My knowledge of my ancestry is shaky at best.
I know that my great-great grandparents on my dad’s side immigrated from Czechoslovakia. There is some Welsh mixed in there somewhere, along with some Polish from my mom’s side. Throw in a little German, and you have, well, me.
An Eastern European mélange, if you will.
It was never a big priority in my family to know much about our ancestors. But their food? Now that’s a different story. I was raised on traditional Eastern European foods. Stuffed cabbage. Goulash. Kielbasa. Pierogies. Chicken paprikash. Stroganoff.
And, oh! the desserts! Baking traditional Eastern European pastries during the holidays is like a second religion in my family. I can remember sitting at my great-grandmother’s knee as a little girl, watching her make kolache and orechovnik at Christmastime. Every year. Because that’s just what you do for Christmas.
And even at a young age, I understood that this. was. a. big. deal.
This Christmas, I really wanted to get back to my roots, so to speak, and dust off my great-grandmother’s recipes.
A few things I had forgotten about this particular adventure:
The butter. There is a lot of butter involved. Like, multiple pounds of butter.
The waiting. Mix the ingredients. Let them set. Put them in the fridge. Wait. Take them out. Let them rest. Roll out the dough. Wait. Do all of your laundry, make dinner for the next week, and give the dog a bath. Only then will you finally have cookies.
The imprecise recipes. For whatever reason, my great-grandmother never felt the need to actually write down her recipes as they should be made. Sorry, MeeMee, but “fill and bake” leaves much to the imagination. Exactly how does the dough go from a ball to perfect little jam-filled hexagonal cookies?
The commitment. Making these cookies is a *lot* of work. These aren’t your “mix and bake” variety of cookie. These are the “labor all day and still end up with only a few dozen cookies” variety.
But despite all of these things, it was totally worth it. Because they turned out exactly like I remembered them from my great-grandmother’s kitchen. And everyone loved them.
Now, this is a super special recipe I’m sharing with you here. This basically makes us BFFs. I mean, It’s not every day you get somebody’s great-grandmother’s recipe for a delicious Polish pastry. If you’re super lucky, I might even share her recipe for orechovnik (a Slovakian nut roll that is to. die. for.), which I also made for Christmas this year. Overachiever, I know.
I doubt I’ll be making these every year. I have no idea how my great-grandmother did it with multiple children underfoot. God bless her. But let’s just call a spade a spade, people. I have a toddler. And other time commitments. And a social life. And I do not have MeeMee’s patience.
I’m definitely hanging on to these recipes, though. And maybe someday I’ll even be that great-grandmother who churns out dozens upon dozens of delicious Eastern European pastries at Christmastime. This is a piece of my heritage, and I plan to pass it on to my kids someday. Because everyone should know where they come from, even if it’s only through food.
Adapted from my great-grandmother’s recipe (because let’s be honest: using a stand mixer and Silpat liners may not be the traditional way, but they certainly make life easier!)
Active time: 1+ hour
Start to finish: 2+ hours
Makes 3 dozen cookies
3/4 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup apricot jam
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, butter, and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add in the flour just until mixed. The dough will be sticky.
Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a thick disc, and wrap separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm enough to handle, at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.
Remove 1 dough disc from the refrigerator and place it on a well-floured surface. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 1/8 inch thick. Cut into 2-1/2-inch squares.
Place 1 teaspoon of the jam in the center of each square. Pull 2 opposite corners of the square into the middle, and pinch the edges together to seal. Place the cookies on the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart.
Bake in the center of the oven until lightly golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheets for 1 to 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks. Dust the tops with sifted confectioners’ sugar while still warm, then let cool completely.
These are best if eaten immediately but can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.