This is our 32nd Christmas living on the North American continent. We have kept most of the Czech Christmas traditions. Let me start with the oldest ones. The no. 1 undisputed Czech holiday tradition is baking. Recipes are passed from one generation to the next, sometimes perfected, sometimes left at their best.
Most women and girls start baking at the beginning of December and the reason is simple; cookies like Linzer and marzipan have to soften over time for the best taste.
I usually bake the third week in December, this year was an exception as I baked with our granddaughter Josephine for the first time ever. So we started early last Saturday before the power went out due to high winds. I passed on the baking tradition to our kids, Emma and Jake, now it’s our grandkids’ turn.
Somewhere in an old shoebox, I have print photos of Jake standing on a stool wearing black sweatpants and a blue shirt making Christmas cookies long before Facebook’s existence. I remember buying him a baking tool set the next year for Christmas.
And cook books is where I start no matter how long I’ve been baking. That’s the sacred rule no. 1. Like most women I have hundreds of recipes in hundreds of different formats and hiding in hundreds of different places. You name it, I have it. From original cookbooks in Czech and Slovak languages to Czech cookbooks in English from the ZCBJ Lodge in Bannister, magazines in Czech and English to priceless hand-written recipes in Czech from my best friend’s mother and even from my own grandmother Anna.
Not to mention the greatest baker of all my mother Ella whom I consider baker extraordinaire. Mom has baked for weddings and for any occasion you can think of, all the way to Sunday afternoon desserts. Now, in her 80s, mom Ella still bakes to this day. As of this year, mom has again baked Czech kolache for us before my parents left for Florida at the beginning of December. I froze them for Christmas Eve. I have just found out that we are celebrating Christmas at our house. That’s good. I don’t have to transport all the food to Hastings.
A long time ago when I first baked in the Czech Republic as a kid, my uncles always cracked the walnuts for us for hours before we started baking. We harvested our own walnuts and had to peel them from their thick green skins, which left our fingers brown and with a bitter smell. My favorite recipes are made with nuts. I like nuts either in the filling or in the dough. The best recipes have nuts in both- the cream and the dough.
So this year I made Russian nuts and nutty baskets filled with a nutty creme. My daughter-in-law Maranda says that Czech cookies are a lot of work. Yes, they are, but the result is what I call “Unicorn Heaven” when you’re floating on the sweet taste of love. BTW, I still have to finish baked batches of both desserts.
For the Russian nuts, I use the following recipe (in metric measures) from Libuse Sustalova’s “Cookbook: Baking with Success.”
Don’t forget to buy the forms that look like nutshells. The refrigerated dough goes into the forms, bakes for 22 minutes at 350 Fahrenheit.
Recipe for dough
500g of flour, 350 g of butter, 150 g of powdered sugar, 150 g of ground walnuts
Recipe for creme filling
10 dkg butter, 3 yolks, 8 dkg powdered sugar, 6 dkg nuts, 3 dkg breadcrumbs
Beat the yolks with the sugar, add butter and nuts. Spread the filling on the baked nuts and stick two together. Cover with chocolate. Inspired by my mother Ella, I add vanilla pudding to the buttery creme to lighten it. It is optional. If you choose to use it buy instant vanilla pudding.
You can buy the forms at Czech and Slovak Ed. Center and Museum by going to their website:
Czech traditions to be continued……the bizarre live carp tradition.
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