By Kaja Korbar Olcott
This recipe celebrates an ingredient popular in many Croatian desserts: the poppy seed.
Many are familiar with the traditional Croatian poppy seed dessert, makovnjača, which involves making a leavened dough that is then filled, rolled, baked, and sliced. It can be quite time-consuming. When makovnjača is made right, it can be absolutely delicious. However, the biggest gripe most have is that the dough can occasionally run dry and the filling can be scant.
These poppy seed squares take a fraction of the time to make and are so moist and tender, they highlight the best parts of a good makovnjača. Plus, they’re topped with a decadent chocolate glaze—who could say no to that?
This recipe is completely flour-free. While this version includes just a teaspoon of breadcrumbs, it could be omitted as well, making this a gluten-free dessert. Plus, this cake could easily be made dairy-free, as well, depending on the type of chocolate you use and if you choose margarine over butter.
- 6 eggs
- 250 grams (1 ¼ cups) sugar
- 250 grams (2 cups) ground poppy seeds
- 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon dark rum
- 1 ½ teaspoon orange zest
- 150 grams (⅔ cup) butter or margarine
- 3-4 tablespoons apricot or orange marmalade, thinned out slightly with water
- 200 grams (~7 oz.) semi-sweet baking chocolate
- Neutral oil and powdered sugar for lining the pan
Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Prepare a rimmed baking sheet (about 40×25 cm/16×10 in). Line the bottom with baking paper that has been greased and dusted lightly with powdered sugar to prevent sticking. Alternatively, use two same-sized smaller rectangular pans.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a hand or stand mixer.
Separate the egg whites into a clean, dry, medium-sized bowl. Place the yolks into a small bowl.
One at a time, beat the yolks into the butter and sugar mixture. Beat for about five minutes until the mixture lightens in color.
Soak the breadcrumbs in the rum. Add to the mixture along with the poppy seeds and orange zest. Stir with a wooden or silicone spatula.
With a clean mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
With the spatula, fold the egg whites into the mixture one third at a time. Use gentle strokes to prevent deflating the whites.
Pour the mixture into the baking pan(s) and level. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top turns slightly golden. Cool for 20 minutes.
Cut the cake into two equal-sized layers. Coat the bottom layer with the marmalade. Place the second layer on top.
Melt the chocolate over a double boiler until smooth and glossy. Cool for 5 minutes and cover the top layer with chocolate.
Let the glaze set for 10 minutes. Cut into squares and serve. Dobar tek!
Photos provided by Jerko Steiner