Sweet Poppy Seed Scroll Loaf (Croatian Makovnjaca)

It’s a time for poppy seeds.  This loaf, in particular springs to mind. One of the kick starts for this Croatian Makovnjaca came from my speakers and my soppy habit of listening to Simon and Garfunkel while I work.  Yes, there were drops of rain (welcome to London in November). My thoughts were a little distracted, possibly confused too. And then I too, thought of Kathy.

This Croatian Makovnjaca is a dish that will commonly emerge from the kitchen at The Hungry One’s grandfather’s house. He’s a proud man nudging towards 100. It might be the garlic and home made schnapps that have sheltered him along the way. It might have something to do with good genes  (I like to think I chose good stock). But I think a few of us suspect it’s mostly Kathy’s doing.

To me Kathy is less of a step-grandmother-in-law and more of a force of nature. She’s a woman who churns butter by hand and will dispatch of the roast duck for lunch herself. She radiates a warmth, and her hugs are best characterised as vehement.

The last time we saw Kathy was last Christmas, at their small property about an hour south of Sydney. After lunch Kathy placed the makovnjaca, cookies and coffee on the starched white table cloth and The Hungry One pulled out his iPad. He then spent a good hour  showing his Grandfather Google street view maps of the towns in Romania and Austria where he was born and grew- places he hasn’t seen in 60 years. His grandfather was agog.

As we left Kathy thrust another of these yeasted, scrolled poppy seed loaves into my hands, carefully wrapped in foil. ‘Eat. Eat’ she said. ‘And come back soon’.

This year we won’t be spending Christmas with them. It tugs and twists a bit.  But as I made this treat from her childhood- in Croatia a makovnjaca is  traditionally eaten on December 24 – I thought of her.

Next year. I promise.

There are other Croatian variations of this loaf- Kathy also makes a terrific one with walnuts. The key with the poppy seeds is to grind them to release the flavour. This also helps them to bind together once they’ve been cooked in milk and gilded with jam. I prefer apricot jam in the stuffing though you could easilysubstitute for plum or honey. It’s a lovely loaf to make over the course of a day; it just needs a little attention now and then- making the dough, letting it rise, rolling and then letting it rest. It’s also an excellent thing to make in bulk.

Dough

  • 1.75 Ounce caster sugar
  • A little extra flour for dusting
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2.67 Ounce butter, melted
  • .625 Ounce plain flour
  • 3.375 Fluid Ounce milk, luke warm
  • 0.25 Ounce instant yeast

(nb, you need to begin this recipe the day before)

  1. To make the dough dissolve the sugar and yeast in the luke warm milk in a large bowl and leave in a warm place to activate for 15 minutes.
  2. Sift the flour into the now-scummy-looking yeast/sugar/milk cocktail. Add the egg yolks, butter and salt and mix with your fingertips to bring into a dough.
  3. Knead the dough until it is smooth and pliant.
  4. Ensure there is plenty of space in the bowl for the dough to grow. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for three hours, until it has doubled in size.

Filling

  • 1 1 beaten egg to glaze
  • 0.5 grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp apricot jam
  • 1.75 Ounce caster sugar
  • 4.25 Fluid Ounce milk
  • 1 cup ground poppy seeds, ground in a spice grinder
  • 2 Tbsp additional poppyseeds to garnish
  1. To make the filling, first grind your poppy seeds in a spice grinder. Then bring the milk to a simmer on the stove and add the ground poppy seeds. Stir well and cook for 3-4 minutes so the seeds absorb the liquid.
  2. Add the apricot jam, lemon rind and juice and cinnamon and allow to cool.
  3. Once the dough has doubled in size lightly dust a work bench with flour. Roll out the dough to a rectangle, about the size of an A3 sheet of paper. If you can manage to make it taper down at the edges, all the better (this will mean when you fold them back in to protect the filling you won’t get a bulbous shape).
  4. Spread the poppy filling across the dough, leaving a 2 cm border at each side.
  5. Fold over each of the edges so it looks like a frame (this will help stop the filling from spilling out).
  6. Roll the dough from top to bottom. Place the seam on the bottom of the loaf.
  7. Place on a tray lined with baking paper and place in the fridge for 3-4 hours, or over night.
  8. To bake preheat the oven to 180C/350 F and brush the loaf with beaten egg. Sprinkle a stripe of poppy seeds down the top.
  9. Bake for 40 minutes, until golden.
  10. Allow to cool a little before slicing. Serve with coffee or tea.

Read more at Eatori.