicano needs to make use of it as a platform for highlighting poppy seeds’ inherent nuttiness.
“I normally inform people to think about using them in locations the place you’d use sesame seeds,” Pellicano suggests. Her true hope is that, sooner or later, poppy seeds will turn out to be greater than only a perfunctory a part of an every little thing bagel spice combine.