Ukrainian Christmas Poppy Seed Rum Torte (Makovyi Tort)




Poppy Seed Cake

1/2 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup honey
7 extra lg. eggs
1/2 cup blanched grated almonds
1 lemon

Rum Butter Filling

1/2 lb. unsalted butter
2 cups powdered sugar (icing)
2 tbsp. rum or
1/4 tsp. rum extract
1 to 2 tsp. heavy cream

White Icing

4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla


FOR THE POPPY SEED CAKE: Pour boiling water over seeds, let stand for 5 minutes, pour off water and repeat. Drain well. Grind with steel blade in processor until seeds release milk and turn white. Butter a 9 inch springform pan and dust it with ground almonds. (This may be done in advance.)

Place poppy seeds and honey in a large bowl. Separate eggs. Add room-temperature yolks, one by one, to the mix, beating until thick. Stir in grated almonds and lemon zest. Beat egg whites until satiny but no dry. Fold a little into the mixture, then fold in the rest, until no white shows. Pour mixture into pan, rapping it gently to release air pockets, and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake on the middle rack of a preheated 350 degrees F. oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Do not open oven door or disturb the cake while baking.

Cool slowly, not in a draft. Run a sharp knife around the sides, then slowly release the spring. run a knife under the bottom and cool on rack.

Cover work surface with double sheets of wax paper. with a sharp knife, make a small incision around the torte to mark where it should be cut in half. Make horizontal cuts at four equidistant points, then gently pull a long thread through the cake to cut it into two layers. Sprinkle bottom layer with 2 or 3 tablespoons of rum, and evenly spread rum butter filling about 3/4 inch thick. Cover with top layer and press gently. Cover the sides with the rest of the filling. Refrigerate overnight wrapped in foil.

To ice cake, cover work surface or a lazy susan with wide double-strength foil. Apply a third of the icing to sides with a spatula, pulling from the bottom up. Wipe spatula occasionally to avoid pulling crumbs, and dip in hot water to smooth out ridges. With the rest of the icing, smoothly cover the top. Refrigerate for at least 2 days. Run a sharp knife around bottom to release icing from paper. slide the torte onto one hand, pull off the remaining paper and gently place torte on serving platter, taking care not to crack the icing. Yields about 20 slices. Keeps well in refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.


This is an excellent cream, the base of which may be used with different flavors. Here, rum is used. This filling can also be used as icing.

Cream butter until light, add sugar a little at a time, rum, and cream. Beat until very fluffy.


This hard icing dries quickly and forms a lovely cover for a torte. It cures hard, not fluffy.

Place 2 cups sugar in a bowl and add cream and vanilla. Mix well, gradually adding the rest of the sugar. Add a little more cream if too stiff.

Author's Comments

The queen of Christmas desserts combines the oldest ingredients found in Ukrainian cooking; honey, poppy seeds, and nuts. The rum butter cream and white icing (see following recipes) marry very well with the heavier poppy seed sponge. Decorating tortes is a specialty in itself. Some cooks lay out elaborate folkloric designs and motifs from Ukrainian embroidery or tapestry patterns, using jellied candies or even multicolored hard candy. The white icing serves as a fine background. The only limit to one's imagination is that decorations should be edible.

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