Easter bread with apples and a poppyseed and pecan paste

A modern version of an Eastern European classic

My mum Olga and her sister Zhenia have always made a more traditional version of this bread during Easter. It’s called ‘makoviy rulet’ – a poppyseed roll. Versions of it are cooked all over Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. I always felt that my family’s was the best I’d ever tried, because they have never skimped on the filling. Traditionally walnuts would have been used, the apples being my addition. The ammonite shape makes this sweet bread a real centre piece. You can always use the filling with other types of dough and even shop-bought filo to make a wonderfully intense strudel! But I implore you to try this yeasted dough version – it’s a pleasure to make. It’s mindfullness or, as we call it – cooking with intention – at its best.

For the dough

200ml warm whole milk
10g yeast (but 7g will work too if you use sachets)
60g demerara sugar
1 tsp sea salt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
400-450g plain flour

For the filling

200ml whole milk
100g poppy seeds
100g pecans or walnuts, lightly toasted
100g sugar (I used demerara)
2 tsp vanilla extract
80g lightly salted butter
2 apples

2 egg yolks
2 tbsp of milk

To make the dough, mix the yeast with the warm milk and the sugar. Leave for 10 minutes or so to make sure the yeast works. It should develop a kind of a frothy ‘hat’ as we call it in Ukraine. Now whisk in the eggs and the salt and the vanilla. Make sure the eggs have broken up properly. 

Sift in 400g of flour. The dough will be sticky and wet. But if you feel it’s too wet to handle, add another 20g of flour. 

Now wet your hands (it will help the dough not stick to them) and work the dough a little in the bowl, to bring it together. Then do a stretch and fold action for a little while, a few minutes will do. Your dough will look pretty rough still, but don’t worry. Pat it down and cover it, leave for about an hour somewhere warm to rise.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Simmer the poppy seeds in the milk for about 20-30 minutes over a low heat. Do keep an eye on it as the milk has a tendency to run away, if it starts doing that, take it off the heat. Do give it an occasional stir to prevent a skin forming. The milk will get absorbed and will evaporate too, the seeds will soften. Let them cool down and then blitz in a food processor with the other ingredients. You will end up with a thick, beautiful, black paste. 

Core and dice the apples and mix them through the paste, it will make it easier to dot it around the rolled out dough.

Scoop the dough out on to a well-floured surface. The dough will be sticky but if you flour your hands, that will make it easier to work with.

Knead the dough for about 5 minutes or so. The dough will be soft and airy, a real pleasure to work with. Finally, shape it into a smooth ball. 

Leave it on your lightly-floured work bench for about 15-30 minutes. It will be easier to roll out if the gluten relaxes. 

Now make sure your work surface is well-floured and start rolling out the sough. You are aiming for a 30cmx40cm rectangle. 

Now dot the apple and poppyseed paste filling all over the dough and roll the dough into a log shape. Cut this log lengthways so you will have two long pieces of dough with exposed filling.

Put a baking parchment over a flat baking sheet and dust it with some semolina or flour.

Take the first piece of dough and twist it around itself into a snail shape, exposed filling side facing upwards. Now wrap the other piece of dough around the snail and pinch the ends together to secure. Cover and leave to prove for about 30-45 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 180C fan. 

Brush with the egg and milk glaze all over the bread and bake for 30-40 minutes. Check on it half way through, if some of it is becoming too dark (my oven definitely has hot spots!), cover those bits with foil. 

As soon as it’s out of the oven, slip the bread gently off its tray and paper on to a wire rack to cool down.

Enjoy with an unsweetened lemony tea or a dry glass of white wine!