Lithuanian Poppy Seed Holiday Cookies: Santa-Worthy Treats

I have the great fortune of living near Sahadi’s, a wonderful little Middle Eastern grocery in Brooklyn that’s filled with bins of dates and nuts and shelves of treats such as pomegranate molasses, Turkish apricots and three kinds of orange blossom water.

As much of a thrill as it is to walk through Sahadi’s on any day, given that you never know what new delicious morsel you’ll discover, it’s particularly lovely in December, when the usually crammed store gets absolutely packed with a shoppers and a frenetic holiday spirit that’s uniquely New York. Excuse me, there are meals to be made — out of my way! You going to get that box of tea or what? Hurry up! (OK, perhaps I am alone in having these thoughts — everyone else may well be imbued with saintly patience since it is the holiday season, after all.)

Being there always gives me that seasonal rush that propels me to the finish line that is our Christmas dinner, however. And this year, I picked up a little extra something I’d been curious to cook with: Poppy seed paste.

What to do with this paste? Hamantaschen, the triangular cookie filled with poppy seeds that Jewish people eat at Purim, came to mind of course. But given that Purim is a good three months away, it didn’t seem the most appropriate use right now.

After a little poking around, one recipe beckoned: Lithuanian holiday cookies. In Lithuanian cuisine, dense poppy seed paste is sometimes swirled into sweet breads and other pastries for extra flavor. In a dense cookie, however, they’re just delicious. The basic cookie recipe I found called for just poppy seed paste as the main flavoring agent. As a lover of lemon and poppy seeds together, I decided to add some lemon zest and extract, along with a little mace, which just seemed right somehow. (The slightly tangy taste of mace would stand up nicely to the deep and earthy sweetness of poppy seeds, I thought.)

The result? A chewy, slightly cake-like cookie that packed a punch on its own but tasted even better with a festive sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar. One bite of these will send you looking for a tall glass of cold milk as a pairing.

I think Santa would approve.

~~~

Lithuanian Poppy Seed Holiday Cookies

Ingredients:
  • 1 (12.5-ounce) can poppyseed filling
  • 3 large beaten eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons melted and cooled butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 generous sprinklings of dried lemon peel
  • 1 generous sprinkling of dried orange peel
  • Confectioners’ sugar
Preparation:
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine poppy seed filling and eggs. Using a hand mixer, beat until well combined. Add all remaining ingredients except confectioners’ sugar, mixing thoroughly.
Cookie dough will be very liquid — do not be alarmed. Scoop cookie dough — each cookie should comprise a generous tablespoon of dough — onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. (If you want a softer, chewy cookie, do 18 — if you like it crispier, you can put them in for 20 to 22 minutes.) Remove immediately and cool on rack.
Just before serving, dust with confectioners’ sugar.

 

8 thoughts on “Lithuanian Poppy Seed Holiday Cookies: Santa-Worthy Treats

  1. Yum! I’m going to try making these. I’m in Professor Karen Springen’s magazine feature writing class at Medill and I just ordered your book on Amazon! I’m excited to Skype with you in February.

  2. Wow! I’m sorry I didn’t spot this before Christmas – my husband is part Lithuanian. I’ll save it for Valentine’s Day. :) But I’m curious about the dried lemon and orange peel. Do you dry it yourself? Or is it available pre-dried?

    • Hi Amy, you can get it in the spice department of the grocery store — mine are from McCormick. (Or you can sub freshly grated lemon peel, too.) Good luck! The dough really is very very liquid so, be warned. And definitely use parchment paper if you have it! Enjoy…

  3. Hi – I’d like to make these for a gathering next week, honoring a visitor from Lithuania, but I admit I’m not much of a baker. It’s unclear to me if the “sprinkled” ingredients (dried lemon and orange peel) are sprinkled on the cookies before baking, or after baking along with the confectioners sugar. Can you clarify for me? Thanks — Bob

    • Hi there — the dried lemon and orange peel are purely optional. (They’re additions I made. I did like the taste of them in it, though!) But if you want to add them, sprinkle it into the dough and make sure it’s mixed in well. Good luck! Let me know how your visitor likes them!

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