Known as “Kolaches,” these delightful apricot-filled cookies are a favorite holiday treat from my past, and now part of a virtual cookie exchange in the present.
Barb and I have been friends since we were in our early 20s. Two young newspaper reporters (at first working for different newspapers), we didn’t have two nickels to rub together most weeks, but we sure had a good time. At the end of the week, we’d splurge and buy a bottle of the cheapest wine, paired with a bit of cheese if we were lucky, put on some music, and laughed a lot.
During the holidays, she would show up at my door with a plate of these cookies. Sometimes she deviated and used different jams, and they reminded me of colorful Christmas tree lights peeking out of the tender dough. They were a delight to eat, and for Barb held many family memories.
A family tradition made every year
You didn’t have to be rich to make her grandmother’s kolaches, Hungarian Christmas cookies that are as pretty to look at as they are to eat. There are probably hundreds of variations on the idea, different from family to family, and with fillings ranging from apricot to poppyseeds.
Barbara’s grandmother Klara Gal was born in Küküllődombó, Hungary (now Dămbău, Romania), Klara married Sandor Nagy in 1912. They soon left for Akron, Ohio, where Sandor worked for B.F. Goodrich and Klara was a cleaning woman. These cookies were a Christmas favorite of their three children.
Different dough than Polish kolachy
Her Hungarian method to make these cookies uses yeast, baking powder, and eggs as well, and is made either with the fold-over square method shown here, or as little round buns with the filling on top. I’ve learned since that if you come from a Polish family and your grandmother made “kolachy” cookies, they would look the same, but used a cream cheese dough. My next go at these cookies, I’m using my mother’s cream cheese cookie dough, just for fun! It’s an easier recipe, so why not give it a try?
A bit of trial and error
It had been years since I even saw these cookies, and Barb did all the mixing of the dough, so I was on my own when I decided to make them. After my first test sheet, I made a few adjustments to the original recipe, my changes are italicized and I have a note following.
The bottom line is that my cookies did not end up as beautiful as Barb’s, but they tasted exactly like hers and that is what counts. The subtle hint of yeast was a nice surprise in the dough, and they were not overly sweet. Best of all, they brought me back to another time, a time when a little cookie was a wonderful thing to celebrate, along with a cheap glass of wine that tasted like a splurge.
Barb’s Grandmother’s Hungarian Christmas Cookies
- 1 package active dry yeast, dissolved in ¼ cup warm water
- ¾ cup milk
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 5 cups flour
- Scant ¼ cup sugar
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup vegetable shortening
- 1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
- Apricot or other fruit filling or jam
Mix the yeast in warm water and set aside to bloom.
Add the sour cream to the milk. Mix well and set aside.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture as you would if you were making a pie crust. It’s important that they be well-combined or you’ll have lumps of butter in your dough.
Add the egg and egg yolks to the milk mixing in one at a time, beating with a fork after each addition. Add the yeast mixture and stir to combine well. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and mix thoroughly. The dough will quickly become very heavy, almost like a pie crust. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least three hours.
When you are ready to make the cookies, divide the dough into four or five pieces. Roll out each piece, one at a time, on a lightly floured surface. Keep the remaining dough refrigerated while you work. To make it easier to cut the cookies, try to roll the dough into a rectangle or square. When it is about the thickness of a pie crust (no more than an eighth of an inch), use a knife, pizza wheel, or crinkle pastry cutter to cut it into 2-inch squares. Place a half teaspoon or so of the jam or pie filling in a line diagonally across each square, to two of the corners. Fold the other two corners over the filling. Secure the underside of the first flap with a dab of egg wash. Important or they may flop open during baking.
Place the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press each cookie lightly to make sure the “flaps” stay in place while it bakes. Wipe up any filling that has oozed off the cookie onto the cookie sheet; the filling will make a sticky mess on the sheet and will make the cookie unattractive. Scraps can be rerolled, but the more you handle the dough, the tougher it will become. Try to cut the cookies efficiently the first time and try to roll scraps only once.
Place back in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before baking.
Bake the cookies at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Or, bake at 325 in convection oven for about 18 minutes.
Filling: You can use apricot jam, or canned apricot pie filling, the recipe recommendation, or any jam you like. Mix it up, and use apricot, blackberry, and raspberry for a range of jewel colors! Or, use a poppyseed filling.
This made a surprising 90 cookies!
What the recipe didn’t tell me
Many times, the older recipes assume you know how to fill in the gaps.
First of all, you need to fill these with a scant half teaspoon of filling, not the full teaspoon instructed, or you will end up with a sticky mess on your sheet. You also need to seal them with a little egg wash; just pressing them down seemed to make the filling ooze a little more.
The cookies need to bake on a parchment lined baking sheet for the same reason, she recommended a lightly greased one, but even with reducing the filling, they still leaked and stuck a bit.
My test batch lost a lot of shape in the baking, so in future trays, I popped them back in the refrigerator for 15 or 20 minutes, and that did the trick.
Christmas Cookie Exchange
For the second year, Staci Troilo has organized a virtual cookie exchange on her website “Character-Driven Fiction/Pulse-Pounding Plots,” and included this recipe as one of her annual offerings. She has a delightful assortment of cookies and bars from may bloggers, so if you are looking to sample a new treat, with a story or two thrown in, this is your day!
Check out the cookie jar on Staci’s site.
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