Filed under: Babkas / Rolls
January 9, 2022

Poppy Seed Pull-Apart Bread

A super tender milk bread studded with poppyseeds, a hint of lemon with crunchy, sugared topping. 

5 from 5 votes
Yield: 2 standard loaves
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A super tender milk bread studded with poppyseeds, a hint of lemon with crunchy, sugared topping. 


This recipe was originally posted on Jan 10, 2020. 

Recipe overview 


This one isn’t new per se but it has gotten quite the glow-up. The recipe was written a few years ago and because it had so many variations it proved confusing for readers (I had a babka, a pull-apart and some rolls in *one* recipe). We’re keeping it simple now in the recipe box below but I have kept the notes on how to make this into those shapes if you have been using the recipe for a while and didn’t want to lose it (scroll down to the paragraph titled variations). 


The other thing is, the dough itself is now much better because I’ve adapted it to milk bread style of making enriched breads. You first saw this dough in my milk bread babka, and then in many of my cinnamon rolls. There’s a reason I’m obsessed with it.


Milk bread is far superior in method to a basic mix of the dough ingredients recipe because it starts with something called a tangzhong, a chinese method that’s used in making japanese milk bread. This is done by cooking liquid and some of the flour together to gelatinize the starches, it leads to a much softer bread that stays tender for days. 


Ingredients to make this recipe 


Poppyseeds: You might balk at using ‘tablespoons’ of poppyseeds in the dough (especially if you’ve bought them in those tiny little spice jars for +$5 a pop!) so if you have less it’s fine to use less but it will definitely be less of a ‘poppy’ bread. Also, buy poppyseeds in bulk for much chapter! Local middle eastern markets usually sell bags of them for $4 or less and you can find good sources online. 


All purpose flour: While I usually opt for bread flour in my bread recipes I think this particular bread goes better with a little less protein so all purpose it is. It’ll tenderize the bread (rather than make it chewy) which is exactly what you want. 


Water/Milk: I use milk in the roux and water to mix with the yeast, this is mostly so I don’t have to warm up milk (since it’ll get cooked in the paste and I can use warm water straight from the tap). You might see me using water in the roux in the video, that was an earlier test and I preferred it with the milk. If you want to make this dairy free you can use all water. 

This is also an opportunity to use milk powder or buttermilk powder, if using all water. 


Butter: I’ve got butter in the dough and in the filling. If you want to make this dairy-free use a df butter. 


Lemon: We’re just using the zest here. Lemon juice, very acidic, doesn’t work so well in the dough. 


Yeast: I’ve got instant yeast but you may substitute with active dry, just add another quarter of a teaspoon.


A note on lemon flavor


This bread is designed to be primarily poppyseed focused, not lemon. I do have lemon zest in there in a few different ways but it’s not lemon bread. If you would like it to be more lemony, consider dousing the bread in a lemon soak (cook together equal amounts of lemon juice and sugar until the sugar dissolves – i’d do about ¼ cup each). Or adding lemon extract to the dough. 


How to make a pull-apart bread 


If you’ve made cinnamon rolls before you’ve got this: after the dough has gone through the first rise you’ll roll it out. 


It need not be very thin, I like to keep it at least 1 cm thick so each pulled layer (when eating!) is a good size. 


Then you’ll spread the butter over it and sprinkle on the sugar and cut out strips (they are more like little rectangles of dough) and stack them. 


The stack goes into the loaf pan sideways. 


In the oven, the butter/sugar combination creates these lovely layers between the dough so that when you take it out, you can essentially pull some pieces apart. Isn’t that lovely? 


So I just need to you know something; there is no pretty way to eat this. You’re going to set it on the table and people will be diving in with their hands, pulling at the bits they want and in whatever chunks they want. Embrace the madness of a delicious bread, it’s part of the pull-apart charm. 








Other Poppy Bread Variations

There’s a lot you can do with this dough, here I’m focusing on the 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. This is the recipe you’ll find below.

However if you like, you can also do:

A poppyseed babka, with a poppyseed and white chocolate filling:

  • 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. warm the milk in a saucepan with the sugar and salt. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the poppyseeds and lemon zest. 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.

