Filed under: Babkas / Rolls
January 10, 2020

The Poppiest Bread: Pull-Apart, Babka, and Morning Rolls

Super fluffy poppyseed challah rolls with lemon and white chocolate, covered in a cream cheese icing. Can also be made as a babka or a pull-apart bread.

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You’ve met the ubiquitous lemon poppyseed muffin. You don’t know what else to use poppyseeds for, except maybe for sprinkling on bread? Here’s a poppyseed dessert that is going to change your views. I’ve got three ways you can make this bread (white chocolate is in two of them and cream cheese in one). Now you buy poppyseeds in bulk.


Baking with Poppyseeds

There are two kinds of people: those who do poppyseeds by the sprinkle or, if they are feeling generous, by the spoonful. This is most people. And then there are people who treat poppyseeds like Baby, and nobody puts baby in the corner. It me, and poppies are my Baby. I do my poppyseeds by the cup: see January 2019: the poppiest cake ever. Fast forward one year to today’s post: the poppiest bread.

There are so many ways you can make this utterly fluffy bread. I have three for you three here (four if you do a basic loaf) and these are three really, REALLY good reasons.

It’s a simple dough with added poppyseeds and lemon zest. And it’s great with just that but, I like to jazz things up so I’ve given you a pull-apart, a babka and a morning roll (like a cinnamon roll). It’s a choose your own poppy bread path.


Poppyseed Bread

The photo below is an interior shot of the pull-apart version. The textural nuance the poppies add here is absolutely delightful.



Poppyseeds in bulk

Now, you might look at the ingredient list and think, Sam, seriously? That is a LOT of poppyseeds! Usually you find them in tiny spice jars (which explains why people are just sprinkling them on!) but for this recipe, you’ll want to buy them in bulk. Amazon has good sources, or do what I do, which is to go to the closest Mediterranean store and buy them for super cheap (mine sells them for about 4oz for $3!).



Poppyseed challah

Let’s talk about the background of this recipe. I have been using Alexandra Cooks recipe for challah for a long, long time. Over the years I begun to alter it here and there: I don’t bother with the sponge, I like an extra yolk for tenderness (it also helps it stay softer longer) and I always want some vanilla extract in there for extra flavor. Recently I’ve begun subbing in melted butter for the oil which I’ve found further adds to tenderness and flavor. I guess it’s not a challah anymore, but it lies somewhere between a brioche and a challah, having the best of both worlds: it’s soft and fluffy like a challah, and full of flavor like a brioche. And for a home baker, it’s terribly easy – especially if you have a machine to knead the dough.


Poppyseed babka

As for the filling, I had seen canned poppyseed filling in the grocery store awhile back, I was a bit curious. But not curious enough to believe that I couldn’t make something better at home. I dug around and found this recipe via Eat in My Kitchen which gave me a blueprint for making the filling. Meike’s method is to cook the poppies with milk so they absorb some of the liquid – incidentally, just like it’s done in this recipe which is what my Poppiest Cake recipe is based on! This truly was meant to be.



Three ways to make Poppyseed Challah

Let’s talk about these different ways to make it, there’s the pull-apart: you’ll make the dough, slather it with butter and sugar, slice it into little squares and stack them. Honestly for the amount of work you don’t do for this, it turns up gorgeous with lovely layers.

The original idea for this whole recipe post was a poppyseed babka. The babka version is lovely with the filling (the white chocolate really adds a delightful punch – did you know that white chocolate and lemon are amazing together? Now you do!) and sliced, you can toast it and then add butter, jam or soft cream cheese. Speaking of cream cheese…

Although I am thorough and through a babka girl (and have created so many odd babka variations like brownie, chocolate chip cookie and even double chocolate) I have to admit, my favorite of these three recipes is the third: the morning rolls (pictured below).

Ok let’s wrap this up, if you have someone you really love, you make this for them. You tell them, ‘I love you as many poppyseeds are in this dish.’ That’s a lot of love. And I promise, after eating some, they’ll love you back the same crazy amount of poppyseeds.


