Barb’s Grandmother’s Hungarian Christmas Cookies

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
Klara Gal Nagy circa 1928.
Klara Gal Nagy circa 1928, my friend Barb’s grandmother.

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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82 Comments Add yours

  1. Marilyn Glick says:

    The cookies all look delish and I love seeing the picture of your grandmother

    1. Thank you! The photo is of my friend Barb’s grandmother, taken about 1929.

      1. D.L. Finn, Author says:

        This cookies look amazing and the apricot jam filling had my mouth watering. I love the history behind the cookies and the photo of your friend’s grandma too.

      2. Thank you! When I was making these, I thought no only of my own younger days, but what a wonderful thing it was to have this recipe from someone who traveled so far to live in our country and raise her family here.

  2. Bernadette says:

    Dot, as you would expect, I love this story and recipe. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Bernadette! Making these again reminded me of a very fun time in my life!

  3. Love old world baking traditions and your recipe looks wonderful.Love old world

    1. They definitely take a little fussing, but that’s what we do with holiday food isn’t it? I love that they are such a cute little treat, two bites!

  4. gabychops says:

    Thank you, Dorothy, for my favourite cookies. I came from Poland and they are a must for Christmas.

    Joanna. .

    1. Oh, I’m so glad you appreciate these little gems! What kind of filling do you like in them?

  5. Ronit says:

    I know this type of cookies well, and love any version of them. So pretty and tasty! 🙂

    1. Thanks Ronit!
      Do you like the yeasted version or the dough with the cream cheese?

      1. Ronit says:

        Not only that I like both, I’ve also created a version with condensed milk dough, filled with quince paste…
        I’m quite addicted to this type of cookies! 🙂

      2. Oh, that sounds wonderful too! I have a good local source for quince paste, so I’d like to give them a try!

      3. Ronit says:

        Here is the link to the quince paste version. Hope you’ll enjoy it. 🙂

      4. Thanks my friend!

  6. Suzassippi says:

    There was a wonderful Polish bakery in Arlington, just down the street from the university. Every week while I was there for class, I would stop in a get kolaches to take back home for coffee break the next day. My colleagues loved my “class day.” These look delightful, and I loved the story!

    1. Thanks Suz! And thank you for adding your story to the mix!

  7. jama says:

    I’ve always wanted to make these. Thanks for the recipe!!

    1. You are very welcome! I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

  8. I love the story and the history as much as I think I’d love these cookies. They made me think of two high school friends whose German grandmother made nut horns. As I was reading this, I could see her working on her kitchen table because she had zero counter space, and handing us warm ones from the oven as we passed through. Good memories and even better eating.

    1. Sounds like a wonderful experience Judy; do you have the recipe? Have you made them?

  9. Gail says:

    I’ll never forget when I asked my Grandmother for her Christmas cookie recipes. On the hand-printed cards I kept seeing “a large cup of flour”. When I asked her what that meant, she went over the cupboard and pulled out a large coffee cup. 🤣

    1. That’s so funny! I have a recipe somewhere that calls for a teacup of something or other!

      1. Gail says:

        We do what we have to do. 🤔

  10. NativeNM says:

    I enjoyed reading about the “gaps” in the recipe. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the wording where now days we have recipes with photos to show us the way. You conquered it well, these vintage Hungarian Christmas Cookies look delicious!

    1. Thank you Jan. A little experience goes a long way I think! It was an unusual dough because it included the yeast, and eggs!

  11. gleeguilford says:

    Love your stories with the cookies and the photo you added. Happy Holidays!

    1. Thank you! Happy holidays to you too!

  12. Sherry M says:

    yes old recipes always seem to leave out lots of salient points don’t they? 🙂 these sound great tho yeast scares me … 🙂

    1. It’s funny how this tiny little yeast creatures can cause so much terror on earth!
      Here’s a hint, use the INSTANT YEAST that you just mix with the flour; you won’t have to bloom it, or worry about water temperature, and it works great! Just think of it as little living spice!

  13. brwbmm says:

    I’m going to bake those!

    1. Thank you! They will put a smile on your face!

  14. Delicious Dorothy and always a wonderful story to accompany the recipe…they look scrummy ♥

    1. Thank you my friend! And it only took me a day and a half to rid the gremlins so I could post the story, along with suggestions from kind people such as YOU!

      1. Glad resolved Dorothy, nothing more daunting than facing a blank screen….♥

      2. Or a Zero drafts folder…

      3. Frightening considering I schedule well ahead….♥

  15. Staci Troilo says:

    I love the story behind these cookies. (And now I’m really glad I didn’t share the Polish version, which I almost did.) I’ve never tried baking the Hungarian version. Now I have a recipe to try. Thanks for sharing! 🍪

    1. It would definitely be fun to compare the two Staci!
      Thank you for organizing the cookie exchange. A lot of marvelous offerings!

