My Grandmother’s Kolacky

by Lori on April 2, 2010

I have a lot of memories associated with this cookie, and honestly, I am not even sure if it’s a cookie or a pastry.  All I know, is that it tugs at my heart strings and fills up the happiness quotient of my emotional being, all at the same time.  So come along with me as I lay on the couch and spill some of my emotional baggage while I recount the story of how this pastry-cookie and I came to be.

My grand parents with my dad in Chicago.

It was Spring break 1976.  I was just a kid, but I can remember parts of it like it was yesterday.  My family took a trip to Chicago to visit my dad’s relatives, especially my ailing great-grandmother.  My grandmother (her daughter) had recently and unexpectedly passed away and my great-grandmother wasn’t able to travel to California to attend the funeral.  My dad packed up his family and brought us all to see her.  It is the only memory of my great-grandmother that I have.  A year prior to to my grandmother’s passing, my grandfather unexpectedly passed away.  It was a tough couple of years for our family.  Looking back, I realize that my beloved grandparents were taken far too early; they were only in their early 60’s.  So many things I wish I knew now were never asked because I was too young to think of them while they were alive.  I’ve pieced certain parts together through my grandparents’ siblings, but there are gaps.  Big, unexplained, gaps.

However, that trip wasn’t only filled with moments of sorrow.  There were plenty of happy and enjoyable times.  And there was food.  Lots of it.  Good Friday had just passed, so it was game-on for feasts.  Every family home we visited had a food spread that was incredible.  But there was only one thing I vividly remembered: the kolacky.  It made quite an impression on me at 10 years old.  I may have had it before when I was younger, and while I rattled on and on about it, my dad told me that my grandmother used to make kolacky every Christmas and Easter.  Little did I know it would be another 15 years before I would have it again.  I remembered asking my mom to make it, and I couldn’t understand why she never did.  Well, it was never made because my grandmother wasn’t there to make it. I realize that now.

Then one Easter, we shared dinner with my dad’s cousin and his family.  Little did he know of my fondness for kolacky.  When he presented the dessert, I couldn’t believe it!  Not only did he make the kolacky himself, he provided me with his mother’s recipe.  His mother and my grandmother were sisters.  Families share, and the elusive kolacky recipe was finally going to be a part of my family history.  I am convinced this is the same recipe I remember from that trip some 15 years prior.  There was a distinctiveness about it; something about the dough and the way it so nicely set off the sweet filling.

I never made kolacky myself until this week.  I actually misplaced the recipe until recently; I found it along with some others from my grandmother – in her own writing no less – when I poured through a box of old papers and recipes at my parent’s house.

I modified the recipe so I could use my mixer.  Originally this was all done by hand, but I’ve become dependent on my mixer.  (Another issue to explore in therapy.)  Butter, flour and salt into the mixer bowl.  Turn mixer on low to begin incorporating the ingredients.

Since this was my first time making this, I decided to stop when I got to this stage.  Over-working the dough in any recipe can cause it to be tough.  There is more to add, so it was a good decision to stop here.

In another bowl, add some more flour, egg yolks, water and white vinegar.  Yes, vinegar.  It doesn’t overwhelm the finished product, but it is distinctive and cuts the sweetness of the filling so nicely.

Hey!  Look at me conquering my mixer-dependency!  You can easily do this step by hand, or if you are also afflicted with mixer-dependency and are lucky enough to have another mixer, you can do this in a mixer as long as you don’t over work the dough.  Stop when you get the dough to this stage.

Now, combine contents of the small bowl into the mixer bowl.  And blend together until combined.  Again, I erred on the side of caution and mixed the two for less than a minute.

Scrape dough onto a floured board or mat.  Press down with your hands into a disc.

Divide the dough into thirds, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-1/2 hours or overnight.  (I went the overnight route due to time constraints.)

Working with one third of the dough at a time on a lightly floured board to silicone mat, roll to a uniform 1/8-inch thickness.  You want this dough to be thin, so feel it and look at it to make sure you’re as close as possible.  Also, keep the dough moving on the board or mat.  Pick it up and turn it, adding a little sprinkle of flour if you need more and keep the rolling pin floured as well.

Now since I am also rolling pin challenged and cannot roll anything into a rectangle, I trim the dough to my desired shape.  Keep the scraps because you will re-roll them out for the next batch. 

I’m working in a small batch here.  You will have more.  Cut your dough into 2-1/2 by 3 inch squares.  You can use a knife, pizza cutter or zig-zag pasta/pastry wheel cutter.

Put a tablespoon or so of canned filling onto each square.  You can leave it all in the center or you can spread it a little as shown.  I did it both ways.  This is not pie filling.  It is cake and pastry filling (brand: Solo and it’s available in most markets on the baking aisle) and it’s more like a paste.  You need to use this.

Because of the flour on the dough, you need to moisten the edge of the dough so it will stick.  Dip your finger into the water and dab it on the dough as shown.  Then fold over, lightly pressing, and continue on with the remaining squares.  It is really important to let the filled kolacky sit for a few minutes to get the dough to adhere.

See this one?  He’s all blown-out from too much filling and I didn’t wait long enough after wetting the dough before I popped this tray into the oven.  This one and the one above it were the last two that I made before this sheet went into the oven.  So take your time and let the sheet rest for about 5 minutes before you head over to the oven.

