Andrew’s family is Polish, and by coincidence, so was part of mine. Thankfully, this means that we share a few holiday traditions, and there are no conflicts. Like the breaking of Oplatek before the meal. His family and mine both did that before we met.
As far as food goes, his family tries to follow the Polish Christmas Eve tradition of twelve courses, one for each disciple. Poland is predominantly Catholic, so the meal follows the Catholic tradition of no meat. The meal tends to feature fish, a mushroom or beet soup, sauerkraut, eggs, pierogis, boiled potatoes, nut rolls, poppy seed rolls, and fruit compote. Naturally, being Americans, and not wanting to necessarily cook and eat 12 courses, we make some modifications. But one thing we don’t change is the makownik.
Makownik (see the wiki for pronunciation) is an eggy yeast cake/bread, with a poppy seed filling that’s rolled into the bread. Think cinnamon raisin swirl, but less sweet and with a thicker filling. We made one for Christmas last year when the family came out here (sister-in-law couldn’t travel), and they had me make it again when we came to see them this year. For some reason, everyone is super impressed with me when I make it. This is a combination of the recipe from The Polish Heritage Cookbook. (Note: The book is written like my grandma’s old recipes. There’s not an ingredient list before the recipe. The amounts and ingredients are hidden among the directions. If you get the book, make sure to read everything carefully before you start.)
- 1 cake yeast (or 1 envelope yeast)
- 2 tbsp sugar, separated
- 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
- 1 cup flour (for sponge)
- 5 egg yolks
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- about 3 to 4 cups flour
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 (12.5 oz) cans poppyseed filling
- Glaze (make to your desired thickness)
- ground walnuts, sliced almonds, finely diced candied orange rind, whole poppy seeds or raisins for topping
For the sponge, combine yeast with 1 tbsp sugar and dissolve in milk. Add flour and the other tbsp sugar, mix well, cover with cloth and leave in warm place to rise. Meanwhile, beat egg yolks with salt until smooth and lemony. Continue beating while adding powdered sugar and beat until fluffy. After the sponge has risen, add yolk mixture and slowly add flour, combining well, until dough is formed, but still slightly sticky. Add butter and vanilla. Cover and let rise until doubled.
Transfer to a board, divide in 2 and roll into 1/4 inch thick rectangles. Spread half of the poppyseed filling on each rectangle, leaving 1-inch around the edges. Roll each up tightly, jelly-roll style, pinch ends shut and fold them under. Wrap in parchment paper leaving the ends open and set seam-side down on a cookie sheet, side by side. Let rise until doubled. The rolled-parchment method causes the dough to expand out the open sides, forming long, elegant rolls. Bake in parchment in pre-heated 350 degree F oven for about 45 minutes. When fully cooled, glaze and sprinkle with desired topping.
Notes: This is best made a few days ahead. When it comes out of the oven, it tends to be crisp, like most artisan breads. But let it have a few days in a sealed container after you’ve glazed it, and it will be soft and delicious. I haven’t made the filling from scratch yet (still working through a big stash of the canned filling because we were worried I’d have to make multiple attempts). If you can’t find canned filling, or would like to try making it all from scratch, I’ve included the directions for the filling below. You will need bulk poppy seeds. Do not look in the spice aisle for a dinky little jar of poppy seeds. This is for a filling, not a garnish.
- 2 cups cleaned poppyseeds
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 4 tbsp honey
- 1/2 to 1 cup soaked and drained raisins
- 1/2 cup ground walnuts
- 1 tbsp finely diced candied orange rind (optional)
- 3 to 4 almond oil
- 2 eggs
Place poppyseeds in pot, scald with boiling water which should cover poppyseeds by 2 inches and heat on very low. Simmer very gently 30 minutes, drain, and grain 3 times through fine strainer (or use a special poppyseed grinder). In clean pot, combine butter, poppyseeds, sugar, honey, raisins, walnuts, and candied orange rind. Heat mixture on low flame about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool. Add almond oil and eggs and mix ingredients well.
For both the canned poppy seed filling and bulk poppy seeds, I recommend Amazon Grocery. Good prices, quick shipping, and great for obscure ingredients that your local stores may not have. (Seriously, there is not a large Polish community in Oklahoma.)