While the Dresdener stollen is the most common of the German holiday fruitcake, there’s another lesser American known version, called the Mohnstrudel. In a lot of cases, particularly the North Rhine – Westphalia region, the two cakes are made together during the Christmas season. The main difference between the two is that Mohnstrudel is made with ground poppyseed paste. Poppy seeds have long been popular in East Germany and Eastern Europe in parts of the former Austro-Hungarian empire. Poland, Romania, Austria, Croatia, Bohemia, Lithuania, Russia, and Ukraine all have a long tradition of preparing poppy seed pastries. There’s even poppyseed baklava in Turkey and Greece.
Long known as a folk remedy for fertility and aid in sleeping, the poppyseed was also known in Germanic legend for its ability to make someone invisible. This may come from the high its opiate plant induces.
In Germany, poppyseed pastries, called Mohnkucken are eaten around Christmas time. Mohnback, an already prepared poppyseed paste is readily available in Germany to save the holiday baker’s time. Mohnback is typically made with ground poppyseeds, almond paste, semolina flour, milk, and eggs. Mohnkucken is a yeast cake filled with this ground poppyseed paste and topped with a buttery streusel – like a coffee cake. The Mohnstrudel, like the Dresdener stollen integrates dried, rum soaked fruit pieces and is rolled in the poppyseed filling, creating a rich, fruity cake. Sometimes cooked apples are integrated into the poppyseed filling for an Apfel-Mohnstrudel.
In a quick search it doesn’t appear that any of the local German style bakeries in the Greater Cincinnati area sell traditional mohnkucken or mohnstrudel. There is a possibility that some of the Jewish delis might make them seasonally, as they are also very popular in Jewish cuisine as well. There are lots of bakeries that make a lemon –poppyseed cake, but none with the thick mohnback paste of the German variety.
One Cincinnati Jewish cookbook of 1889, Aunt Babbette’s, has a mohnkucken recipe. I imagine there are some really wonderful legacy recipes for these poppyseed pastries in German-American Cincinnati families and would love to see Servatti make one for the Christmas season.