When the kolacky are completely cool, give them a liberal coating of powdered sugar.  Don’t inhale the powdered sugar when you take that first bite.  Look at the light dough that so wonderfully complemented by the cherry, prune (my absolute favorite), apricot and poppy seed fillings.  Heaven!

My heart is happy, and my tummy is full.  And I left a little plate of these at my parents’ house yesterday when they weren’t home.  Families share.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Ist Bowl Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter

2nd Bowl Ingredients:
1 cup all purpose flour sifted
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
3 tablespoons cold water

Solo Cake and Pastry filling (canned and found on the baking aisle at most markets)

Into bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add flour salt and butter (the 1st bowl ingredients).  Pulse mixer on and off a few times to begin blending the ingredients.  Mix until ingredients become crumbly, like the texture of wet sand.

Into another bowl, add the 2nd bowl ingredients (flour, egg yolks, vinegar and cold water).  Mix by hand just until ingredients come together.

Add the 2nd bowl ingredients into the 1st bowl (mixer) and combine without over mixing.  Dough will be very sticky.  Scoop dough onto floured board or silicone pastry mat, and pat by hand into a disc.  (You can leave the dough in one disc or you can cut it into three portions.) Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2-1/2 hours; overnight is okay.

Working with 1/3 of the dough at a time, roll out to 1/8-inch thickness on floured board or pastry mat.  Cut dough into 2-1/2 x 3-inch squares.  Fill center with Solo Cake and Pastry Filling (pie filling will not work here; it will ooze out and burn).  Fold, moistening one corner over the other and slightly press down.  Place on a parchment or silicone baking mat lined sheet pan and let filled pastry rest for 5 minutes before putting in oven.  Bake at 375 for 14-18 minutes, depending on your oven, until lightly golden brown.  Remove to cooling rack.  When completely cooled, sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar.

Makes approximately 3 dozen.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristan Marie Lynch April 2, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Wow! I just loved the story about your father's family and the recipe looks divine! What a beautiful tradition!!! By the way, Gerard's mother's Red Velvet Cake recipe also called for a little vinegar. I was afraid to add it, but am glad I did. The cake is yummy, but not SUPER sweet like a box cake. Lots of flavor!


katie April 5, 2010 at 2:32 pm

I am so excited. I love kolachy but have also never really endeavored to make them. I am saving this recipe!


Lemons and Lavender April 5, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Thank you Kristy and that was a gorgeous cake you made!

Katie, I realized the recipe wasn't posted and I just put it up. The kolacky was just as I remembered but my mom felt the vinegar taste was too pronounced. I hope you enjoy it.


Suzanne April 5, 2010 at 5:47 pm

What a wonderful story! My mother-in-law's family is from Slovakia and she makes dozens of them every Christmas. She uses either a nut or apricot filling. My Irish grandma used to make them as well. I never learned to make them, but I am hoping that Paris will learn this year. How wonderful it is to be able to pass down recipes from generation to generation.


Lemons and Lavender April 7, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Suzanne it seems many countries have their own variation of this pastry. In the recipes I found in my grandmother's writing she even had one listed as "Bohemian Kolacky" and that one had cream cheese in the dough. That is similar to most of the recipes I found on the internet, but I prefer the dough to not be so rich.
The nut filling is another favorite of my dad, but it is so hard to find that here.


Jo Anne April 14, 2010 at 5:18 pm

My family is Slovak (both sides) and my mom's family lived in Chicago from the early 1900's. Thanks for sharing this version of your family's kolacky. My grandmother also made them and I adored them, still do. I never got a recipe from her, but the Polish wife of a former boss shared her recipe that is cream cheese based. My husband and sons LOVE these. Interesting note, I have been visiting Lucenec, Slovakia since 2002, and the ladies there call all pastries kolacky, but none of them make these particular cookies. My maternal family hails from the Stara Tura region in the western part of the country, and Lucenec is more influenced by Hungarian culture….


Lemons and Lavender April 16, 2010 at 5:12 am

Jo Anne, thanks for the information. I think most Eastern European countries have some version of kolacky (or rugalah, which is similar). I've also noticed that they all have a stuffed cabbage dish as well!


Ruza123 May 27, 2010 at 9:54 am

If you visited some of Ex-Yugoslavian blog ,you can fined a lots of recipes of kolacki !!


Cherine October 6, 2010 at 9:11 am

Lovely story! Your Kolackies look fabulous


Peg January 8, 2011 at 1:35 am

Thanks for the information about the filling used in your cookies. I've tried to make another fruit filled pastry that we used to get while up at our vacation cottage and the jam I used just melted out of the pastry – I'm hoping this filling works. My Aunt makes kolackies every Christmas with cream cheese in the dough. One of my favorite pastries, especially apricot!


Lemons and Lavender January 8, 2011 at 4:42 am

Peg, You should not have a problem with the Solo canned filling. It doesn't melt like jams and jellies do. I think you'll be pleased with the results!


C April 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Thank you so much for posting this! My husbands grandmother (also from Chicago) used to make kolacky like this with the vinegar. She passed about 8 years ago and with her went the recipe. She never wrote it down. My sister in laws could only remember that it had vinegar and no milk/cream cheese. I am pretty sure this is the recipe!
Thank you again for posting this!


Lori April 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm

So glad I could be of help! :) This is a special recipe to me and I’m so glad to know it’s got strong connections for you too. Let me know how the kolacky turn out.


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