The floral, earth flavored poppy seed (Papaver somniferum) is a popular winter food. I can’t imagine winter especially Christmas without it. It is often used in sweet savory dishes, like the poppyseed roll, beigli. The poppy seeds pair nicely with the sour sweet oranges along with some raisins in this tasty sweet dish from Hungary. Particularly, poppy seeds symbolize health, fertility and prosperity that are important themes for the Christmas and winter solstice celebration.
When I got married there were two desserts that I could make. One for the summer and the other for the winter and ooops I forgot one for birthdays. Of course, beigli was for the winter. Not sure how this worked out but I’m guessing it is because there is no Christmas without beigli and my husband picked up the tradition very quickly as well. I have to let you know that it takes 4-5 hours to make this dessert, of course most of this time is needed for letting the dough rise.
There is a little history. Poppy seeds have always been an important staple in the Hungarian cuisine. Beigli has been around for a while but no one knows the exact story behind it. One possibility is that it had originated in the old Hungarian city of Pozsony, today known as Bratislava that is now in the Czech republic. Beigli started appearing on the Christmas tables only about 200 years ago. Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time so it makes sense that so many other Central European countries make it for Christmas as well. According to historical counts, it was Franz Jozeph, one of the Austrian emperor’s favorite foods next to the isler and the sacher.
You will need to get a lot of poppy seeds. The little bottles that they sell at the supermarkets will not be enough as this recipe requires 10 oz. I purchased mine at penzeys.com but you should be able to find it in many smaller grocery stores. When I got poppy seeds recently at Penzey’s, the clerk checking me out reminded me that poppy seeds needed to be stored in the freezer if not used up. Poppy seeds go rancid easily because of their high fat content. I told her that this will not be a problem because we eat it fast. Her mouth just dropped open … I bought almost 1 lb. Just warning you, you will need to get a lot of poppy seed, I know people in the US are not used to using so much.
The seeds will need to be ground as well. I have a vitamix that grinds poppy seeds beautifully. If you don’t have one, no worries! You can also use an electric coffee grinder. Supermarkets do sell canned ground poppy seed mixed with the sweeteners, flavorings, preservatives etc but you will not get the same results with those.
- Hungarians are always worrying about cracks in the crust. If you follow my recipe below, you should be fine. However, the tastiest beiglis I have eaten were slightly cracked, like the one on the picture. I chatted with my kids and let the dough rise too long … but everybody commented it was one of the best I have ever made. They wanted to know what I did differently lol … My mom will probably comment on the appearance of my beigli but oh well. So there are some rules on how not to get cracks. For the records here they go …
- Crust can crack if
- dough had risen in a place that was too warm
- the dough was left to rise too long
- too much filling or sugar was used
- work area was too warm
- dough was not pricked on the sides
Let’s look at why our ancestors valued poppy seed so greatly. This plant is native to Western Asia and has been around for thousands of years… perhaps Hungarians had brought it from Asia when they were travelling from their previous place that they used to occupy in Asia. It is considered a significant source of food from carbohydrates, is abundant in vitamin B complex and E, iron, calcium, phosphorus and is rich in fatty acids. It is considered soothing and calming, boosts the immune system, supports brain, bone and heart health and can be helpful in the treatment of certain cancers.
Ancient Chinese Medicine considers it to be sour, neutral in energy and is associated with the Lung, Large Intestine and Kidney meridians. It has a kidney shape and is believed that it is benefial fot the kidneys.
Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India believes it is beneficial for digestion and nourishes body fluids and the nervous system. Maybe a nice remedy to keep you calm during the holidays! Oh and it is also aphrodisiac!
Ingredients for the dough
- 500 g (4 cups) of organic flour (I used Bob’s Red mill)
- 25 dkg (18 Tbsp) butter
- 2 tsp dried yeast
- 2 large eggs
- 3-5 Tbsp sugar, regular granulated or powdered
- 1/2 cup (1dl) of milk
- 1/8 tsp or pinch of salt
- pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Ingredients for the filling
- 30 dkg (2 1/4 cups) poppy seed
- 3 dl (1 1/8 cup) milk
- 1 cup of sugar
- peel of 1 orange or lemon or 3-5 Tbsp of dried peel
- 5 Tbsp of flour
- 1/2 cup of raisins or chunks of plums (you can leave it out if disliked)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
Have all ingredients at room temperature.
Preparing the dough: Get the yeast started in the warm milk (104-108F). This is a temperature that should feel neither hot or cold on your wrist or when you stick your index finger in the solution. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm milk with 1 tsp of sugar, stir and cover for 5 minutes or until yeast comes up to the top. Meanwhile start sifting the pinch of salt and 3 Tbsp sugar into the flour. Then cut butter into the flour mixture until it resembles course crumbs. Add the eggs and the yeast mixture and quickly mix until a ball is formed. Let it rise for 2 hours, cover with a damp cloth.
Preparing the filling. Start preparing the filling right away because it has to cool. I would not make it ahead of time because it can dry out. If you start it right after you finished the dough, it should be fine. Grind the poppy seeds (please see above). Boil the 1 1/8 cups of milk, add the ground poppy seeds, orange peel (for me the more the better, I used 5 Tbsp of orange peel), sugar, flour and raisins. Mix and set it aside to let it cool.
Assembling the rolls. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and kneed shortly until they are smooth. Divide it into 2 bigger or 4 smaller pieces. For me it is too hard to get 4 equal sized balls so I either do 2 or 3 ball. Roll them out into a rectangular shape and spread half, third or quarter of the filling, respectively in about 0.5 cm thickness on the dough leaving about 1 inch from the edges. Please see picture for clarity. Start rolling the longer side not too tight but not loose either. Pinch the two sides so the filling cannot come out on the sides. Repeat with the others. Put the rolls on a lightly buttered cookie sheet so the rolled up edge is on the bottom of the cookie sheet. Do an egg wash with 1 egg and let the rolls rise in a coolish area (60-68 F) for 1 hour. Note the kitchen might be too hot for this step. Then spread 1 egg white on the rolls and cool in the fridge for a half hour. Preheat oven to 375 F. Before I put the rolls into the oven, I do another layer of egg white wash and prick the side on the sides 6-7 times to prevent cracking.
Baking the rolls. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes. Take out when done or when the surface has a beautiful golden finish. Try to avoid opening the stove door. Wait a good 20-30 minutes before cutting the slices.
enjoy! Merry Christmas! Boldog Karácsonyt!
Text, photos, recipe by twincitiesherbs.com