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By Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden. Published by Chronicle Books, 2012.


I have given a quote of commendation for this book already, but wanted to draw your attention to it all the same. I have something of a weakness for Eastern European food and I'm not sure it gets the attention it deserves. Certainly, Polish food is not fashionable, flashy or light, but that is why, as the subtitle of this book puts it, it is "the ultimate comfort food". I've chosen to select, for your delectation, this Poppy-Seed Torte, out of pure self-interest: it is the recipe I have greedily earmarked for myself.


Poppy-Seed Torte

(Tort Makowy)

Serves 10 to 12

Poppy-seed cakes are ubiquitous in Poland, and are a traditional part of both Polish and Jewish (and indeed Central European) cooking. The most famous Polish poppyseed cake is the makowiec, which is eaten with special gusto at Christmas. The most famous Jewish poppy-seed cake is probably the traditional hamantaschen, the triangular pastry that is eaten at Purim. Since the former is tricky to cook at home, and the latter often come out hard and dry, we’ve decided, instead, to include a recipe for poppy-seed torte, which is perfectly straightforward and equally delicious.

This recipe calls for soaking the poppy seeds in advance. While it is tempting to skip this stage—and possibly hard to find a strainer fine enough for them—it’s worth doing if you can, because it makes the seeds softer, so they provide less of a contrast with the cake. (The easiest way to strain the poppy seeds is to use a regular strainer lined with cheesecloth.) We’ve also noted that in Poland, poppy seeds are ground in a food processor or with a meat grinder before they are used. But poppy seeds are often sold preground now, and they would be worth seeking out.

¾ cup/170 g poppy seeds
6 large eggs, separated, plus 6 egg yolks, at room temperature
1 cup/225 g sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp grated orange zest
½ cup/115 g blanched and peeled almonds, finely ground in a food processor
¼ cup/20 g confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/gas 4. Line the bottom of a 9-in/23-cm springform pan with parchment paper, even if it’s nonstick, and butter the sides.
Place the poppy seeds in a heat-proof medium mixing bowl, and cover with boiling water. Lit sit for 5 minutes, and drain in a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth until dry. (If your poppy seeds aren’t preground, place them in a food processor or spice grinder and whizz until they are smooth—but not powdery.)
In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until they are very stiff, and set aside.
In the top of a double boiler, with water simmering in the bottom over low heat, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add the poppy seeds, spices, and orange zest and whisk to combine. Remove from the heat and fold in the egg whites and almonds.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan, set on a rack. Remove the cake from the pan and sprinkle the confectioners’ sugar on top before serving.