Afternoon With The Babushkas

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Making Kolachkis (and a whole lot more!)

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Buon giorno!

My very Italian mother, Loretta, baked the most amazing cookies at holiday time. I can still see them in my mind’s eye – each one exactly the perfect size for her plates, one of each kind that we all loved and looked forward to. One of these cookies wasn’t the least bit Italian – but actually Russian, the Kolachki. It was everybody’s favorite and the first one missing from every plate. You might wonder why my very Italian mother would slip one of these “foreign” cookies into her repertoire. The truth is she took delight in baking many types of goodies regardless of their origin. This one, however, really stands out, as it wasn’t Christmas at our Italian table without the Kolachkis. I always thought my mother’s recipe was stellar with a rich cream cheese dough and sweet nutty filling – and it truly was.

However, I had a recent experience at the home of Stephanie Wahl, fabulous cook, amazing grandma, and good friend, which has totally re-written my thinking on these wonderful cookies. Every year, Steph invites a group of women to her home to make Kolachkis. This year I attended. When I tell you this is not just a cookie baking fest, I am not exaggerating. It is much more. Over the years, Steph has named her group, The Babushkas, (Bab-oosh-kas). The Babushka is the Western term for a kerchief or head scarf that is traditionally worn on the head of Russian peasant women and tied under the chin. It really refers to an elderly Russian woman or grandmother. Meet the Babushkas:

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As legend dictates, the Babushka was a poor old woman who lived a solitary life in the country. One night she heard bells coming towards her door. The bells were the three kings following the bright star which was to lead them to the baby King. The kings asked the old woman to accompany them, but she declined. Later, she decided to follow them and wandered from town to town asking for the baby King and describing the three kings who came to her door. She brought treats so as not to frighten the children when when she looked closely at their faces to see if they were the child she sought. It is said that she still wanders to this day, looking for the child, and along the way gives a little gift and candy to each child she encounters. (story credited to Dr. Michael Lockett, The Normal Storyteller via Stephanie Wahl)

Everyone who attends the annual Babushka event must wear— a Babushka. Your ticket into this fest is a babushka, a rolling pin, and an apron. Many bring appetizers, polka music sets the tone, and the wine – well—the wine flows! Every participant takes home a special book and embroidered tea towel, both created by Stephanie, which included a history, photos, recipes and detailed instructions. SOOOO much fun!

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Stephanie makes a delicious sour cream dough and makes three homemade fillings: nut, apricot, and lekvar or prune ( my personal fave!) One of the Babushkas, Mary Ann Trent, is encouraging  Steph to add an Italian version with chocolate. Not a bad idea!! This year, Stephanie made approximately 2100 cookies and used 18 pounds of butter. Fantastico! She is an amazingly patient coach and makes sure that everyone rolls beautiful Kolachkis the first time out with “no jagged edges”. Her secret is to roll the dough in a circle, placing the filling around the outside of it, and then she cuts them like little pie wedges. It’s pretty amazing and she never has a jagged edge!

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The “new kids” rolled first, while the veterans stood by offering their “two cents” while enjoying wine and trading stories. Everyone had a cooking or baking story. Of course, we all got to eat these incredible cookies. They were surprisingly light, and the fillings were the best of their kind I have ever tasted. This event was the absolute highlight of my Christmas season this year.

Many thanks to Stephanie for sharing her recipes with us!

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Stephanie’s Kolachki Dough

4+ cups flour (Steph likes White Lily all purpose)

1 lb. salted butter (room temp)

4 egg yolks

1/2 c. sour cream

Granulated and powdered sugar for rolling

Use your mixer to mix the dough. Blend the flour and butter in mixer using dough hooks. Add yolks and sour cream. Keep adding flour until you can work the dough and it is not too sticky. Empty dough onto counter, keep adding flour a little at a time and work the dough until it is easy to shape. Shape into a log, 12-14 inches long. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 days. * You can also freeze the dough. When ready to use, cut the log into 15 slices. Mix granulated sugar and 10x sugar together and us it to roll the dough. Roll each slice into an 8 “ circle. Spread filling in the outer edge of the circle, not too much and not to close to outer edge. Cut each circle like a pizza, into 8 pieces. Roll the outer edge toward the pointed end. Bake on sheet lined with parchment paper at 375 degrees for about 15 min. Adjust the tem. and baking time to your individual ovens.

Prune Filling  (from Joy of Baking)

1 lb. dried prunes                                  1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 c. sugar                                            1 tsp. vanilla

Boil prunes til tender. Drain and cool. Chop into small pieces add sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Stir. You can put it in blender to make smooth.

Apricot Filling (from cooks.com)

1 lb dried apricots                                 1 c. sugar

2 c. water                                               Pinch of cinnamon

Boil apricots and water til partially soft. Add sugar and cinnamon. Mash. Put back on stove to simmer til thick. Once cooled down, Steph put it through the blender.

Walnut Filling

1 lb. walnuts – ground – can use pecans

1/2 c. sugar

1/2 c. honey

2 tsps. cinnamon

egg whites mixed til frothy

Use as much of the egg whites that you need to mix the nuts so you can spread on the dough.

Keep refrigerated.

Steph suggests that you can use any filling you want. The three provided here are considered the standards for Kolachkis.

You will love these recipes and I so appreciate Stephanie’s willingness to share them with all of us. I know you will love them too. As for the Babushkas…I just love these ladies!!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography

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Comments

  1. Delicious. once again. A real recipe based on tradition and continued through
    generations.
    Thank you Linda and Stephanie…

  2. Amanda Conklin says:

    The Babushkas, Stephanie’s wonderful annual event for family and friends, passing on traditional recipes and stories in good holiday company. Stephanie and Linda are inspirations, in sharing their family cultural legacies in such fun, colorful, delicious ways.

    In Binghamton, NY, where we grew up, Roberson Center, Museum sponsored the Annual Christmas Forest, where different cultural groups of the city would share their traditional holiday customs, decorations, food and clothing by creating Christmas trees and colorful tables from various cultures for all the community to visit.

    • Thank you, Amanda. I do remember the Roberson Christmas Forest. It was a wonderful holiday event to look forward to. Sharing cultural differences helped to make growing up in Binghamton a rich experience.

  3. Love this! My very Italian great grandmother made these every Christmas and they’re what I remember most about holidays at her house. No one ever seems to know what they are so it’s such a fun surprise to stumble across this post! Though it’s a bit late for Christmas dinner, I’m planning to make these this weekend with my mom. Thanks for bringing back great memories with your post!

    • Laura – Funny how these cookies seem to be the favorite in so many households. Glad you enjoyed the post and thank you for sharing your story. Have fun making them this weekend!

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