The dough for this absolutely stunning poppy-seed braid (faux-braid, to be precise, but more on that in a minute) is actually quite unusual, as it’s a mix of yeasted dough and short-crust dough kneaded together. In Germany, it’s called Zwillingsteig (meaning “twin dough”) and was popular in bygone times for cakes made with fresh fruit, but the style has fallen by the wayside in recent decades. It is making a bit of a comeback, though, as all good things do. Zwillingsteig is a richer, moister dough than regular yeasted doughs, and keeps for a little while longer, too.
Here, the dough is rolled out and spread with a creamy, vanilla-scented poppy-seed filling, then rolled up into a big log. For this poppy-seed roll, also known as Mohnzopf, you use a pair of sharp shears to snip the log crosswise at regular intervals. The snipped pieces of the roll are then peeled back, alternating to the left and the right, creating a gorgeous braided loaf that will impress absolutely everyone who sees it.
The poppy-seed bread recipe makes two relatively large loaves, which is great if you’re baking for a larger group or if you have a particularly lovely neighbor you’d like to share one with. Otherwise, you can freeze one of the loaves in a large plastic freezer bag. Defrost by setting the loaf out at room temperature for three to four hours before serving, and then warming it slightly in a 200°F oven. Don’t leave it in the oven for more than few minutes or it will dry out. This works best with an unglazed loaf.
4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted high-fat, European-style butter, softened, cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
For the yeast dough
¾ ounce fresh yeast, or 1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon water, lukewarm
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted high-fat, European-style butter, at room temperature
2 ⅓ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
For the filling
¾ cup poppy seeds, ground
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons semolina
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup minus 2 teaspoons whole milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons dark rum
For the glaze
1 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons water
How to Make It
Make the shortcrust. Place the sugar, flour, baking powder, butter, and egg yolk in a bowl and quickly knead together until well combined. Shape into a disk and set aside. This dough can be made up to a day in advance, wrapped in plastic wrap, and refrigerated, but it should be brought to room temperature before combining it with the yeast dough.
Make the yeast dough. If using fresh yeast crumble the fresh yeast into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with the salt and sugar. Set aside for 10 minutes. Stir in the water and vanilla extract; add the butter, egg, and flour and stir. (If using instant yeast, simply stir all the dough ingredients together and proceed immediately to the kneading phase.) Dump the shaggy dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes. Resist adding too much more flour as you knead; the dough should remain as soft as possible.
Roll out the yeast dough to about 1-inch thickness and place the disk of short crust on top of the dough. Fold the yeast dough over the short crust and knead together by hand until fully combined, about 2 minutes. Shape into a ball, place in a bowl, and cover with a clean dishcloth. Set in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 hour.
Make the filling. Mix the ground poppy seeds, sugar, semolina, and salt in a saucepan. Add the butter and milk. Place the pot over medium-high heat and, stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Once the mixture is lukewarm, stir in the egg, vanilla extract, and rum. Set aside.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. After the dough has proofed, divide it in half and set one piece aside. Roll out the other half to a 12- by 14-inch rectangle. Spread the dough evenly with half of the poppy-seed filling, leaving no border. Starting from one of the long sides, roll up the dough tightly. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the second piece of dough and the remaining filling.
Hold a pair of kitchen shears perpendicular to one loaf, 1 inch from the top of the roll, and snip the dough almost all the way through, leaving about 1 inch of the dough uncut, which will function as a hinge. Repeat, moving down the loaf, at 1-inch intervals. When finished, set aside the shears and, using your fingers, gently separate and twist out each snipped segment, alternating to the left and right of the roll, so that the cut sides of each segment face upward. Tug gently at the segments so that each segment on the left side of the loaf slightly overlaps with the one in front of it, and the same on the right. Repeat with the second loaf. Cover the baking sheet with the dishcloth and set the loaves aside to proof for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Remove the dishcloth and place the baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the loaves are a deep golden brown. You may need to cover them with a piece of aluminum foil in the last 10 to 15 minutes of baking. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place on a rack to cool.
Make the glaze. When the loaves have fully cooled, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and water until completely smooth. Brush the glaze thinly over the loaves. Let the glaze set before serving. The Mohnzopf is best served the day it's made, but it can be kept for an additional day by wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap
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