In Search of the Perfect Poppy Seed Cake

silesian_poppy_1

No country harvests more poppy seeds than the relatively small Czech Republic, satisfying the high demand for poppy seed pastries across the region. In Germany, Mohnkuchen, poppy seed cake, can be found in every bakery. It is also a traditional favorite of the Silesian cuisine, a topic I dove into a couple of posts ago. Whereas the usual German Mohnkuchen isn’t among my favorites – often too try and too bitter – I wanted to find that perfect recipe for the Silesian poppy seed Wedding Cake I had heard about. I went down the rabbit hole of research and several trials, until I was finally able to serve the proper cake last Sunday. It’s quite an impressive one. If you’re still debating what to bake for Easter, look no further!

While I found this wedding cake, Huxtkucha in the Silesian dialect, referenced a lot, I could only find one recipe on the internet that someone had thankfully scribbled down from a cooking show on German public television. When I tried it the first time, it didn’t quite work out. For a few days, I basically lived on failed cake that I ate secretly in the kitchen, because I was embarrassed to show it to anyone.

After this disappointing experience, I tried to improve the recipe. I looked for ways to replace the German sweet cheese (Quark). Greek yogurt did the trick. I also increased the poppy seed filling and added farina to make it thicker. The base of the cake is a yeast dough, but the original recipe didn’t really yield a dough that would actually rise well. So I replaced that dough with a more reliable one and proofed it 2.5 times instead of only once.

The result was better, but still not perfect, so I brought it in to work to do a critique with one of my colleagues. She pointed out that the yeast dough should wrap around all of the cake rather than just provide the bottom and top layers. More interestingly, she asked what makes this a wedding cake. I hadn’t given it much thought other than that it was fairly tricky to make and therefore festive. She suggested that, clearly, there was a fertility theme going on with the poppy seeds. I hadn’t thought of it, but a quick online research indeed confirmed just that – in Eastern Europe poppy seeds signify fertility. Makes sense.

silesian_poppy_2

In the know about poppy-related folk beliefs, I redid the recipe once more. I wrapped the dough around the whole cake. I had also realized that it wasn’t very sweet, which is very European, but doesn’t sell well in America. So I increased the sugar and, while I was at it, the streusel topping by 50%. The cake is still not super sweet, so it can please Old and New World palates alike.

Silesian Wedding Cake. For a 9 inch cake pan.

Step one. The night before. 

Strain the yogurt.

  • 500 g of Greek yogurt. Fage total or 2% worked well.

Use a cheesecloth in colander over bowl. Put in the yogurt, cover and leave in the fridge over night. Discard the whey.

Step two. Still the night before.

Make the poppyseed filling.

  • 1 cup milk.
  • 90 g sugar.
  • 125 g poppy seeds.
  • 2 tbsp farina (or Cream of Wheat etc.).

Bring milk and sugar to a boil. Slowly stir in poppy seeds and farina and let simmer for a half a minute, until farina thickens. Put aside and let cool.

Step three. Baking day. 

Make a yeast dough. As the bottom layer, it will carry all of the filling. It will need enough power to provide the lift for a good rise, so give it the time it needs.

  • 250 g flour.
  • 40 g sugar.
  • 1/2 cup warm milk.
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast.
  • 40 g warm butter.
  • 1 egg yolk. Safe the egg white for later.
  • 1 pinch of salt.
  • A few drops of lemon extract. Just a few – you don’t want it to overpower all the other falvors.

In a little bowl, mix yeast, 1 tbsp of flour and 1 tsp of sugar with half of the milk. Let stand in a warm place for 15 min, until the yeast begins to bubble.

Using your hands or the dough hook of a mixer, knead a dough from all the ingredients. Add the remaining milk a little at a time, until you get a soft dought. You might not need all of the milk or a little more – depending on your flour.

First rise: in a warm place for one hour. I usually fire up the oven for a short moment, (just long enough to get it to, maybe, 100 Fahrenheit), turn it off and put in the dough bowl covered with a clean towel. This way, it will be just warm enough, but not to hot. When the hour is over, take out the dough and knead again.

Second rise – repeat preceding step.

Step four. 

While waiting for the second rise, prepare sweet cheese filling.

  • 1 egg + the egg white from before
  • 50 g sugar.
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice.
  • 40 g rum-soaked raisins.
  • 40 g slivered almond.
  • Nutmeg and cinnamon. Just a bit – you don’t want the spices to overpower all other flavors.
  • 1 pinch of salt.

Separate the egg. Beat the egg whites with half of the sugar until stiff and put aside. Then beat the egg yolk with the rest of the sugar until lightly foamy. In a separate bowl, mix together all the remaining ingredients. Carefully fold in the egg yolk, followed by – even more carefully – the egg whites.

Step five.

While still waiting on your dough, prepare the streusel.

  • 150 g flour.
  • 85 g butter, at room temperature.
  • 50 g sugar.

Knead everything together by hand, until you can form streusel from it.

Step six.

Assemble the cake.

Knead your dough one more time and divide it into two balls – one about two thirds of the dough and the remaining third. Let rest for another 15 minutes. It will be easier to roll it out this way.

In the meantime, layer the bottom of your cake pan with parchment and grease the sides with a little butter.

Roll out the larger piece of dough to a circle that will cover bottom and sides of the cake pan. Transfer to the pan. With a fork, poke a few holes into the bottom.

Roll out the smaller piece of dough to a circle the size of your cake pan. This will be used to cover your cake and can therefore be smaller.

Now carefully pour the sweet cheese mixture into the pan, followed by the poppy seed filling. Cover with the small circle of dough. Fold the lower dough layer from the sides of the pan over the top layer, so everything is neatly encased in dough. (Are you still with me?)

Finally, top everything with a neat layer of streusel.

Bake at 390 Fahrenheit for about 30-35 minutes, until the streusel start to brown.

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