The Poppiest Bread


  • I have variations for a pull-apart loaf, a babka of sorts and morning rolls. The latter two are sweeter and crunchier due to the white chocolate and additional poppyseeds. If you like, you can also shape this into a regular loaf or even braid it like you would a challah bread.
  • I’ve given instructions for lemon zest here but I tried it with cara cara oranges (see why here) and it was equally delicious.
  • The white chocolate in the babka/rolls variation is optional. I like the sweetness it adds so I recommend it. If you put the chocolate into the poppy filling while it is still warm it will melt and be very soupy. It makes it very difficult to work with but tbh, I quite liked how the chocolate tasted and was better spread throughout (rather than in chunks). Choose your own destiny!
  • The recipe that follows makes 1 loaf.
  • Try this milk bread style! Make the dough from this recipe (it’ll make a double) and add double the poppyseeds and lemon zest.

Poppyseed Bread Dough

  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • ½ tablespoon sugar
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ⅛ cup honey
  • 1 egg, plus 1 yolk, at room temperature (reserve egg white for wash)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 240g bread flour
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ – 1/3 c poppy seeds
  • Zest of 1-2 lemons (depending on how lemony you like it!)


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a dough hook, add the warm water, yeast and sugar. Stir to combine. Let the yeast proof for 5 minutes, until it puffs.
  2. Add the eggs, oil, honey and vanilla, stir to combine. Add the flour and salt and knead the dough on medium until it comes together in a sticky ball. If you find it is too sticky, add up to ¼ cup more flour but no more. The less flour, the softer the resulting bread.
  3. Add the zest and poppy seeds and knead until they are spread throughout the dough.
  4. Place dough in an oiled bowl, turning the dough a few times to coat it in oil then cover it with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise at room temperature until doubled in size or set it in the fridge for an overnight rise.
  5. Choose from below which method to use to shape:

a. pull-apart loaf variation

  • ⅓ cup melted butter
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  1. Prepare a loaf pan with a parchment paper sling.
  2. Once dough has risen, roll it out onto a well-floured surface into a large rectangle (think the size of a cookie sheet). Spread butter over the dough (you may not need to use all of it, just do a layer) and sprinkle the sugar on top.
  3. Cut the rectangle lengthwise into 3 long strips (the width of the strips should be about as wide as your loaf pan). Now cut each strips into squares (again, the size of your loaf pan).
  4. Stack the squares on top of each other, the first square butter facing up, the rest facing down.
  5. Transfer the stacked squares into the loaf pan on its side, and choose the prettiest side of the squares to be face up.
  6. Allow the dough to rise again, for about 45 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 350.
  8. Once it has risen, brush the bread with the egg white.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes, until golden on top and thermometer registers 190.
  10. Allow to cool before removing from pan.

Filling for the babka and morning rolls:

  • ⅓ cup whole milk
  • ⅛ cup sugar (two tablespoons)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ cup poppy seeds
  • 2 oz white chocolate, chopped

  1. To make the filling, warm the milk in a saucepan with the sugar and salt. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the poppyseeds. Cook on low for about 10 minutes, until the poppyseeds have absorbed most of the liquid. The texture will be sandy. Let it cool.
  2. Prepare a loaf pan with a parchment paper sling.
  3. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and roll it out onto a well-floured surface to the size of a cookie sheet rectangle.
  4. Spread the poppy filling over the dough in an even layer, using an offset spatula. Sprinkle the white chocolate over the filling.

instructions to make the babka:

  1. Roll the dough up into a log from the short side. Slice it in half lengthwise and twist the two logs around each other (face down the filling will bake unexposed). Alternatively, roll the dough from the long side, slice it in half to make two shorter log
  2. Allow the dough to rise for 45 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes: if the bread is turning too brown but is not done, tent it with foil and continue baking. It’s done when an internal temperature of 190 is reached.

instructions to make the morning rolls:

  1. Roll the dough from the short side. Using wax-free floss or a knife slice the log into 1 inch rounds. Place them on a cookie sheet prepared with parchment paper, leaving about 1 inch between each roll, to give them room to rise and spread.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350. Let the rolls rise for about 45 minutes.
  3. Once puffy, brush the egg white over them, avoiding the filling. Bake for about 20 minutes.
  4. For a cream cheese glaze: Beat 4 oz cream cheese with 1 cup of powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1-2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract and about 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Top with additional poppyseeds.



Rate + Review

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  1. A bit confused with the instant yeast here as with instant you don’t usually need to let it proof (just mix in directly with ingredients) and there is usually just one rise. This recipe with the proof and double rise sounds like it would lend itself to an active-dry? Could you please clarify? Thanks so much, these look delicious and I’m excited to try them!

