Sunday, March 27, 2011

Daring Baker Challenge March 2011: Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

I am no stranger to coffee cake. In fact, I'm no stranger to poppy seed filled coffee cake since it probably ranks as my favorite dessert of all time. So, when I saw the challenge this month, I knew immediately I would make a version of poppy seed coffee cake - only I would challenge myself to make poppy seed filling from scratch as well.

The recipe that this month's challenge was based on was found by Jamie in her Dad's recipe collection. It is fairly similar to the yeasted dough that my family uses to make coffee cakes, just slight variations in quantities of milk and eggs, and the use of butter instead of oil. I was a tad overzealous in my filling - and my result was maybe not quite as photogenic as it could have been, but it sure tasted great. It's possible that I will never buy a can of poppy seed filling ever again.

In my small amount of research on poppy seed fillings, I found that most eastern European countries have their own version of bread or rolls (or cookies) made with a filling of these ancient seeds, as do far east countries like India and Iran. It's comforting to know that I am not alone in my passion for the poppy seed. My Croatian friend, Sasa, tried the finished bread and said that her Grandmother made something similar just without the almond. That is something that I just can't help adding; I prefer heavy doses of almond extract with my poppy seeds.

I visited the Spice House twice for poppy seeds this month, once earlier when I got some fresh seeds to try sprouting, and again when I discovered I needed a full half pound to make paste. Poppy seeds can be hard to grind, and the Spice House actually has an antique mill they use to grind your poppy seed to order if you desire. (Only the downtown location has the mill, and they recommend calling ahead since it is a slow process. The ground seeds are also available online.) I decided to get the whole seeds, and in a no-guts-no-glory fashion dumped them straight into my Vita-Mix to see if I could do it myself. I could, and in about 30 seconds, I had pure poppy seed paste.

homemade poppy seed filling.

I promise you that if you can't get enough poppy seed, this is the filling for you. It's pure poppy: slightly bitter, slightly nutty, and with the addition of almond extract, dare I say perfect.

Poppy Seed Filling (adapted slightly from Hepzibah)

(my yield was 1 pint plus a generous cup)
  • 8 oz. poppy seeds
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 3/4 c. white sugar (I used sucanat)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 t. almond extract
First, grind the poppy seeds (processing them in the Vita-Mix for under a minute on variable speed 5 did the trick) in a mill or coffee grinder.

Combine the milk, butter, and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook on low heat, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves. Gradually pour a little hot milk into the beaten eggs, whisking constantly. Return the egg and milk mixture to the saucepan.

Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a metal spoon. (Custard should coat a spoon, and a should not run into a line drawn by your finger.) Add the poppy seeds and stir well to blend.

Remove from heat and add almond extract. Cool to room temperature before using or storing in the refrigerator for up to five days. I assume that it would freeze well, which I will try after I make some into Hammentashen.

When it came time to fill the coffee cake, I decided that the filling wasn't as much like the Solo Poppy Seed Filling that I was accustomed to. It tasted great, but lacked the whole poppy seeds. (I have to say, I was shocked that the Vita-Mix ground those minute things up so well!) I decided to add another 1/2 t. of almond extract and a heaping 2 tablespoons of whole seeds to the paste along with another little pinch of salt. Then, I was satisfied with it's toothsomeness. Next time, I may choose to grind only half of the poppy seeds for the filling.

My family's coffee cake does not have a layer of meringue in the filling, and I liked this addition a lot. If I can ever break away from poppy seed filling, I would like to try this method again using some of the suggested fillings from our Daring Baker hosts: Ria's was an Indian version with cashews, chocolate and garam masala and Jamie's was chocolate with cinnamon sugar and walnuts or pecans.

I used a fork to spread the filling on top of the meringue, but it ended up mixing together.

I made a half recipe of the coffee cake dough (enough for one large coffee cake), and used 2 egg whites for the filling. I also cut the other meringue ingredients in half, and everything turned out fine. The only problem I ran into was using too much filling.

Meringue Filling for Coffee Cake (Daring Baker Hosts)
  • 3 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. (110 g / 4 oz.) sugar (I used sucanat)
In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt, first on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high and continue beating until foamy and opaque.

Add the vanilla, and then start adding the sugar, a little at a time as you beat, until very stiff, glossy peaks form.

The finished cake bakes at 350 for about a half hour, until it is golden brown. You can, of course, shape it any way you like. Had I not filled it so full, I would have liked to twist the edges over like this. It makes a pretty pinwheel design. I think part of the reason I loved this cake was that it wasn't so sweet. When the cake was completely cooled, I drizzled it with simple icing made with confectioner's sugar, a bit more almond extract - since I can't help myself - and a touch of milk.

It really is a bread-like cake that pairs well with coffee: so mission accomplished! It also bears noting that most fortified doughs lose a lot of their charm by the second day. This cake stayed a bit "fresher" I felt, and was still soft when covered overnight with aluminum foil. It was also on the less-sweet side of dessertdom, I think in part since I used sucanat for the first time. Sucanat is an unrefined evaporated sugar cane juice that is granulated like sugar. It tastes less sweet than sugar to me, and I liked the way it worked with this recipe. Who knows, maybe I'll try this recipe again using some sourdough starter for the leavener, transforming it completely into a whole food.

You can find the dough recipe along with all of the variations for yeasted meringue coffee cake at the Daring Kitchen website. Also, be sure to take a look at Ria's and Jamie's sites - they are both beautiful and filled with inspiration. Thanks to them both for a great challenge!

The little bites don't count, right?


  1. And the cookies you made and brought over to our house made with the paste were also superb! Yum.

  2. In Australia we don't have poppy seed filling in fact poppy seeds are simply used whole through cakes like lemon or orange cakes. So this is new to me but I like it! It's amazing how influenced by Eastern Europe the US is. I would like to try your recipe one day. BTW I have my starter going!

  3. Cookies?!

    So funny - I've been pondering what to do with the jar of poppy seeds in my fridge (why I ever bought 2 cups of poppy seeds, I can't fathom) and got in into my head to make just this sort of coffeecake. I never would have thought to add meringue, but always have an abundance of egg whites lying around, so why not? As a chocophile, I'm wondering if it would be totally blasphemous/gross to add chopped bittersweet chocolate with the poppyseed paste. What do you think?

    Thanks for another lovely and inspiring post!

  4. Marcellina,
    I know our area in particular is influenced by Eastern Europe - I suspect since our country is (relatively speaking) young. My Great-Grandparents came from Europe, so I suppose the foodstuffs that my Gram and Mom made are traceable to Poland/Germany. So happy to hear your starter is going! I look forward to reading about it!

    Thanks! I made some pinwheel type icebox cookies with the filling, since I didn't want to make a special trip to the store for cream cheese. I was wondering about chocolate and poppy seed together - I bet it's worth a try (I'd probably leave out the almond extract though). Let me know if something works out for you! I'll do likewise!


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