Sweet Poppy Seed Scroll Loaf (Croatian Makovnjaca)

It’s a time for poppy seeds.  This loaf, in particular springs to mind. One of the kick starts for this Croatian Makovnjaca came from my speakers and my soppy habit of listening to Simon and Garfunkel while I work.  Yes, there were drops of rain (welcome to London in November). My thoughts were a little distracted, possibly confused too. And then I too, thought of Kathy.

This Croatian Makovnjaca is a dish that will commonly emerge from the kitchen at The Hungry One’s grandfather’s house. He’s a proud man nudging towards 100. It might be the garlic and home made schnapps that have sheltered him along the way. It might have something to do with good genes  (I like to think I chose good stock). But I think a few of us suspect it’s mostly Kathy’s doing.

To me Kathy is less of a step-grandmother-in-law and more of a force of nature. She’s a woman who churns butter by hand and will dispatch of the roast duck for lunch herself. She radiates a warmth, and her hugs are best characterised as vehement.

The last time we saw Kathy was last Christmas, at their small property about an hour south of Sydney. After lunch Kathy placed the makovnjaca, cookies and coffee on the starched white table cloth and The Hungry One pulled out his iPad. He then spent a good hour  showing his Grandfather Google street view maps of the towns in Romania and Austria where he was born and grew- places he hasn’t seen in 60 years. His grandfather was agog.

As we left Kathy thrust another of these yeasted, scrolled poppy seed loaves into my hands, carefully wrapped in foil. ‘Eat. Eat’ she said. ‘And come back soon’.

This year we won’t be spending Christmas with them. It tugs and twists a bit.  But as I made this treat from her childhood- in Croatia a makovnjaca is  traditionally eaten on December 24 – I thought of her.

Next year. I promise.

Makovnjaca (Sweet Poppy Seed Scroll Loaf)


There are other Croatian variations of this loaf- Kathy also makes a terrific one with walnuts. The key with the poppy seeds is to grind them to release the flavour. This also helps them to bind together once they’ve been cooked in milk and gilded with jam. I prefer apricot jam in the stuffing though you could easilysubstitute for plum or honey. It’s a lovely loaf to make over the course of a day; it just needs a little attention now and then- making the dough, letting it rise, rolling and then letting it rest. It’s also an excellent thing to make in bulk.


Spice grinder. 1 mixing bowl. 1 roasting tray. Baking paper. Pastry brush.


50 grams of caster sugar
7 grams of instant yeast
100 mL milk, luke warm
300 grams plain flour
75 grams butter, melted
Pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
A little extra flour for dusting

1 cup of ground poppy seeds, ground in a spice grinder
125 mL milk
50 grams caster sugar
4 tablespoons of apricot jam
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

1 beaten egg to glaze
2 tbsp of additional poppyseeds to garnish


(nb, you need to begin this recipe the day before)

1) To make the dough dissolve the sugar and yeast in the luke warm milk in a large bowl and leave in a warm place to activate for 15 minutes.

2) Sift the flour into the now-scummy-looking yeast/sugar/milk cocktail. Add the egg yolks, butter and salt and mix with your fingertips to bring into a dough.

3) Knead the dough until it is smooth and pliant.

4) Ensure there is plenty of space in the bowl for the dough to grow. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for three hours, until it has doubled in size.

5) To make the filling, first grind your poppy seeds in a spice grinder. Then bring the milk to a simmer on the stove and add the ground poppy seeds. Stir well and cook for 3-4 minutes so the seeds absorb the liquid.

6) Add the apricot jam, lemon rind and juice and cinnamon and allow to cool.

7) Once the dough has doubled in size lightly dust a work bench with flour. Roll out the dough to a rectangle, about the size of an A3 sheet of paper. If you can manage to make it taper down at the edges, all the better (this will mean when you fold them back in to protect the filling you won’t get a bulbous shape).

8 ) Spread the poppy filling across the dough, leaving a 2 cm border at each side.

9) Fold over each of the edges so it looks like a frame (this will help stop the filling from spilling out).

10 ) Roll the dough from top to bottom. Place the seam on the bottom of the loaf.

11 ) Place on a tray lined with baking paper and place in the fridge for 3-4 hours, or over night.

12 ) To bake preheat the oven to 180C/350 F and brush the loaf with beaten egg. Sprinkle a stripe of poppy seeds down the top.

13) Bake for 40 minutes, until golden.

14) Allow to cool a little before slicing. Serve with coffee or tea.

  1. tori, this recipe and tradition is so very similar to that of makoweic in my family. my grand father makes it every year in preparation for christmas. he does one with almonds which is probably a kin to the walnut one you mention above.
    m x

  2. When my grandmother fell ill a month ago, I pulled out a bag of the poppy seeds I always buy when I’m in Germany and starting making some poppyseed buns, thinking about a post to write about her. The fresh yeast I used didn’t work, the buns didn’t rise and I had to throw them out because they were truly indedible. Then my grandmother bounced back and got better and they were forgotten. A few weeks later she unexpectedly passed and I thought again of making them to say my goodbye but didn’t have the heart or energy and posted a much simpler recipe. Now reading this post and seeing the poppy seeds I had to think of her again and might just try my hand at this instead. I loved reading about the HO’s grandfather and step grandmother. Thanks.

  3. What an attractive loaf- and such a beautiful story!

  4. My grandmother lived in Ontario, Canada for a while and when we’d visit, a friend of hers would make this and i think my mom ate most of every loaf we received! I found a similar recipe on Saveur and made it for her. I love the sound of this recipe with the apricot jam. I can imagine that they were amazed by google street view 🙂 They sound like such sweet people.

  5. Gorgeous stuff. You had me at poppy seed. Also, the best hugs are those that are vehement.

Leave a comment


{ 5 Trackbacks }