Opium Pie




Sunday evening, the entire DC TD clan gathered at Mimo's house for a massive potluck. A missionary serving in another local congregation grew up in the same Hungarian village as our great-grandfather, so we decided to muster our collective culinary bravado to help him feel at home. Momo was in town, and she turns every gathering into a party. But, even by our spoiled standards, this particular night had a magic alchemy -- sour cream flowed like the Danube, the seven little cousins performed a mini concert, and we all sang Hungarian hymns. And then we sang a few bawdy folk songs. We laughed until we cried trying to decipher polyglottal puns and remembering happy times, people we love and endless fields of Carpathian sunflowers.

For the occasion, I made my take on classic m├íkos pite. A friend of my grandmother's once called this rich poppy seed cake "opium pie," and the name stuck. I twisted the traditional recipe a bit, adding cream cheese to the shortbread and abandoning the egg wash for a crumblier top. The results are pretty sophisticated -- my kids aren't quite sure yet whether they love it. But it was a home run with everyone over the age of seven. Which actually works out pretty well. 

For the shortbread crust:

1 stick butter  
2/3 c. sugar
1 block cream cheese

2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/3 c. flour
1 tsp. Kosher salt

Cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the cream cheese, vanilla and salt. Mix in the flour until it's just combined into a soft dough. Split your dough into two uneven discs, roughly 70/30, cover them with plastic and pop them in the fridge while you make the filling. This is probably also a good time to preheat your oven to 350*.

For the filling:

1 1/2 c. poppy seeds
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. cream

2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/3 c. dried fruit (I used a mix of Craisins and apricots)

Since Hungarian sweets use poppy seeds in such massive quantities, it's really important to grind them. I used my BlendTec, and it did a great job. If your blender happens to be less powerful than a lawnmower, I think you could probably use a wheat or coffee grinder, or maybe a food processor with a steel blade. Whatever your weapon of choice, give the poppy seeds and the sugar a whirl until it is ground medium-fine (you should see it change color to a lighter, dustier purple). Put this in a medium saucepan, add everything else except the fruit, and turn your burner to low. While that heats up, give the fruit a quick spin in the blender, then add it to your concoction on the stove. Turn up the heat to medium, and simmer for a few minutes, stirring constantly until you get a rich, black jam-like mess. If it doesn't taste awesome, tweak your mixture with more sugar, lemon, cream or something else delicious...

While the poppy seeds cool a bit, press your larger lump of dough into the bottom of a well-greased 8"x8" baking pan. Spread the poppy filling in a nice, thick layer on top, leaving a 1/4 border around the edge. Crumble the remaining dough, and smush in an additional 2 Tbs. soft butter, and 1/4 c. sugar, so every morsel has some sparkle. Scatter these frosty bits over the top, and pop that baby in the oven. Check them after 30 minutes or so -- you want the top to be slightly browned, but the bottom crust as pale as possible. I ended up lightly broiling mine for a couple minutes, because I was worried the bottom would burn. Let it cool, then slice into squares. For maximum enjoyment, you should do this between bites.