Saturday, April 02, 2005

My introduction to Poppy seeds

Lemon Poppy Seed muffins Posted by Hello

Poppy seeds are hard to come by in Singapore, and so when my boyfriend made a rececnt trtip to Melbourne, I eagerly wrote him an entire list of ingredients that were either hard to find or very expensive when found and sent him on his mission. Items included poppy seeds, pure vanilla extrtact, lindt couverture chocolate, valhrona chocolate, whole wheat flour, sweetened dessicated coconut and er.. Kitchenaid stand mixer (the latter was probably a bit of a tall order, but it was a wish list after all!)

What are Poppy seeds?

Poppy is the dried, kidney-shaped seed of the annual Papaver somniferum. The seeds are very small in size, slate blue in color and are nut-like in flavor.
Poppy Seed is used topically on breads and rolls, and added to vegetables and salad dressings. Turkish cuisine uses toasted Poppy Seeds, while Indian and Turkish spice blends rely on crushed Poppy Seeds for flavor and texture.

Poppy Seed is produced in various countries including the Netherlands, Australia, Romania and Turkey. The Dutch variety, noted for its uniform slate blue color, is recognized as the best quality seed and comprises most imports into the United States.

Poppy seed has been cultivated for over 3,000 years. The tiny poppy seed actually comes from the plant that produces opium. The botanical name for the poppy flower means "sleep bearing." Poppies were even used in the Wizard of Oz to put Dorothy to sleep. The seed does not have this effect. Poppy seed was used as a condiment as early as the first century A.D. The red poppy flower has been the symbol of fallen warriors throughout history and was adopted as the emblem to commemorate Veterans Day in the United States.

Baking with Poppy seeds
With my new bag of poppy seeds, i proceeded to bake a batch of lemon poppy seed muffins last night. This recipe called for a 1/2 cup of yellow cornmeal - i have yet to experiment on a batch without conrmeal (first time i have ever used it), but the recipe said 'we wanted a very moist and a little tangy muffin that takes full advantage of the earthy sweetness of the poppy seeds. The secret is a touch of cornmeal, which balances the delicate seeds perfectly.'

The result of this recipe wasn't quite sweet enough, so i proceeded to include a lemon syrup topping (2 tablespoons sugar and juice from half a lemon), heating it until melted and slightly caramelised, spooning it over the muffin for a thin layer of barely visible glaze.
I should probably know this, but doing this - i realised that icing sugar made for a more obvious glaze (see lime and yoghurrt cupcakes) whilst granulated sugar results in a barely visible glaze. So if you don't want to mask the 'look' of whatever you're trying to put icing on, use granulated sugar instead of icing sugar.
With the syrup topping, it was perfect. Light, slightly tangy, with the poppy seeds lending the muffins a slightly crunchy texture. Poppy seeds are meant to have a nutty aroma and texture, but i'm not sure i can honestly describe the result as 'nutty' in my muffins.

I also used pure vanilla extract for the first time - i can't tell what difference it has made, but i'm convinced given the number of times cook books have stressed on its superior quality (over vanilla flavouring), there must be some serious value in the stuff. Not forgetting a good reason why i had made my boyfriend lug back 7 bottles worth!


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