I’m busy working on the third book of A Taste of Slovakia series, which will include lots of Christmas recipes and traditions linked to my country’s winter season. It’s going to be a very rich volume packed with fascinating photos, folk tales and, of course, timeless dishes – like opekance.
Opekance (pronounced as opekantze) are small yeast-leavened dumplings that used to be baked on 24th December alongside bread and other yeasted goods. They were most commonly served sweet with ground poppy seeds, tvaroh or nuts, but I have also seen savoury opekance topped with sauerkraut or bryndza cheese.
If you want to know what’s in the name, then opekance could be translated as toasties, but because they have been around for so long, these small bread-like dumplings have many old-fashioned names. In Eastern Slovakia, they are called bobáľky or bobáky, the name most likely referring to their shape. The same might be true about pupáky, pupáčiky or pupáčky in the western regions of Slovakia. I’m sure descendants of Slovaks that emigrated to the USA, Canada or Australia in the 19th and 20th century will come up with even more imaginative names.
Most Slovak households use shop-bought opekance these days. It’s a seasonal item sold in most shops and supermarkets around the country before Christmas. The recipe below will show you how to make these little Slovak ‘toasties’ from scratch. And in the forthcoming Winter Cookbook you will find the most traditional version of this classic Christmas dish.
Opekantze with Ground Poppy Seeds and Honey
- 400 g bread flour
- 250 ml milk
- 21 g fresh yeast*
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 150 g ground poppy seeds
- 100 g butter
- honey to taste
- a few tablespoons hot milk to drizzle (optional)
*If you can’t get hold of fresh yeast in your country, use the dried or instant one (21 g fresh = 7 g instant), and follow the instructions on the packet.
- Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Warm the milk in a heatproof mug on low heat. Transfer some of the milk to a cup or a small glass and crumble the yeast into it. Stir until it dissolves. Cover with a lid and let ferment in a warm spot. It will take 3 – 7 minutes for the yeast to rise.
- Pour all the contents of the glass into the flour and add the remaining milk. Knead until all the ingredients combine into a smooth, elastic dough. Cover the mixing bowl with a dishcloth and let the dough proof for an hour.
- When it has risen, transfer the dough onto a floured rolling board and divide into 6 – 8 parts. Roll them out into ropes about 1.5cm (0.6in) thick and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put in the oven preheated to 180°C (356°F) and bake for about 10 – 15 minutes depending on how crunchy you want your opekantze to be.
- Meanwhile, grind the poppy seeds if you haven’t bought them ground. Put the butter in a small saucepan and melt over low heat, watching constantly and stirring now and then to prevent burning.
- When the baked opekantze ropes are cool enough to handle, cut them into slices about 1cm (0.4in) thick and arrange on serving plates. Sprinkle with the ground poppy seeds and the melted butter. Sweeten to taste with the honey and serve immediately.
However, many Slovaks swear that opekantze taste even better the following day. Some like to eat them cold or drizzled with hot milk for breakfast.