Mother’s Poppy Seed Cookies

Mother's Poppy Seed Cookies - Feature

Mother’s Poppy Seed Cookies is one of four recipes in the Cookies by Bess cookie book that have either “Mom’s” or “Mother’s” in the title.   I don’t know for sure, but I’m assuming that “Mom” and “Mother” are referring to Grandma Bess’ mother, or my Great Grandmother Anna Lazar, pictured below.  This picture was taken in Los Angeles around 1921.  Thank you Aunt Suzie for sending me this one and so many other family photos!

It gives me such wonderful pause when I read the “Mom’s” and “Mother’s” recipes.  I just love the idea of keeping family traditions going, and in our family, making the same cookies as my mom, Grandmother, and now Great Grandmother is such a special honor!  I am a big fan of poppy seed baked goods (especially lemon poppy muffins) so I was excited to try out this recipe, and of course, it being one of my Great Grandmother’s recipes made it even more fun to try.

One interesting thing about this recipe is that it calls for “cooking oil” in stead of butter or shortening. I’ve never made a cookie recipe with cooking oil before.  I’ve used oil in breads, like pumpkin or zucchini, but never for cookies. I usually substitute applesauce for oil when baking because I really don’t like the oily texture, but I stuck with the oil here just to stay true to my Great Grandmother’s recipe. Maybe I’ll try the applesauce next time!

One thing I’ve learned with baking or any kind of cooking is to be organized and gather your ingredients and utensils together before getting started. It seems like a no brainer and I’m sure you already do this, but inevitably I forget something and have to run around the kitchen to find my favorite spoon or the missing ingredient. This recipe has a lot to it so I tried to get everything together. Of course, I did forget one thing…the rolling pin…as you can see it’s missing in the picture.

I am rating this cookie as 4-stars for it’s cookie difficulty rating because of all the steps and time involved. Nothing in the recipe itself was difficult, but putting it all together made for a long afternoon of baking!

Getting the dough ready was as easy as following the recipe, but there are a couple adjustments I’d make to the recipe. First, I added an additional ¼ – ½ cup of flour to the dough. The oil and the washed poppy seeds made the dough a sticky, the extra flour helped take away the stickiness and made it easier for rolling.

Second, I put the dough in the refrigerator to help it firm up, because even after adding the flour, it was still too “wet” to roll out with the rolling pin. I left the dough in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, just enough time to clean up the kitchen and get ready for the next steps in the baking process.  Once firm, I just took out what I was going to work with and kept the rest in the refrigerator.

Finally, the last adjustment to the recipe is to grease your cookies sheets.  The recipe doesn’t mention anything about greasing your cookie sheets, but I found out with my first batch that generous greasing is necessary!

Before I move on to the next step, I want to spend a little time on the “1/2 cup poppy seeds washed in warm water and drained” part of the recipe. I’ve never seen this before and wasn’t sure if there was a known technique for doing this. Just washing the poppy seeds and draining in a colander or sieve wasn’t going to work because the seeds are too small. The recipe instructions don’t provide any additional insight, so I googled it.

The google search came up with some very interesting information about poppy seed tea, morphine, and poppy seed extractions. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that I found a lot of drug related information, but I was surprised I didn’t find much of anything about baking with poppy seeds except recipes. I did find one website that related to baking, but it didn’t provide any specifics or details on how to actually wash the poppy seeds, it just said to wash them…so, unable to find additional information, I decided to wing it.

I put the poppy seeds in a cereal type bowl, heated up some water to just before a boil, and poured the water over the poppy seeds. I let them soak for a minute or so and then took a large spoon and scooped out the poppy seeds, trying to drain then against the edge of the bowl as best I could. The poppy seeds absorbed a good amount of water, so my ½ cup of poppy seeds ended up being close to 2/3 cup. From there, I added the ½ cup poppy seeds to the mixing bowl.

BTW, do you have a technique for washing and draining poppy seeds?  If so, please share it with me by going to our Join The Community page.  I’m curious to learn more about this process!