    • Erin, instant is correct here. You don’t absolutely have to proof it but it helps to check that it’s fresh. As for the rise, I’ve never heard of only one rise depending on yeast type. If you’ve ever made cinnamon rolls with either active dry or instant you know you need two rises, a first and a second after shaping – the same applies here.

  2. I loved this recipe. I followed the instructions, reading carefully. For the rise, once the dough was cut, stacked and laid into the loaf pan on its side, I used some *residual low* warmth from my oven as a proving drawer and it really helped to give that light air airy rise I wanted. My house gets so cold and the yeast fights me. I love that the loaf wasn’t too sweet, but had just the right amount of sugar, with that touch of lemon. And the texture well, you’ll just have to try it yourself! I baked for the minutes suggested, used a thermometer, and the loaf was literally on the dot baked! I would recommend using a thermometer, as it takes the guesswork out in accessing the bread.

  3. Hi Sam,

    I’m wanting to bake these this week but I still get confused about yeast – is instant yeast the same as the yeast in the sachets or is that active dry? Do I still need to prove my yeast as in the recipe?


    • Hi Anna! Both instant and active dry come in packets where I am at. Instant is sometimes called ‘rapid rise’ and the granules are smaller than the active dry. The label should tell you what type of yeast it is; if it’s active dry that you have you’ll add about 25% more.

  4. Made these a few days ago, the flavor in the dough and the filling is delicious! I omitted the white chocolate and added the glaze. The subtle crunch from the poppyseeds is very nice. I panicked when I first started making the dough because it just seemed too soupy to ever come together so I added about a cup of flour. That was a mistake! About how long does the dough need to be kneaded? Very nice recipe overall!

    • That’s wonderful Madeline! yes – my doughs are sticky (though I wouldn’t say soupy) and this is why I use the stand mixer for kneading. I usually have it this way that way I can use as much as I need (and no more) to roll it out. If you did it by hand it’s kind of impossible, a spatula might work though – and lots of arm muscle!

  5. 1) the dough is rather unsweet.
    2) the amount of melted butter on the pull apart bread doesn’t stay on the rolled out dough. It just drips everywhere as soon as you try to stack the pieces, along with the sugar. It is just too much, makes it greasy without adding much taste.
    3) Exactly 20 minutes in 350F oven resulted in an overdone, almost burnt crust. The inside was rather moist, almost NOT done in some areas, but still very neutral in taste.
    4) I ended up glazing and soaking the bread in lemon sugar syrup after it was done, seeing as it was so bland, like I do with traditional babka.
    5) I used zest of two large, fragrant lemons from my own yard – yet the lemony flavor was almost absent.
    All in all I think your recipe needs some tuning!

    • Mette, thank you for trying it and I am very sorry it didn’t work out for you. This bread is not meant to be sweet (you’ll notice in the ingredient list it’s sweetened only with a bit of honey; this is a challah recipe not a brioche) nor is it meant to be lemony. I think of the lemon here as a slight accent – I did not want it to steal the show from the poppy seeds which is the focus of this recipe. As far as the amount of butter, I give a measurement meant to be enough to melt so you don’t fall short, but you need not use it all to spread on the dough, you spread as needed – I can make a note on this in the recipe instructions. However, different butter types have different amounts of water in them and this is something to keep in mind. Lastly, with reference to bake time, if you have made the pull-apart version (which I’m assuming you did, given the butter comment) then 20 minutes in a standard loaf pan cannot be enough time to bake the inside. Your oven may run hot or the pan could have been too close to the top of the oven. In the instructions I note that it is done at 190 F. If you find it over-browning, you can cover it with foil so it can continue to bake internally. I hope this helps.

  6. Just made the sweet rolls. I didn’t have white chocolate, so I substituted 4 oz of grated almond paste. Delicious combination with the lemony cream cheese glaze.

  7. I have just made this semi-babka. Love the dough! It is very soft and fluffy. I used spelt flour, but it turned out great. I experimented with filling though. Added chopped dried cranberries instead of chocolate and a teaspoon of honey. It’s perfect sweetness, as not being american I find so many bakes just too sweet.

    • Arune, that’s wonderful to hear! So interesting about the spelt flour – I’ve never tried it. And I can definitely see how cranberries would work in this. Thank you for the comment <3

  8. I’m a novice baker but would like to make the lemon poppy dough.
    After step #4 in the method section……what’s next?
    Does it get punched down for a second rise, or??

    • Hi Julie! After step 4 is when you choose which method you’d like to do (babka or rolls – which both include the filling). The pull-apart version instructions are above those.