06 December, 2013

"Happy Christmas!" From Europe, With Love: Day 6: Boże Narodzenie

Nestled deep on the north eastern end of Europe is a place steeping with history, passion for their culture, and a people that take pride in their hospitality...especially at Christmastime.  In fact, the Polish set an extra place at the table JUST in case some unknown stranger shows up at their door, longing for a place to reverence the birth of Christ.  They have so many traditions that they follow during the month of December, every one of them taken just as seriously as the next.  

One tradition that I like quite a lot about their culture is that Sw. Mikolaj (Saint Nicholas) and Jesus Christ are celebrated separately and weeks apart.  Any gifts given to people are exchanged on the 6th of December.  Weeks later, on Christmas Day (also known as "the first holiday") only Christ is celebrated and folks remain in their homes with family; they don't leave to visit other people, they don't clean their home, and they don't cook anything on that day.  Only foods previously cooked may be reheated in a warm oven.  

They don't decorate the Christmas tree until Wigilia Day (Christmas Eve) and one of the most anticipated events of the day is in the evening, when they gather together as a family to watch patiently for the appearance of the first star of the night.  Once the first star is spotted they all gather around a table covered with hay, then a snow white table cloth (representing the cradle of Christ) and the father (or eldest member of the family) reaches for the oplatek wafer and breaks it in half.  Then the father hands half of it to the mother.  Then...both mother and father break a piece of wafer off of the others' piece and wishes each other "long life, good health, joy and happiness during the Christmas season, the New Year, and for many years to come."  Then this ceremony is repeated between the parents and the children, other relatives, and even any strangers that may be present.  After this ceremony is over they all sit down together and dine on a meatless supper and then...they sing koledy (Christmas carols) until it is time for Pasterka (midnight mass).  How beautiful is that?!  Yes, I cried while I was typing this out.  You can make fun of me later...but it is SUCH a striking contrast to the sadness that you can more easily spot with little to no effort that is prevalent in the world today.

A treat they have ready and waiting in the wings for their Christmas celebration is a loverly little cookie called kolaczki (pronounced "co-la-key").  There are technically two versions of this.  One is made out of yeast dough and is now known as a "danish" in the United States...it kind of made me laugh to find that out.  But then there is a delicate little pillow of a cookie filled with apricot, prune, or raspberry filling and then dusted with a bit of powdered sugar.

These are the specialty tools that you'll need to make these cookies.  A crimped edge rolling cutter....can be found in the cake section at most stores and a ruler.

These cookies turn out like the perfect little morsel and they melt in your mouth.  They remind me so much of the dough that I used to have strudel made out of when I was young.  I just hope that making these will help your family feel like they are having a very Wesołych Świąt!!

**The U.S. measurements appear first followed by the European weights in parenthesis, unless only U.S. measurements were given.  I weighed the amounts out first, then measured them with U.S. measuring cups and spoons.  You can thank me later.

1-8 oz. package of full fat cream cheese
2 sticks of unsalted butter
2 c. flour
28 oz. of filling (apricot, prune, or raspberry)
powdered sugar

Mix cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add flour 1 cup at a time and mix well. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness on a surface that has been dusted with equal parts confectioners' and granulated sugar (not flour). Cut into 2-inch squares with a fluted cutter to make pretty edges.

Place 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon filling on center of each square. Dip your fingertip in water or egg white and touch the top of one corner of the dough to wet the dough.  Overlap the opposite corner of dough over on top of the side you got wet and center over filling. 

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until corners start to brown a bit.

This is what happened when I tried to bake the dough withOUT rolling it out on the sugar mixture.  I wanted to see if the dough was more like a pastry than a cookie.  Indeed it was...and it wouldn't hold its shape.  At all.  I had 3 pans like this (not full, mind you) before I caved and rolled the sugar into the dough before cutting.
Cool completely and dust with confectioners' sugar. (If not serving the same day, store in a tight container without the confectioners' sugar, or freeze and then dust with confectioners' sugar just before serving.) 

I absolutely love these!  I used prune butter, organic raspberry preserves, and apricot jam to fill them.  They are so beautiful, delicate, and tender.  They dress up any Christmas platter, as you can see.  I just stacked them like a little poinsettia flower on the plate and BAM!  I went back and forth on whether or not to dress them up with holly or not, but they really don't need it.  I look at them and I see Christmas on my counter.  Polish Christmas!  Even with the headaches that I had along the way, this recipe is fun and honestly, you can't make it taste bad.  I hope you and your family love these cookies as much as my family and I have!

No comments:

Post a Comment