  16. Carla says:

    I have a friend who is Ukranian and I loved her mom’s and grandma’s Kolachy, but they have been gone for a long time and she is not a baker. I am going to try these, probably for Easter, so thanks so much for this recipe Dorothy. I loved your story as well. I have a recipe from my grandma that says “butter the size of an egg” which makes me smile every time I make her raspberry bars.

    1. I love it! And that’s a lot of butter! Some of my mom’s recipes called for a handful of this or that, so sometimes I deliberately use this very funny unit of measurement myself. “Toss in a handful of cranberries…”

      1. Carla says:

        I guess it depends on how big your egg is. 😁

      2. Staci Troilo says:

        I give my daughter recipes that say “a handful” of this or “a blop” of that. She’s forever calling me to clarify. I love the “butter the size of an egg” measurement. That one’s new to me.

  17. Joan Hall says:

    I love apricot, so I know I would enjoy these. I want to try making these.

    1. Thank you! It put me in a kind of festive holiday mood!

  18. Jenna says:

    What a sweet story and the cookies sound wonderful!

    1. Thank you Jovina, they came out pretty good! Now, I’ll have to give Barb a call!

  19. Teri Polen says:

    I love that the recipe has been passed down so many years. I’m also a fan of apricot, so I know I’d enjoy these.

    1. Although you could use anything,I think the apricot flavor is the best in these.

  20. My mother passed her recipe down to me. We use cream cheese for the pastry. I want to try your recipe!

    1. And I’m really excited to try a cream cheese dough with these just to compare!

  21. What a lovely post, Dorothy. You turned the cookie exchange into a story of friendship, culture, and recipes passed down through the generations.Your Hungarian Christmas Cookies look wonderful. Merry Christmas!

    1. Merry Christmas to you too my friend! It’s these little touches at the holidays that help to give us such a warm feeling, remembrance is powerful.

  22. amreade says:

    I know from experience how good these are. My uncle’s family was from Czechoslovakia and these cookies are in his family’s cookbook. What a great way to honor family history. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’m so glad you are familiar with these little treasures! They really are delightful, and they all seem to carry a story!

  23. HI Dorothy, these are very interesting cookies. I’ve not made something like this before. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

    1. Thank you! They are quite different, and so delicious, not too sweet, which is one of the things I like about them.

      1. I also prefer not to sweet

  24. Your cookies look amazing Dorothy! I haven’t had a kolache in many many years. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe.🍪💜

    1. Thanks Susan! It was a lot of fun to revisit this recipe after so many years, and they tasted great!

  25. Christy B says:

    I love the backstory as much as the recipe! Happy holidays, dear Dorothy

    1. Thank you Christy! Happy holidays to you too!

  26. terrie gura says:

    This is a heartwarming story of your long-time friend and her grandmother! I don’t think I’ve ever had a yeasted cookie but they look and sound delicious!

    1. I had totally forgotten that element of them, and I’m not sure it really added a lot to the cookie, but perhaps if they were made in the slightly larger, round version, almost like a Danish pastry, it would have made more sense. But this is how the grandmother made them, so that’s how I did it!

  27. Michele says:

    What fond memories you must have. I love apricot and will definitely try this one.

    1. Thanks Michele! The holidays always bring me to many places in my life, as I look forward to the new year approaching!

  28. Americaoncoffee says:

    What a find! I am thinking Christmas and a nostalgic food fest! Best wishes to you and yours many times over! 🔔🎶⛪️👒☕️❤️☕️🔔

    1. I’m wishing you a holiday season full of love and laughter and lots of delicious coffee treats!

  29. Delicious looking and different than the ones I make. I will have to try the Hungarian ones someday!

    1. And I definitely going to try the cream-cheese dough version!

  30. sunisanthosh says:

    The cookies are impressive. Wonderful sharing.

    1. Thank you so much! They really are pretty to behold!

  31. nancyc says:

    These cookies sound so yummy and look fancy, too—perfect for the holidays! 🙂

    1. Thanks Nancy! They really look pretty on a plate!

  32. My grandma used to do something similar and are called “colacei cu gem” in Romanian ☺️ I’ve completely forgot about these cookies until I saw yours 😍 What a delight! And what great memories 😉

    1. I think there are as many versions of this recipe as there are grandmothers around the world! They all look about the same, and they are indeed gems!

  33. Nancy says:

    I grew up with Kolachy at Christmas time. I am Slovak so it was a Christmas staple at our house when growing up. I make them quite often but did not this year. We make the cream cheese version.
    Happy New Year!

    1. These types of treats really tickle the memory and keeping the traditions alive is a connecting thread.
      P.S. I tried making the cream cheese version and i liked it better! The dough was a bit easier to work with and much simpler.

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