Shape the poppy 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.


Or some morning rolls (cinnamon roll style) with the same filling. To do so make the filling as you would above in the babka then:

  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.


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.


Poppyseed Pull-Apart Bread Recipe

Poppyseed Pull-Apart Bread

Super tender milk bread packed with poppy seeds and shaped pull-apart style.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Rest Time: 4 hours
Yields: 2 standard loaves
5 from 5 votes



  • 40g g or ⅓ cup all purpose flour
  • 240g g or 1 cup milk


  • All of roux from above
  • 1 packet instant yeast
  • 110g or ½ cup warm water
  • 100g or ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 57g or ¼ cup melted butter
  • ¾ tsp fine sea salt
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 500g or 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3-4 tablespoons poppyseeds
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract


  • 85g or 6 tablespoons butter melted
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar


  • In a pot, combine the flour and milk together. Set over medium low heat and whisk. Cook while stirring until the mix thickens into a paste. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer set the yeast, warm water and 1 tsp granulated sugar. Stir it and then let it sit to foam.
  • Measure the flour over the yeast - if you are using cups, measure the flour by shaking it over the measuring cup and scrape off the top (this is to prevent over-measuring the flour).
  • Add the rest of the dough ingredients, including the roux, and affix the dough hook to the machine. Knead on low until the dough comes together in a shaggy ball.
  • Oil a bowl then set the dough in it. Turn the dough a few times to cover it in the oil then cover and let rise for 2-3 hours, until almost doubled in size.
  • While the dough is rising, melt the butter for the filling and zest another lemon into it. Leave this aside for a few hours as well, it helps get that lemon flavor into the butter.
  • Once doubled, flour a countertop and place the dough on top. Divide the dough in half and oil two loaf pans.
  • Roll out one of the doughs into a long rectangle, the short side should be as wide as your loaf pan. Remelt the butter then use a pastry brush to spread it all over the dough. Sprinkle a thin layer of sugar on top (about 2 tablespoons).
  • Slice the dough in half so you have two skinny rectangles. Slice each of those into strips as pictured. Stack the strips then slice the stack in half. Place them, wide side up into the prepared loaf pan.
  • Repeat the process with the other dough.
  • Let the dough rise for another hour at room temp, covering it with a tea towel. It’s ready to bake when pressed and it leaves an indentation (if it springs back it needs more time).
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • Sprinkle some granulated sugar on top of the dough.
  • Bake the loaves for about 45 minutes, until a thermometer poked into the center registers 190 F.
  • When the loaves come out, if you still have some melted butter leftover you can brush it over the tops.

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Recipe Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    as expected, the dough is tender, moist, and yet holds the cinnamon roll shape perfectly after a 5hrs + 1.5hr rise. made a classic silesian poppy seed filling (its a family recipe) with a bit more brown sugar, raisins and cinnamon that works very well with the just slightly sweet dough. also, for the filling I recommend grinding the poppy seeds into almost a powder; it does enhance the flavour and makes it a bit creamier :)))). thank you for this wonderful recipe Sam!!

  2. a nerdy pre-bake comment cause omg,, just put the rolls into a cold spot for a slow second rise and i am *giddy* and buzzing with excitement as I can already tell its a brilliant yeast dough, so tender, but also stable and firm, and it’ll taste absolutely phenomenal, will be back here to report on the final results in a few hours

  3. 5 stars
    A lovely, soft, pillowy milk bread speckled with poppyseeds and zest (I only had oranges on hand, subbed for lemon). The dough rose beautifully and the sprinkled sugar within/on top added a nice textural contrast. This is not a very sweet bread, but I enjoyed the flavors.

  4. Can you add lemon, and more poppyseeds? I see you only have 2 to 4 tablespoons. I am mad for poppy seed breads, I might try this one

  5. 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.

  6. 5 stars
    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.

  7. 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.

  8. 5 stars
    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!

  9. 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.

  10. 5 stars
    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.

  11. 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

  12. 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.