I have a soft spot for poppy seeds. My wedding cake was a delicious almond poppy seed layer cake filled with buttercream, and not too long ago I tried to replicate it (and did OK!). But I also love the flavor in the potica and kolaczky I make at Christmas. I love the hint of nuttiness and the crunch they add to all these treats. But let’s face it, cakes, potica and fancy cookies aren’t really everyday treats.
But you know what is an everyday kind of treat? A bar. Just a hardworking sweet that doesn’t require any garnish or flair. They’re perfect for weeknight desserts of for bringing to a party.
So it figures that I wanted to combine the tasty flavor of poppy with the no nonsense feeling of a good ol’ tray bake. I developed this struesel bar recipe based on a recipe from Amy Thielen’s The New Midwestern Table, one of my favorite cookbooks. I wasn’t super keen on the raisins she calls for (and I didn’t agree entirely with some of the proportions), so I developed my own take. Plus, this totally counted as my September bake for my Great America Baking Resolution. Let’s dig in.
For the filling:
- ¾ cup poppy seeds
- ¾ cup whole milk
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 cup chopped dried apricots
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
For the bars:
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ cup room temperature butter, cut into chunks + more for greasing pan
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
I warned you that the filling for this one takes a little extra time and work, but you can relax a little knowing it can be prepped a few days in advance – just stash it in the refrigerator. You can relax a little more knowing that making this filling from scratch isn’t mandatory either. Feel free to substitute a can of poppy seed filling from the grocery store (it’s typically in the baking aisle near the canned cherries).
Now let’s get to it. I’m going to kick this off with an optional step: crushing the poppy seeds. This isn’t 100% necessary, but it does help release a little extra poppy flavor by cracking the exterior of the seeds. To crush the seeds, pulverize them in a clean coffee grinder. Working in batches, pulse the seeds in the grinder until they resemble coffee grounds. Set these aside for a moment.
Using your food processor, pulse your chopped, dried apricots so they break down a bit before you add your remaining ingredients. I’d say pulse until they’re about the size of chocolate chips. Then you’re ready to add the rest of your filling ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, vinegar and your poppy seeds. Process until the apricots are reduced to the size of mini chocolate chips or smaller. A blender would work well here too if you don’t have a food processor.
Once blended, pour your mix into a sauce pan. I’ll warn you that it doesn’t look the most appetizing, but don’t worry – it will turn out. Cook this mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently. When the mix begins to bubble, reduce to medium low heat and continue cooking (and stirring) until the filling has thickened – about 15 minutes. Set aside or pop in the fridge.
Now, onto the bars themselves. In a large bowl, quickly mix together your dry ingredients. Then add your cubed butter and mix with your hands until the mix feels damp and holds its shape when squeezed.
Grease a 13″x9″ pan with butter. Scoop five heaping cups of unpacked dough into the pan and press down to form a crust. Bake this at 375ºF for 15 minutes. When done, remove from the oven and let cool for another 15.
Once the base has cooled off a bit, spread the poppy filling across in an even coat, leaving a bit of room around the edge. Then take the remaining struesel mix and crumble on top. Don’t cover the poppy seeds 100%. You’ll want a bit of the filling to show through.
Pop this back into a 375ºF oven for another 45 minutes or so. Wait for this to cool and slice away!
The result is a rich, buttery struesel with a delicious nutty filling with a hint of fruit. These are a bit time consuming, but I think for poppy lovers like myself, they’re definitely worth it.