As I mentioned above, once the dough was all mixed together, it was a little sticky. It’s a pretty dough, nice and shiny, but too sticky for rolling out even with extra flour on the surface and rolling pin. So, into the refrigerator it went!

After 30-minutes, I got started rolling out the dough.  I decided to roll out the dough on wax paper to help prevent sticking to my wood cutting board surface, this really helped. Along with the wax paper, I used a good amount of flour underneath the dough, on top of the dough, and on the rolling pin.  This helped with the rolling and also with the consistency of the dough.

Once the dough was rolled out, I starting the cookie cutting. Okay, I have to admit, I really need to get some new cookie cutters! I have an assortment that my Mom has given me over the years, a few I’ve collected from who knows where, and a few more I’ve gotten as gifts, but no real themed cutters except for Christmas and Hanukkah. I didn’t want a holiday theme, so ended up with dogs, cats, leaves, hearts, and spring flowers. A very eclectic assortment!

Cutting out the cookies was just the first step in the process.  Next step was to lightly brush the cookies with milk and then sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  This seems simple, except that I don’t have a small brush.  I thought about it for a few minutes, and realized my best option was to use my fingers tips. Kind of crazy, but it ended up working fine and allowed me to control the amount of milk on the cookie dough.

The final step before baking was to sprinkle each cookie with cinnamon and sugar.  I experimented with how much cinnamon/sugar to sprinkle on top and decided more the merrier! The cinnamon/sugar gives the cookies a little (and needed) added sweetness and it gives the cookies a little color contrast after baking.

I baked the cookies for about 8 minutes versus the 10 minutes mentioned in the recipe. The cookies spread out and puffed up a little as they baked. Leaving them in the oven too long very quickly turned them brown, so I was careful to watch them the last minute or so. The recipe doesn’t mention anything about greasing the cookie sheets. You HAVE to grease the cookie sheets and be very generous with your greasing! These cookies just wanted to stick to the cookie sheet whether I tried to take them off right out of the oven or if I let them set for a few minutes. The greasing made a big difference and prevented a lot of broken cookies!

The baked cookies are not soft, but a little crisp and are not super sweet. I love the look of the poppy seeds! You can see in the picture how the cinnamon/sugar gives them a little color.

As I look at and taste these cookies, I really feel like I’m eating a true old fashioned cookie from the early 1900’s when Great Grandma Anna was alive and baking cookies for her family, she had seven children!  Not too sweet, not too fancy, not full of candy or sprinkles.  Just a basic cookie with fun cut out shapes.  A cookie with poppy seeds ladies at a tea party will enjoy, and cinnamon and sugar for a little added sweetness the neighborhood kids will enjoy.

With the old fashioned feeling in mind, I paired these cookies with my Great Aunt Etta’s hand painted china.  My mom gave this plate to me along with several other pieces of china my Great Aunt Etta hand painted way back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

I never knew my Great Grandmother Anna, but I just love the idea of making her cookies!  I was lucky enough to know my Great Aunt Etta, and I just love the nostalgia and beauty of her work.  I feel so lucky to have known her and now remember her through her beautiful hand painted china!

Do you have a favorite recipe from your Great Grandmother?  If so, please share it with me!  You can send me the recipe and pictures by going to the Join The Community page.

Here’s to keeping the traditions going and always remembering our family and friends from our past!





Mother’s Poppy Seed Cookies


3 eggs
½ cup cooking oil
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup poppy seeds washed in warm water and drained
3¼ cups flour
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder


Beat eggs, oil, and sugar well. Add poppy seeds and vanilla. Mix in sifted dry ingredients. Mix well. Roll on floured board 1/8 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Brush with milk lightly and sprinkle with sugar mixed with cinnamon. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Recipe Yield

Varies based on size of cookie cutters used

Cookie Category:  Rolled

Cookie Difficulty Rating

difficulty 4 out of 4

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