Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Growing up, my Mom wasn't a big holiday cookie baker (yeah, I'm still trying to figure out where I got the bug) since she spent so much time making chocolate into a variety of treats. But one cookie she always made time to prepare were these kolache. I would sit across from her at the kitchen table while she worked this dough by hand and then rolled out dozen upon dozen of these fruit-filled gems. About ten years ago I decided to try my hand at these and failed miserable. My dough wasn't the flaky, pastry-like dough Mom created but more, unfortunately, of a tough, overworked shortbread. I gave up, determined to try again later but over the years never felt confident enough to try or altogether forgot about them. Of course, I have to make them if my family is going to enjoy them now, so I pulled out the recipe and got to it. The simplicity of this dough, flaky and just a touch of sweetness, allows you to pair it with whatever pastry filling makes your heart sing. My family is traditionally used to raspberry and apricot, and I used both here, but Mom also used to make a nut filling and lukvar or prune filling, which only she, my grandfather and my brother liked. My brother tried to get me on board with the prune fulling for that this year, but I took a pass. I was already taking a risk with trying this recipe unguided.
Out came Mom's Babushka Power cookbook, which is almost permanently open to this recipe, the most stained and battered recipe in the whole book (what can I say, she made them year after year). The original recipe comes from Mrs. Isabel Walney of Pittsburgh, but I can't figure out how she only got 2 1/2 dozen of these cookies. Mom usually ended up with about 6 or 7 dozen, and I got 8, despite desperately noting not to roll my dough too thin (and I swear, it was a good 1/4 inch thick) and even pulling out a ruler to measure the size of my 3-inch cookies. Be sure to use pastry filling or a pure fruit spread; preserves, jam and jelly have too much sugar and will just cook out of the cookie. There is a trick to getting the cookies to hold together--something I missed on my first batch when I opened to oven to reveal a sheet full of open cookies.
A little sad that I couldn't call Mom to ask what the trick was, I searched my memory, trying to envision Mom's fingers as she assembled these cookies. Then I remembered: Pinch the opposite corners together, roll the seam down to meet the rest of the cookie and then pinch that to the side of the cookie. You can't hurt the dough doing this and you do want to ensure a tight seal. I love these cookies and hope you enjoy their flaky goodness and fruity sweetness. Make them with your family and create your own Christmas memories.
1 cup butter, cold
4 1/2 cups flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup evaporated milk
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
12 to 18 ounces pastry filling (your choice of flavors)
sanding sugar for sprinkling
Cut butter into cubes, then refrigerate. In a large bowl, measure flour and add yeast. Using a pastry cutter, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
In a medium bowl, mix water, sugar, eggs, salt evaporated milk and lemon juice, stirring to mix well.
Pour egg mixture over flour mixture and stir with a sturdy spatula or wooden spoon. Work to incorporate all the flour ingredient into the wet ingredients. Knead gently, but don't over mix the dough. Dough should be supple and elastic. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Working with half the dough at a time, roll out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thick. With a sharp, non-serrated knife, cut dough into 3 inch wide strips. Place dollops of filling about 3 inches apart along the strip of dough, then cut dough halfway between each dollop to create squares.
To form cookie, fold opposite corners toward each other and pinch together. Roll pinched seam down to meet the rest of the cookie and then pinch to the side of the cookie. Arrange on parchment or Silpat lined baking sheer about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with sanding sugar.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly golden. Turn baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through baking. If using more than one sheet at a time, rotate positions in the oven for more even baking. Remove from oven and cool on pans for 5 to 10 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
Makes about 8 dozen cookies.
The Cookie Princess
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