Poppy Seed, Orange & Pistachio Braided Bread
Germans do poppy seeds well, and more often, in baked goods than I have seen elsewhere in my travels and residences. From poppy seed cheesecakes (which I am totally attempting soon after finally trying a piece at the city farmers’ market recently that was mouth-watering), to poppy seed streusel cakes and blechkuchen, they often make an unexpected and tasty appearance. I grew up with my mother’s delectable Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt cake, but aside from that, and a particular poppy seed themed Seinfeld episode, I didn’t have much other exposure to the mini seeds. Fast forward to now, and I’m asking myself, where have they been all my life?
Hefezopf, or yeast braided bread, are also very common in Germany, particularly around the holidays. While they are good plain, I prefer them filled. The poppy seed, orange and pistachio mix is just perfect, adding flavor to the bread, but not overly sweet at all. I love cinnamon rolls as much as the next gal (probably even more), but I like to change it up sometimes and this makes the perfect breakfast bread, and can be prepared the day before and waiting for you in the morning; all you have left to do is put on the coffee, and serve with whatever berries are in season.
And a note about poppy seeds: Poppy seeds are generally sold unground, because ground poppy seeds can go rancid pretty quickly. So, if you’re unable to find ground poppy seeds, like I wasn’t able to, you’re going to need to grind them yourself before throwing them into this delicious bread here. Dedicated poppy seed grinder aside (who has one of those, right?), you can use a cleaned-out coffee grinder, or a little (and by a little I mean a lot) arm work with a mortar and pestle. I wouldn’t bother pulling out your food processor because the seeds are too light and small, and they’re just going to fly around in a whirlwind frenzy untouched by the blade.
What did I use? Well let’s just say I don’t own a coffee grinder, and I got a serious arm workout. To use a mortar and pestle, grind about ¼ cup at a time, any more than that will just spill over as you move them around, and make for harder work. Grind the seeds until they look black, instead of round and grayish; it took me about 5-7 minutes per batch (that may just be a reflection of my poor upper body strength, perhaps you’ll fare better!) You may then, in good conscience, skip any upper body workouts you may have had planned for the day.
Poppy Seed, Orange and Pistachio filled Braided Bread (Hefezopf mit Mohn)
Adapted from fein Gebacken!
For the bread:
2/3 cup (150ml) milk
1.15 ounces (30g) fresh yeast (found in the fridge section)
½ cup (100g) sugar
7 tablespoons (100g) butter
4 cups (500g) flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 egg yolks
For the filling:
1 cup (250ml) milk
2 tablespoons (30g) butter
¼ cup (50g) sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla sugar
1 1/4 cups (175g) poppy seeds, ground(see note on poppy seeds above)
Finely grated rind of 1 organic orange, and juice of half of the orange
½ cup (50g) shelled pistachios, chopped
1 tablespoon crème fraîche or plain yogurt
A bit of the leftover egg white, to wash
To prepare the bread, warm the milk gently in the microwave, or over low heat on the stovetop, to lukewarm, not hot. Pour 1/3 of the warmed milk into a small bowl or container, crumble the yeast into it, and add 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Stir gently until smooth. Place the butter in the remainder of the warmed milk, and warm through until butter is melted.
In a large mixing bowl (or that of your stand mixer), combine the flour, salt and the rest of the sugar, and mix until combined. All at once, add the yeast mixture, milk/butter mixture, and egg yolks, and using the dough hook, mix on low until the dough just comes together. Dump the dough onto a work surface, and knead with your hands until the dough becomes smooth, about 3-4 minutes. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and allow to rise for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, butter, sugar and vanilla sugar, and bring just to a simmer over low/medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, add the ground poppy seeds and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and add the orange rind, orange juice and chopped pistachios. Set aside to cool.