Friday, May 20, 2011

ingredient: POPPY SEEDS

Am I the only one who totally missed what was happening in that scene in the Wizard of Oz where they fall asleep in the field of poppies?


Ok. Good.

Yes children, poppy seeds, those same little black sprinkles which adorn your bagel, come from the opium poppy plant which, true to its name, can be used to produce the drug opium. But while the ancient people who attributed the power of invisibility to eating poppy seeds may have actually been tripping balls, you will not get stoned from eating poppy seeds. Though I'm sure many, many a teenager has tried.

More than any other geographical area (except the Upper West Side of New York City), Eastern Europe loves poppy seeds. They sprinkle them in breads, kneed them into dumplings, and grind them into a paste which is rolled up in strudels and cookies. Poppy seeds are also popular in Turkey and India, where you'll sometimes come across the white version (which tastes the same but looks cooler).

One pound of these little guys can contain over two million seeds. They're expensive to produce and, because of their natural oils, they turn rancid easily. So if you buy poppy seeds, store them in your freezer to extend the life of your seeds, and your money. A last fun fact: if you've ever seen that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine eats a poppy seed muffin then tests positive for drugs and wondered, "Can that really happen?" the answer is yes. So potential candidates for the C.I.A, beware.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

For my Serious Entertaining column this week, I made a series of edible party favors. While I've been eating my way through the incredibly decadent fudge and I shipped off the sweet and salty nuts, I've let friends do most of the damage to the lemon poppy seed mini muffins. Why? Because (I'm sorry Ajay) because the truth is that I'm not a huge fan of muffins.

I know it doesn't make any sense. I love bread. I love sweets. Muffins should totally be my thing. And I'll admit that as a kid I freakin' loved those Entenmann's mini-muffins. You know the ones that came like five to a white bag? They were were always so moist! (Yes I know it's probably because they're made out of emulsified plastic or something else I don't want to think about.) My issue with muffins is that they either a) don't have enough flavor or b) are dry and crusty.

Everyone seems to love muffin tops. I don't want to reference Seinfeld twice in one post but, well, you all know that episode with the muffin tops. I didn't get it. "Hey Elaine!" I called to the TV. "You can keep your tops! I'll eat those muffin bottoms. Hey homeless woman! Why aren't you eating those delicious fluffy bottoms? Are you crazy!?" And on.

I like muffin bottoms. If I could I'd scalp the crust right off my muffin and leave nothing but airy center. Anyway, I hope this helps you understand my issue with mini-muffins. Not enough fluff. And thus I decided to make a new batch of the lemon poppy seed muffins, but this time they were normal sized. I do love the flavor of these particular muffins. Bright and citrusy from the lemon, they also get a slight nuttiness (and fun texture) from the poppy seeds.

Makes 12 normal sized muffins

1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons poppy seeds


Preheat oven to 400°F. Line 12 muffin cups with liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest, and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, eggs, vanilla, and sour cream until well combined.

Add wet ingredients to flour mixture and stir with a spoon until just combined. Mix in poppy seeds until evenly distributed.

Fill each muffin cup 3/4 of the way full.

Bake until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Let muffins cool on wire rack.

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