I have hundreds of cookbooks, but none so valuable as the worn, thread-bound ledger that belonged to my grandma. The yellowed pages, dotted with brown spots of who knows what, are frayed around the edges. Each page holds a recipe handwritten by my dad’s mother.
One of those recipes is for her daughter, Elinor’s, Bohemian Kolacky. My Aunt Elinor made the best kolacky I’ve ever tasted. Soft pillows of sweet, rich yeast dough, each plump with filling made of fruit, poppy seeds or cottage cheese.
When I was a child growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, I looked forward to family car trips to Chicago to visit all the relatives. One thing I would always anticipate was Aunt Elinor’s kolacky. Since I lived so far away, I never did see her make the sweet rolls. I simply enjoyed the finished product.
How fortunate I felt when I discovered her recipe in my grandma’s personal cookbook.
The dough is prepared just as any other yeast dough. The old family recipe calls for lard. I use butter instead.
Once the dough has had time to double in size, it gets rolled out and cut into rounds. A shot glass works perfectly for punching a shallow well in each round, just the right size to hold a generous amount of filling.
Apricot and poppy seed fillings are my favorite. I find the Solo brand of poppy seed filling to be very good. I make my own apricot and prune fillings. Aunt Elinor used to make a delicious cottage cheese filling. I don’t have her recipe for that one.
As I made the kolacky, my mind was filled with memories. Happy times, with family gathered around Aunt Elinor’s dining room table, all debating about which filled kolacky to take from the platter. Laughter, stories, that certain smell her house always held, the high-back dining room chairs that seemed so heavy to me when I was young — it felt as though I was right there again.
And, I wondered if my dad’s mother knew how much her handwritten recipes would mean to me, the little girl who was in kindergarten when her grandma died. Did she realize how much it would mean to me to have pages filled with her handwriting?
I begin to think about all my recipes stored in folders on my computer. Not exactly the same kind of recipe format to pass down through the generations as my grandma’s ledger with pages of handwritten recipes.
But, my grandchildren are growing up with technology. Maybe they’ll appreciate opening up a folder on their computer filled with an organized collection of my recipes and think how lucky they are to have such easy access to some of the recipes they remember me preparing. And they might even back them up for safe keeping.
I may need to go buy a ledger.
- 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1 cup lukewarm milk (105 degrees F. to 115 degrees F.)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
- Fillings of choice, such as poppy seed, apricot, plum
- 1 egg, beaten, for brushing on kolacky
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened
In a 4-cup glass measure or bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in warm milk. Set aside. While yeast mixture is resting, cream butter and 1/4 cup sugar. Add 2 eggs and salt and beat well. Add yeast mixture, which should have bubbled and grown, and mix well. Add 2 cups flour and beat with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Gradually add flour until dough begins to leave sides of bowl and come together, following the spoon.
Transfer dough to work surface covered with some flour. Turn bowl upside down over the dough. Grease another large glass bowl with shortening, using your fingers to spread the shortening to cover the entire inside of the bowl. Grease two large baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.
Remove bowl from covering the dough. Knead dough for 5 to 8 minutes, adding a little flour to the work surface as necessary to prevent sticking.
Place dough in the greased bowl. Turn over so greased side is up. Cover bowl with clean kitchen towel and allow dough to rise for 1 to 2 hours, until doubled.
Divide dough in half. Roll out one half of dough on floured work surface to about 1/4-inch thick. Use a 3-inch round cookie cutter or glass to cut 12 rounds of dough. Place rounds on prepared baking sheet, about 1-inch apart. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. Cover baking sheets with dough rounds with kitchen towels and allow to rest in a warm place for about 30 minutes. With the bottom of a shot glass dipped in flour, make a depression in the center of each dough circle. Fill the depression with 1 tablespoon of any type of filling. Brush the tops of the kolacky with beaten egg, and let them rise in a warm place until they have puffed a bit, about 10 to 15 minutes.
While kolacky are rising, measure streusel topping ingredients in a small bowl and rub together with fingers until mixture turns to crumbs. Sprinkle streusel over the filling of each kolacky. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Makes 24 kolacky.
Apricot or Prune Filling
Put 1 cup dried apricots or pitted prunes into a saucepan with enough cold water to cover them.
Bring to a boil and simmer until the fruit is very soft (at
least 15 minutes). Drain off all the liquid in the pan. Transfer plumped fruit to work bowl of food processor. Add
1/3 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of butter, a little grated
lemon zest. Process until quite smooth.Â Stir in
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Transfer fruit filling to a bowl and
let the mixture cool before you use it to fill the kolacky.