October 15, 2019

Purim: Poppy seed pleasures

It all began with Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, who became a vegan when she married King Ahasuerus and moved into the palace. She favored fruits, beans and grains in her diet, and legend has it that poppy seed pastries were her favorite.

Over time, I have developed desserts inspired by the traditional poppy seed hamantaschen that are served during Purim, and my family celebrates the holiday with a variety of Purim desserts, which are either filled with poppy seeds or include poppy seeds in the batter.

This year I am making several cookie recipes, including one that combines poppy seeds with hazelnuts for a crunchy, distinctive flavor — a perfect dessert companion to accompany your Purim dessert table – as well as lacy, flourless Purim Seed Crisps.

My husband Marvin’s favorites are Korjas, paper-thin poppy seed cookies, a traditional family recipe that was given to me many years ago by my friend Della Spector. This recipe makes hundreds of cookies, similar in texture to potato chips. I never cut the recipe in half; the raw dough stores well in the refrigerator or freezer and is ready to roll out and bake at any time.

Poppy Seed Cheesecake is a creamy confection with an almond nut crust that is filled with poppy seeds and topped with sour cream. A small slice is so satisfying that one cheesecake can serve at least 20. For mishloach manot, or Purim gift baskets, make mini cheesecakes using the same recipe and muffin tins.

Start Purim day with a breakfast of Poppy Seed Pound Cake, which can be served toasted and topped with sweet butter or jam. It is a delicious treat that goes well with your morning cappuccino.

A tip for the baker in the family: I bake all my cookie recipes on a silicone baking mat to ensure that the cookies come off easily and never get stuck to the pan. You can store any of the cookie recipes in the refrigerator or freezer before baking; just defrost, roll out, and bake for everyone to enjoy.


5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 tablespoons millet seeds

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine butter, sugar, corn syrup and milk in a medium skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the butter is melted and all the ingredients are combined thoroughly. Mix in the seeds. Transfer to a glass bowl. Refrigerate or freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and stored in the freezer for 1 month.)

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silicone baking mat. Using 1 teaspoon of batter at a time, shape batter into rounds the size of a nickel. Place rounds 2 to 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. (Bake six at a time, as the cookies spread significantly.)

Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. (Watch closely — they brown quickly.) Let cool completely then carefully peel off of the foil, or, if using a silicone baking mat, remove cookies with a metal spatula.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.


1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
6 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 ounces poppy seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add oil and 1 1/2 cups sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer and blend together until fluffy. Beat in the eggs until smooth. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the milk alternately with the sifted dry ingredients to the oil mixture, beating after each addition. Blend in the poppy seeds. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 4 days and stored in the freezer for 3 weeks.)

Remove the dough a heaping teaspoon at a time onto a generously floured board or a sheet of wax paper. Roll out the dough into a thin rectangle, about 8 by 11 inches. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into diamond shapes and place them on a greased baking sheet or silicone baking mat. Mix together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the cookies.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

Makes about 200 cookies.


1 cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped hazelnuts,

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add butter and sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer, and blend until creamy. Add egg and vanilla.

In another bowl, stir together flour, poppy seeds, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture, blending thoroughly. Add hazelnuts, mixing to distribute evenly. On a floured board, shape dough into three or four rolls, each 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap rolls in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or until firm.

Using a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/8-inch thin slices: place slices about 1/2 inch apart on a foil or a silicone mat-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden. Transfer to racks and cool.

Makes about 8 dozen cookies.


1 cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup poppy seeds
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1/2 cup ground almonds

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Cream butter, cream cheese and 1 1/2 cups sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and blend until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until creamy. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt and add to cream cheese mixture.

Mix together poppy seeds, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, lemon peel and remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

Coat a 9 1/2-inch bundt pan with additional butter, all of the ground almonds and 3 tablespoons of the poppy seed mixture. Spoon 1/3 of the cream cheese mixture into pan.

Top cream cheese mixture with 1/2 of remaining poppy seed mixture. Spread another 1/3 of cream cheese mixture over the seeds and sprinkle with remaining poppy seed mixture. Top with remaining cream cheese mixture.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until cake is dry when tested in the center. Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Keeps for at least 2 weeks. Serve at room temperature or warm, sliced thin.

Note: Mixture also may be placed in 6 (5-by-3 inch) loaf pans and baked at 325 F for 1 hour.

Makes 1 (9 1/2-inch) cake, 16 servings.


Almond Nut Crust (recipe follows)
2 cups sour cream
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons poppy seeds
4 eggs

Prepare, bake, and cool the Almond Nut Crust; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add sour cream, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract to a small bowl. Blend well, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. 

Add cream cheese, remaining 1 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons poppy seeds to the bowl of an electric mixer, and blend until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in the remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla and remaining 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. Pour this filling into the baked Almond Nut Crust.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the center is set and the top is golden. Remove the cake from the oven. Spread the prepared sour cream mixture on top and return cake to the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, garnish with remaining 2 tablespoons poppy seeds. Cool. Remove from springform pan, and serve.

Makes 1 (9-inch) cheesecake, 18 to 20 servings.


1 1/2 cups unpeeled whole almonds
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Mix almonds and sugar in a food processor or blender, and blend until the almonds are coarsely chopped.  Add the butter and almond extract, and process just until the mixture begins to come together. Press the almond mixture evenly into the bottom and 1⁄4 inch up the sides of 9-inch springform pan.
Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Cool.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Morrow, 1988), “The International Deli Cookbook” (Chronicle, 1994)  and the recently released “Italy Cooks.” She teaches cooking classes through American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education. Her Web site is judyzeidler.com.