Thursday, December 16, 2010

Poppy Seed Cookies and Cute Santas Playing in the Snow

Here comes winter. Washington has been covered and partially paralyzed with the first snow of this season. Kids could not be happier with the early school release and I just panic that it is so soon. I am not ready at all. I was dragging my feet over different recipes, when with the first flurries I realized that there was no way out and it was the time to start posting holiday recipes.

I can write a book about the Polish Christmas culinary tradition, which I think is one of the most festive, rich, and unforgettable. But no matter how wonderful it is, Polish Christmas food tastes best when it is prepared in Poland. It is really wintry and quite heavy. And, living in the Washington DC area, which has a true cold winter season, I consider myself in a a way lucky to be able to spark the appetite for Polish food and cook it without remorse. But I often wonder how my Christmas would look in Australia when people are in the middle of a summer. I suppose our traditional heavy dishes, such as fried cabbage with wild mushrooms, are probably indigestible in 90°F.

So, a week before Christmas, I have decided to make cookies with poppy seeds--the ingredient that is essential for Polish Christmas. We use poppy seeds in many dishes and cakes but, unless you live in Poland and can buy a can of a very good ready-to-use filling made of poppy seeds or are willing to invest time and effort in scalding poppy seeds in milk and grinding them three times, I would not dare to talk anyone into making anything fancy with poppy seeds. Instead, here is a recipe that uses unprocessed poppy seeds, which play a largely symbolic role to remind of us of a much richer tradition. They are very delicate and, as many Polish desserts, not overwhelmingly sweet, so if you crave for a more satisfying dessert, just put more icing on top.

Poppy Seed Cookies

2 sticks of butter (about 225 g)
1/3 cup icing sugar,
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk,
3 cups flour,
1/4 cup poppy seeds,
1/4 tsp baking flour.

1. Sift flour, poppy seeds, and baking powder into a large bowl.
2. Add butter to flour and working with fingers make a crumble-like dough.
3. Mix together the egg, the yolk, and sugar until smooth.
4. Pour this mixture over the flour and work it into the dough.
5. Wrap the dough in plastic foil and chill it in a refrigerator for at least 1 hour (it can be made even a week ahead).
6. Before making cookies preheat oven to 350 F.
7. On a surface dusted with flour roll out the dough down to a thickness of 1/4 inch.
8. Cut out cookies using the Christmas cookie cutters and place them on a cookie tin greased with butter.

9. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until dark gold.
10. Cool down and sprinkle with icing, depending on how sweet your tooth is.

Icing can be made from a 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, 1-2 tbsp of milk, and 1 tsp of lemon juice.

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