Growing up you could always discern the Hungarian homes from the polish ones. If your parents or grandparents came from a polish background you wouldn’t be surprised to find a babka ready and waiting on a Shabbat morning, on the other hand, if you came from a Hungarian background it was a Kokosh or the even more traditional Mokosh that would be served.

Poppy seeds in America are often relegated to bread toppings, salad dressings and lemon muffins, but in Easter European cooking they are an intrinsic part of cake and cookie fillings. The trick to getting the most out of a poppyseed filling is in the grinding.

As small as poppy seeds seem to us they still need to be ground, in order to come together as a filling. A small spice grinder is an inexpensive and fun tool to have in the kitchen, a mini food processor could work as well.

For the poppy seed filling:

  • 225g (8 oz/1 1/2 cups). poppy seeds, very fresh
  • 30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter (or vegan alternative)
  • 120ml (1/2 cup) milk (or almond milk)
  • 135g (2/3 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 45g (2 tablespoons) honey
  • Rind of one lemon, finely grated (lemon reserved for topping)
    big pinch salt

For the dough:

  • 7g (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 50g (¼ cup) plus a teaspoon sugar
  • 60ml (¼ cup) war, water
  • 420g (3 cups) flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 75 ml (⅓ cup) apple juice/orange juice/soya milk
  • 3 eggs, 2 whole and 1 separated
  • 115g (½ cup) unsalted butter (or vegan alternative) at room temperature

For lemon glaze:

  • 250g (2 cups) icing (confectioners’) sugar
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds

To make the poppy seed filling:

Start by grinding your poppy seeds in batches in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, or by hand with a mortar and pestle. Place the ground poppy seeds in a medium bowl. Add the grated lemon zest to the poppy seeds. Reserve the lemon for the topping.

In a small pot on medium heat, melt the butter (or vegan alternative), then add the milk (or almond milk), sugar and honey. Stir until the sugar is just dissolved and the mixture is very hot but not boiling.

Pour the milk mixture over the poppy seeds and stir. Add the salt and stir until everything is well incorporated. Place it in the freezer to cool as you make the dough, it’s best if the filling is completely cool before you add it to the dough. You can also make the filling 1 or 2 days in advance and store it in the fridge.

To make the dough:

In a small bowl, stir together the yeast with a teaspoon of sugar, add the warm water, and let it sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the flour, salt, remaining sugar, juice (or milk), whole eggs and yolk, and butter (or vegan alternative), when the yeast is foamy add that too.

Mix at low speed until everything comes together, take the dough out of the bowl scraping everything together and knead briefly but thoroughly making sure that all the margarine is well combined in the dough and no visible lumps remain.

Cut the dough into 2 equal portions. Working with one piece of dough at a time, on the baking mat or the baking paper, that has been dusted well with flour, using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into a large rectangle as thin as possible (about ⅛ of an inch thick). Spread half the filling on the rolled out the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Starting at one of the short ends of the rectangle and using the baking mat or paper, to help, roll the dough and filling, jelly-roll style. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Use a fork to prick all over to prevent too much tearing, that said the dough may tear no matter what, but it will still taste amazing.

Repeat with the second portion of the dough and remainder of the filling. Place the second roll on the baking sheet parallel from the first, but with a 2-inch gap between them.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden on top, cool before making lemon glaze.

For lemon glaze:
Place icing (confectioners’) sugar in a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup; stir in lemon juice a little at a time (glaze should be thick, yet pourable). Add more sugar or lemon juice, as necessary, to achieve desired consistency. Pour over cooled poppy seed loaves and sprinkle lightly with poppy seeds.