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VPR Cafe: Czech Cookie Collection

Melissa Pasanen / Burlington Free Press

A mainstay of the Czech holiday tradition is cookies - and lots of them!  Women may make a dozen varieties or more.  Recently at a kitchen in Essex, a meat grinder brought six Czech women together to bake, share recipes and keep their heritage alive.  Melissa Pasanen tells us about her sweet experience and reveals the secret of the meat grinder.

Sunday, December 22, 2013, 10:40 a.m.

Melissa writes for the Savorvore Section of the Burlington Free Press where you can read more about her visit to Monika Ursiny's kitchen.  The VPR Cafe is produced in collaboration with the Free Press and is made possible on VPR by the J.K. Adams Company in Dorset in The

Czech Christmas Cookie Recipes
Note: Czech cookie recipes are written by weight in grams for accuracy. I have included rough cup equivalents for those who do not have a scale. - Melissa
Vanilla Crescents
Adapted from Dasha Zentrichova
100 grams (1 cup) powdered sugar
110 grams (1 cup) walnuts, finely ground
370 grams all-purpose flour (2 2/3 cups)
1 teaspoon baking powder
200 grams (14 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional, see testing note below)
For the finish:
More powdered sugar mixed with vanilla sugar, which is sugar flavored with vanilla beans (see note below)

In a large bowl (or on a wooden board as Dasha does it), stir together powdered sugar, ground walnuts, flour and baking powder. With your hands, work in the butter, egg and vanilla extract if using, until you have a firm dough. Form into a flattened ball, wrap well and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease baking sheets or line with parchment or non-stick baking mats. Take dough from fridge to bring it to room temperature. If you don’t happen to have a cookie press attachment and meat grinder, break off walnut-size balls of dough and roll them with your hands into short ropes about three inches long, Curve into crescents and place on prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 9 to 11 minutes until cookies are lightly golden (the color doesn’t change much) and set to the touch. Don’t overbake.

Traditionally these are then gently immersed into a mixture of powdered sugar and vanilla sugar. Some bakers do them while they are still warm; others prefer to wait until they have cooled. After they are cooled, you can also dip one half of each crescent in melted chocolate. Dasha Zentrichova uses a mixture of 100 grams of chocolate chips to 30 grams of shortening to make it easier to work with and ensure a shiny set. Place dipped cookies on waxed paper and refrigerate to set the chocolate. Makes about 40-50 cookies.

Free Press testing note: Use the vanilla extract in the dough if you do not have vanilla sugar. You can buy vanilla sugar at local Eastern European markets such as Euro Market on Williston Road in South Burlington. You also make vanilla sugar yourself but submerging a whole split vanilla bean pod and its sticky seeds in a couple cups of sugar in a sealed jar for a week or so.

Fruit-filled Gingerbread
Adapted from Dasha Zentrichova
290 grams (2 generous cups) all-purpose flour
190 grams (1 ½ cups) powdered sugar
1 ½ teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
2 eggs
2 tablespoons honey
2 ½ cups assorted finely chopped dried fruit, nuts and chocolate chips
½ cup jam such as strawberry or raspberry
1 egg white whisked with 1 tablespoon water
For the finish:
Powdered sugar to dust or melted chocolate to dip per recipe above.

In a large bowl (or on a wooden board as Dasha does it), whisk together flour, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and honey and then, with your hands, work the honey and eggs into the flour mixture until you have a sticky dough. Add a little more flour if needed to form dough into a smooth (but still sticky) flattened rectangle, wrap well and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, take dough from refrigerator, preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease baking sheets or line with parchment or non-stick baking mats. In a small bowl, stir together dried fruit, nuts and chocolate with jam to moisten. Divide dough into 3 equal pieces and roll each out on a well-floured surface into a rectangle about 10 by 8 inches. (It will still be fairly sticky.)

Carefully transfer rolled dough to a cookie sheet and arrange a third of fruit mixture lengthwise down the center of the dough. Fold each side over to make a long roll and flip over so seam is underneath. Tuck ends of dough under to seal. Brush roll with egg white and water mixture to provide a glossy finish. Repeat with remaining dough, using two baking sheets for the three rolls since they do expand.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown and set to the touch. Cool and then cut into half-inch slices. Decorate with a dusting of powdered sugar or dip half of each slice in melted chocolate per above. Makes about 60 cookies.

Franny was VPR's Director of Programming & Production.
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