“Christmas cookies and happy hearts, this is how the holiday starts!” ~ Unknown
Some of my favorite memories of Christmas aren’t actually ON Christmas. It is the preparations before hand, from helping my Mom put up her village and day-dreaming what the people were up to, to doing Kris Kringles, (where we leave presents for whoever we have), to standing on a chair (because I was and still am to short) and helping her mix kolache dough, those are the memories that I remember and in part what represent the Christmas Season to me. Especially the baking!
My Mom would start the beginning of December and bake dozens and dozens of cookies, that on Christmas Eve we would finally be able to dig into. The aromas of Vanilla, cinnamon, and browned butter were a constant in the kitchen all season long, and it was as much Christmas as Santa is. Many of the recipes my Mom baked were passed down from not just her Mom, but her grandparents and great-grandparents, making these recipes extra special. It isn’t just a cookie or pastry, but recipes, food, which have been shared through decades and generations and that connect us to this day, even when our loved ones are no longer here. And that my friends is the incredible power of baking!
One of those special recipes is Kolache. Known as Christmas cake in my family, though we also eat it on Easter, it is an Eastern European pastry that has been adapted by many different Eastern European countries. Descended from Czechoslovakian immigrants, my family’s version is taken from that of our Slovak ancestors. In fact Kolache is named after the old Slavic word Kolo which means circle or wheel, which the pastry itself is in the shape of after it is baked and then cut into.
Making Kolache, is an intense affair, and it use to be that we had to be quiet because the dough wouldn’t rise (another old wives tale is that only the women could help, because if the men did, the dough wouldn’t rise, but I am thinking it was men who started THAT one.) It is a yeast dough, with lots of butter, sour cream, and flour. Honestly when you think you can’t add more flour, you have to add more flour. It is an arm workout, even when you use a kitchen aid mixer because it takes a lot of kneading of the dough, Once the dough binds and forms a ball, you roll it out, and then add fillings on top of it. Traditional fillings are sugared nuts and raisins, (my favorite and what we typically make) but also fruit preserves like apricot, quark (a type of cheese) and Powidl, another fruit spread, but made from prunes. Once you lay your fillings onto the dough, you then roll it oh so carefully, so it doesn’t break, and then place it on a cookie sheet to rise for a couple hours before baking.
Then on Christmas (and Easter) morning we have the Kolache, with kielbasa, eggs, beets, and horseradish for a traditional slavish breakfast. It is one of those things we make every year and always look forward to. Even when I wasn’t home, I would get excited when it was Kolache day and my Mom would make it because it was a sign the holidays were coming.
Kolache isn’t the only thing we bake. (though it might be the most special) We also bake a LOT of cookies, though it varies from year to year, there are are two that are steadfast traditions since before I was born (Legit the recipe my Mom uses is from 1980!) Those are Mexican wedding cakes and merengues. The first is actually known by many names, Russian tea cookies, snowballs cookies, and the Turkish version Kurabiye. Whatever you call them they are SO flipping good. Covered in powdered sugar they just melt in your mouth. We use to fight over them and it got to the point that my Mom would make individual tins and give us each one for Saint Nicholas Day or in our stockings, because it was ALL we wanted. They don’t require that many ingredients, flour, sugar, vanilla, and butter, but they are delicious. The traditional version does have nuts in them, but my Mom actually omits that and I feel like that is what makes her the best!
She also makes merengues which are light sugary super delicate cookies, that are like miniature pavlova but without the fruit. They are whipped egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar whipped until they create stiff peaks that you then put on a cookie sheet and bake. Literally they are like air, but delicious air! They are also super delicate (as my brother-in-law discovered one year) but so yummy! Another tradition, though not baked and not a cookie is fudge. My Mom’s fudge recipe is like no other. With just three ingredients, it isn’t anything crazy, but perhaps it is because of the simplicity it is so yummy.
It could also be the love that is baked into each and every batch! While these treats are delicious, it really is the memories associated with them that make them so special. The last couple of years my Mom and I started decorating Christmas cookies together, It wasn’t anything crazy, but more the fact we were doing it together. And that really is why traditions are so important, not so much WHAT you are doing, but all the love that is involved. And now I am hungry! Is it Christmas yet?
Do you have special holiday recipes? What do you love to bake during the holidays?
You can read my other A Nautical Christmas Blog Posts Here:
You can read the rest of the A Nautical Christmas Posts Here:
Day 1: Blogmas: A Nautical Christmas 2021
Day 2: Rocking Around (And Decorating) The Christmas Tree
Day 3: What do I Wear?!?! A Fancy Friday Christmas
Day 4: Department 56: North Pole village
Day 5: Wanderlusting: L.L. Bean’s Northern Lights
Day 6: My Flocked Christmas Tree
Day 7: What DO I Wear: All the Christmas Cozy Pj’s
Day 8: 2021 Ornaments
Day 9: An Unofficial Ted Talk to Relieve Holiday Stress
Day 10: What Do I Wear: Christmas Graphic Tops
Day 11: My Christmas Mug Collection
Day 12: Advent Calendars
Day 13: Christmas Wrappings and Cards
Day 14: What DO I Wear: The Little Red Dress
Day 15: Wanderlusting: Christmas Loft 2021