Poppy seed, the darling of the Hungarian kitchen, is a traditional dessert filling for hamantaschen as well as many other cakes and pastries. This recipe makes the perfect dairy poppy seed filling for sweet treats. It's best made with cream and butter, though you can substitute non-dairy equivalents to yield a similar, though thinner, result.
As well as having high-tradition status, this jammy poppy seed filling is delicious, my forever-favorite filling for hamantaschen. It's cooked down with honey and just a bit of sugar, plus cream and, just to round things off, has a pat of butter melted in at the end.
Grinding poppy seeds
Poppy seeds don't seem like the kind of thing that needs to be ground, and for the first, oh, twelve times I made poppy seed filling I...didn't. The recipes assumed I knew and I...didn't. So yeah, poppy seeds need to be ground in order to be tasty and dessert-y. The best way to grind them is in a coffee or food grinder. I use my spice-dedicated coffee grinder. (Don't use the same grinder you use to grind coffee beans, or your poppy seeds will take on a coffee scent.)
Like other nuts and seeds, when ground, poppy seeds will become powdery, like flour, then form into a buttery paste. Here we're going for just past the paste stage.
To make sure your filling is nicely thickened, I've heard it said you want it to look like hot, bubbling mud. If this sounds weird, just wait about 7 minutes into the cooking time and you'll realize you know exactly what that means. It's the perfect descriptor. Don't let it bubble and boil too long, just until it starts to thicken (6-8 minutes, but err on the lower end), or the seeds will develop a bitter taste.
Looking for a few good desserts to use your filling in?
- Classic hamantaschen, of course.
- Poppy seed filling would be great in an Israeli babka roll.
- I can't think of any good reason not to stuff poppy seeds inside rugelach.
Poppy Seed Filling (dairy)
- Grind poppy seeds in a coffee/food grinder until they are ground into a fine powder, almost like flour.
- In a small pot, combine the ground poppy seeds, honey, sugar, and cream. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a full boil.
- Turn down the heat to medium-low and keep at a boil, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens substantially, 6-8 minutes. It should look like boiling mud.
- Remove from heat and stir in the butter, lemon zest, orange zest, and chopped raisins. Stir to combine, then allow to cool to room temperature before using as filling.