Mák (poppy seeds) are commonly used in baking, confections, and even more savory cooking, in Czech Republic. These poppy seed balls are unbaked, have only a small number of ingredients, and are relatively quick to make. If you love poppy seeds, you might really like these on your Christmas cookie platter. They are definitely unique!
In Czech Republic, you can easily find bags of both pre-ground and whole poppy seeds. If you only find whole, you can grind them yourself using either a special poppy seed grinder (yes, these exist) or one you can use for finely grinding nuts or espresso coffee beans. If your grocery store doesn’t sell poppy seeds in bulk, they can be ordered online at places like Amazon.com or special shops focusing on Central or Eastern European foods. Examples of the latter can be found at Finding Czech and Slovak Groceries in the US (or UK).
The dates in the recipe provide all (or most) of the sweetening. If you enjoy some extra sweetness, you can use a touch of honey as part of the water addition. Though not usually necessary, a drizzle of honey can also aid in binding the dough. Like some nut-based doughs, it can look a bit crumby before pressing together.
Makes 32 poppy seed balls.
- 200 grams (7 oz) pitted dates (soft not dried), such as Medjool
- 100 grams (3 ½ oz) ground poppy seeds
- 2 to 3 tablespoons water (amount depends on stickiness of dates) or a combination of water and a little honey. See Notes.
- 1 handful of whole poppy seeds (any type can be used, but I like the “blue” variety since they are especially pretty)
- Optional: Blanched and skinned whole almonds. This was my husband’s idea. It makes the balls even prettier and adds a bit of crunch for textural variety.
First, pit the dates. Then weigh out 200 grams. Into a food processor or blender, pulse together the dates with the 100 grams ground poppy seeds. Then add between 2 to 3 tablespoons water (see Notes just below), until it is a bit sticky, or when pinched with fingers, sticks together.
Notes: If the dates are a little dry and/or not especially sweet, you can use a little bit of honey as part of the measured water amount. I wouldn’t add much more than 1 teaspoon of honey. A touch of honey may even help bind the dough, but still expect it to look crumby in your food processor or blender before pressing the mass together. It will likely not look like a dough until you remove the contents.
Remove mixture to clean surface (I use a sheet of waxed or parchment paper) and press together into a mass. It’s OK if there are teeny visible bits of the date skins left. Divide into four (4) equal-sized portions. Then form each portion into a log, pressing back any crumbs that fall off (or cracks). Cut each log into eight (8) equal-sized pieces. Roll each piece (there will be 32 total) into round balls. [The photos below show only a half batch of the recipe.]
Put a handful or two of whole poppy seeds into a shallow bowl or small plate with high rims. Take each poppy seed ball and press and roll into the whole poppy seeds, so they adhere. If you like, then gently press a whole blanched and skinned almond (pointy side down) into the middle of each coated ball, pressing the balls back into shape, if needed. I like to put the balls into mini paper cupcake liners. This prevents stray poppy seeds from mixing with any other cookies in a tray.
Bonus idea for using up dates:
Though not a Czech confection, my American mom used to love filling pitted Medjool dates with a little peanut butter, pressing to partially close, then rolling in confectioners sugar. Yummy for those who love both dates and peanut butter.
Extra poppy seeds left?
Consider making Buchty (Czech Sweet Buns with Fillings).
For more Czech Christmas cookie and confection recipes:
For more recipes, visit Authentic Czech Christmas Cookies and Sweet Breads