This is a recipe for Jewish honey-poppy biscuits that I saw recently on the Saveur website. It was simply a case of “oh, those look nice, I’ll try them”.
I love poppy seeds (stick ’em in a cake and I’m right in there) and I happen to have a rather large stock of honey, so some seasonal cookies that combined the two seemed to be a particularly timely idea.
The original recipe is here (in good old cups and other odd measurements!) but I’ve halved it and converted the quantities into grams, which is my preferred way of cooking. But what I realised about thirty seconds after starting was that I actually had no idea what I was making. Never made them before, never seen them, never eaten them. So rather then my sometimes slap-dash approach to recipes that I know well, I had to follow this one with forensic precision. Well, almost forensic precision. I halved the amount of salt, and doubled up on the poppy seeds.
The resulting cookies have a very traditional old-fashioned flavour to them. They are like a rich shortbread, with the poppy seeds lending the biscuits an earthy flavour and a pleasant “pop” as you eat them. You could happily leave them as rich crisp poppy biscuits, but I was also keen to add the honey syrup. May as well go the whole hog.
Now, when it comes to the syrup, I really didn’t know what would happen. I assume that it would end up a little like baklava, with all the honey syrup being absorbed by the biscuits. Well, I arranged the cookies in a try, poured over the honey syrup, and it sort of flowed over the biscuits and seeped between the gaps. After the suggested ten minutes, the biscuits were still very crisp and just a bit sticky. Maybe this was right, I don’t know. But left overnight, the biscuits did indeed soak up most of the honey, and stayed firm with just a little honey squelching out of them. And like this, they were very delicious indeed. Honey and the popping of poppy seeds.
To make pirishkes (makes around 25 pieces):
• 225g plain flour
• 40g poppy seeds
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt, finely ground
• 55g icing sugar
• 55g butter, softened
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 egg
• 170g honey
• 40ml water
Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a two deep baking trays with greaseproof paper.
In a bowl, mix the flour, poppy seeds, baking powder and salt.
In another bowl, beat the sugar, butter and vanilla extract until pale and fluffy. You can do it by hand, but it’s easier with an electric beater.
Add the egg, mix well, then stir in the flour mixture until you have a soft dough. It will seem quite dry, so use your hands to bring it all together.
Divide the dough into two portions – roll each part out to 1/4 inch (just over 1/2 cm) thick. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes, then cut into diamond shapes.
Transfer the cookies to the baking sheets, and bake for 12-15 minutes until just turning golden at the edges. In the meantime, put the water and honey in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
Once the cookies are ready, transfer them onto one sheet while still hot (the diamond shapes should fit together quite tightly), and pour over the hot honey. Leave to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving, but they’re still pretty good the day after.
Worth making? These are very unusual little biscuits, but if you are a fan of baklava and similarly sweet-and-sticky biscuits, then I think you will like these. If you want to vary things, it would also be a nice change to swap the vanilla extract for lemon or orange zest.