Okay, so this is not an accurate redaction. Or, well, it’s about (slightly less) as likely to be accurate as anything else.
There’s a play by Plautus (Poenulus 325-6) there’s a reference to laterculi with the only description being that they are composed of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, (wheat) flour, and nuts.
Okay, so the name is also descriptive. It’s the word for bricks or tiles.
Some people take this description and match it with gastris, a food from Crete described by Athenaeus as walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and poppy seeds, with fruit, honey, pepper and white sesame seeds. That will lead you to redactions both simple and amazing.
Now that last gastris redaction – which looks to me like a seedy fruitcake – would be perfect to make in an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ shape that was not unlike a common Roman brick shape.
On the other hand, Athanaeus’ gastris recipe has fruit and no flour. But Plautus was very clear that flour was involved in this project. Flour would be easy to add to the gastris because the nuts are working in a similar way. But it’s also leeway to go in a completely different direction.
One could make candies out of the honey and seeds with just a bit of flour.
Or! And here’s what came to my mind as being kinda fun – you could make pop tarts and call them tiles.
Next the filling. I liked how La Spelonca separated the poppy seeds and the sesame seeds. It both made them look more dramatic and kept the flavors clear and less like bagel toppings. So tentative working plan is to have two different flavors of pop tarts: Poppy Seeds and either almonds or walnuts or both; and Sesame Seeds and either hazelnuts or pistachios or both.
So I kept looking and loved this one that described the method and thought process beautifully and clearly – cook poppy seeds with a minimal amount of water, grind, cook again with honey and sugar.
Okay, so first I have to find the poppy seeds. So off I go to Amazon. And the first review right off the start informs me that real bakers look for unwashed poppy seeds for a richer, nuttier flavor and a better texture. Well, okay. So off I go looking at the unwashed poppy seeds and their reviews. And then things started to get weird. There was some division, but also some overlap, between the bakers and the people making poppy seed tea. And some of the people making the poppy seed tea seemed more interested in the color of their tea than the flavor, but others loved the flavor. Erm… And then I got to the ones talking about how ‘effective’ their tea and/or baked goods were. And there was the one who assured people that the reviewer really could tell that these poppy seeds were unwashed because there was plant material included as well. Ummm… I object! Because if I’m baking and there’s plant material, don’t I then need to wash the poppy seeds? But it wasn’t all double entendre and drug references, because there were still people staunchly championing the unwashed seeds while listing their preferred baked good and their baking credentials. But then I got to the one that was all, “I just made the best batch of muffins ever. Now I’m off to take a nap.” And I just. Now I have no idea whether kolaches is actually a baked good or just a wink and nod drug reference in the land of amazon reviews. So I still haven’t what to buy for making a large quantity, but I picked up half a pound of what are definitely washed seeds at a spice shop in the Italian Market.
So poppy seeds and water in a small saucepan. Check. Going well. The poppy seeds take on moisture, darken, and swell.
Grind the poppy seeds… doesn’t go so well. I put some in my mortal and grind it with the pestle… and it goes okay, but every time any utensil touches the poppy seeds there’s mess left behind. And so after a few desultry grinding attempts I figure I might as well see if I might like the consistency of it not ground all that much. So I put it all back in the saucepan and add the honey. And then add more honey because honey was more common that sugar back in the day. And then panic! Because the honey just liquifies and everything becomes sloshy. And cooking it more doesn’t make it any drier. And what if I really needed sugar to get a good paste because of how honey is like an invert sugar? Eh, whatever – let’s refrigerate what I have and see how it moves tomorrow. Plus I’m going to add nuts to it.
And the paste is fascinating! I used a fork to move it and it’s sort of a non-Newtonian liquid. Woo!
Okay, so crust. Filling. Assembly!
I got a friend with skills and a marble rolling pin to help with the first set of rolling out (I’m hoping I can use my pasta roller when I’m on my own). I rough guessed a size that’s smaller than pop tarts. My goal is to find a size that stretches my supplies while still being large enough to not get grabbed by the handful. One or two should be an intuitively obvious portion size. These ended up about 4″ x 3″ (and I think I could go a smidge smaller and have them about the size of poker cards).
I did one batch with just an egg white wash for sealing and one with a beaten egg. I think I’ll go with the beaten egg for future versions (because simpler to brush and more efficient use of stuff).
About 2 teaspoons of filling lumped in the center. And then I spread it out with my fingers because everything else seemed to just get coated in seeds more than helping to move them where I wanted. I left 1 cm margin. I can try getting a narrower margin, but too narrow might lead to disaster. And then I crimped the edges sealed with a fork and poked holes in the top.
I started the oven at 350F. And then after 10 minutes with no obvious cooking I popped it up to 425F. Total cooking time was 25 minutes, and that was a little too much (very brown, some corners just starting to burn, still entirely edible and hella tasty). Then I looked at the recipe, which was 350F for 30 minutes. So I just panicked too early.
When they were cooking, there was enough butter in the dough to lead to puddles of bubbling fat that were almost frying the pop tarts. So not okay for a toaster! But it was kind of sexy on a lined sheet pan.
When you bite in, the first taste is browned butter. And the second bite is also butter with a bit of pastry. When you get to the filling, it’s amazing. The nuts and poppy seeds are a lovely texture among the crispy pastry flakes and I’m not going to worry about grinding the poppy seeds at all for the future. And the honey is a great balance to the butter. It’s sweet, but not too sweet. They’re going to make the best breakfast.
So plans for the future:
* reduce butter per 2 cups of flour from 1 cup to 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons)
* try rolling out with pasta roller
* Cut to 3.5″ x 2.5″
* Poppy seed & almond is great. Also try sesame seed & hazelnut.
* Make 75 of each flavor; 150 total. Freeze before baking.