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Worldwide Gastronomy Habits & Trends

Variants of the poppy seed cake served as a Christmas dessert in different countries

ByDominika Margolt

Dec 20, 2022

Poppy seed roll is a cake which is famous in Central and Eastern Europe, where it is commonly eaten during Christmas and Easter time. It is considered traditional in several cuisines, including Polish, Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Ukrainian, Kashubian, Lithuanian, Austrian, German, Hungarian, Belarussian, Serbian, Romanian, Latvian, Danish, and Yiddish.

Poppy seed roll differences

In case of most poppy seed rolls, poppy seed paste is placed between layers of dough. In order to enhance its flavor, raisins, almonds, honey, and orange peel are frequently added . Ideally, the poppy seed cake ought not to be too sweet.

The poppy seed filling is a paste of ground poppy seeds, milk, butter, sugar or honey. Popular additional flavorings include lemon zest and lemon juice, orange zest and orange juice and raisins. There also may be walnut filling, which is a paste of ground walnuts, milk, butter, sugar, frequently with additional flavorings such as coffee or orange zest.

The poppy seed cake is characterized by its singular appearance when cut. The dough and the poppy seed filling wind around each other in a spiral, creating a conspicuous shape.

The Czech Republic – makový závin

It is believed that this Old Bohemian poppyseed roll will delight everyone who tastes it. Except for the fact that preparation of the cake is rather time-consuming, there is really nothing difficult about this dessert which is usually made from yeast dough. The only limitation or an obstacle might be the country you live in. Some countries decided to ban or at least restrict the sale of poppyseed. Such decisions were reached because poppy seeds can be used to manufacture opium. Well, let’s ban all fruit then because one could distill alcohol from it.

In the Czech Republic, similarly to Poland, poppyseed is easily accessible and very cheap. Despite that fact, those countries are not opium dens. In other coutries it’s simply not a custom to use poppyseed for cooking or baking so you will spend a fortune for a small quantity of the seeds. Therefore, if you ever visit the heart of Europe, you should get your supply. If your country allows you to import it, of course.

Hungary – mákos bejgli

The Hungarians usually prepare a very long roll which can be bent so that it fits on a baking sheet. The result is called a patkó (English: horseshoe) in Hungarian. The roll may be given a wash of milk before the baking process. The roll can be finished with a glaze or icing, made of powdered sugar and lemon juice connected together. It is typically presented sliced to reveal its inside spiral beauty.

In Hungarian cuisine, two rolls, one with poppy seed and the other with walnut filling, are served together. The combination is known as mákos és diós (English: poppy seeds and walnuts). Bear in mind that in some English language cookbooks there may be no mention of the walnut filling as an alternative. You may also encounter the combination of the poppy seeds and walnuts together in one filling. Owing to interlacing of Polish and Czech culture, immigrants to America sometimes use the term “Kolache” to describe this invention.

As a new trend, mainly among younger urban families, a variant with chestnut filling, called gesztenyés bejgli is emerging.

The Balkans – potica

Potica goes by different names in the Balkans:

  • in Slovenia it is called makova potica,
  • in Croatia it is called povitica or povetica s makom,
  • in Serbia and Montenegro it is called štrudla s makom,
  • in Bosnia and Herzegovina it is called makovnjača.

Potica is  pastry typically stuffed with either poppy seed or walnut filling. Semolina and milk can also be added. Potica tastes gritty, tart and sweet at the same time. There are more names but you problably don’t want to know all of them. Also, the shapes can differ slightly.

Slovenia – makova potica

Slovenian makova potica is usually prepared with the use of thinner dough that has more layers. It’s also usually baked in a bundt cake pan (a circular-shape pan). A central hole within the cake is typical of potica.

Austria – Mohnstriezerl

If you’re done breaking your tongue trying to pronounce it properly in Austrian, you should know that you can also encounter the cake under the name Mohnflesserl. Two names to remember just to make things easier for you. The traditional Austrian pastry is prepared in the form of a braided bun. It is usuallysprinkled with poppy seeds and, especially in Upper Austria, with salt. Sometimes it is served glazed.

Regardless of whether you call it potica, makovy zavin, or poppy seed strudel (as in Austrian and Germany), each of them stands for the same rich pastry overflowing with succulent poppy seed filling.