It was definitely my decision to participate in the 2018 Grace Episcopal Cookie Walk (another name for “bake sale”), but it wasn’t a decision I made on my own! Both James and Emily nudged me. Though the weeks leading up to Christmas are always busy (Hello?! Practicing and rehearsing for Winter Songs & Carols!!), in the end I couldn’t resist the chance to help out for a good cause. Besides, it had been a while since James last agreed to help me in the kitchen with something other than dishes. I was looking forward to putting on comfy clothes, loading the CD changer with holiday albums, and sharing in some messy kitchen fun!
We may have our artistic moments, but James and I are far too organized to be stereotypically right-brained! In the weeks leading up to the Cookie Walk, we held several strategic meetings to determine how many recipes we’d make and how many batches of each would be needed. We didn’t merely select a handful of recipes. No. There were lists… and they were bulleted. There were spreadsheets… categories were determined, pros and cons listed. Risks were predicted and weighed.
To be honest, I no longer remember which of us suggested Apricot Kołaczki — probably James since I tend to think mainly in terms of chocolate and nuts when it comes to cookies (and ice cream!). In any case, the recipe survived our rigorous selection process. On the evening before the Cookie Walk, baking commenced, and at the end of the long evening, it was the kołaczki that were my favorite new recipe.
I hope you’ll try these! Even though the dough was a little tender and needed to remain chilled in order to be workable, it was also very forgiving and didn’t toughen up even after what I felt was excess handling. Even our most imperfect specimens (which we ate immediately for quality control purposes) turned out surprisingly light, flaky, and tasty! If you make these kołaczki only for the apricot filling, that would be understandable. The leftover filling is delicious spread on toast!
Yields about 5 dozen cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg (beaten with 2 teaspoons of water, for egg wash)
1 3/4 cups coarsely chopped dried apricots (app. 10oz)
1/2 cup golden raisins (regular raisins work, but darken filling)
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup water
To make the dough: Whisk together flour and salt in a medium bowl until combined. Beat cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and creamy (about 3 mins). Reduce mixer speed to low; add flour mixture, mix just until combined. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; wrap in plastic wrap, chill until firm (at least 90 mins). While dough chills, prepare the filling.
To make the apricot filling: Combine all the filling ingredients in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until dried fruits are softened and mixture is thickened (about 10 mins). Remove from heat and allow to cool until only slightly warm. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Spoon into a covered bowl and chill until completely cold (will thicken further as it cools).
To assemble and bake kołaczki: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375-degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.
On a well-floured work surface, roll out one portion of dough (keep remaining portions chilled) into roughly an 11-inch square. Rotate dough frequently to prevent sticking. (If dough gets too soft/sticky, transfer it to a sheet of parchment and chill it until firm.) Trim dough into a 10-inch square. Cut square into 4 equal strips, then cut crosswise in fourths again to form a total of 16 squares. Transfer squares to prepared baking sheet and chill for about 10 minutes.
Place 1 heaping teaspoon of apricot filling in center of each chilled square. Brush 2 opposite corners with egg wash, then bring corners together and pinch firmly to adhere.
Arrange 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Bake until golden (17-20 mins), then transfer to racks to cool completely. Use remaining dough portions and filling to make more. Store cooled kołaczki layered between parchment sheets in an airtight container at room temperature. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving, if desired. Enjoy within 4 days for best texture and taste.
Baking several recipes for the Cookie Walk was tons of fun. I’m happy to report the fundraiser was successful, and lots of home bakers turned out to sell their homemade treasures! It was fun to walk around and see all the displays and admire everyone’s work.
In the process, I wound up planting seeds for a brand new piece we’re premiering at our 2019 Winter Songs & Carols concert: Night Journey of the Magi. The piece came to me as I improvised on the tune Noël Novelete (i.e., Sing We Now of Christmas). Trying out several ideas on my impromptu audience, I made mental note of a few ideas that stuck and started scribbling them down a few weeks later!
I think that’s one of the things I like best about the holiday season: it can bring us together to do great things we probably would never have planned. And — as if that weren’t enough — we may accidentally try something new, learn something new, talk to a few strangers, and grow.
Recipe adapted from:
The Gourmet cookie book : the single best recipe from each year 1941-2009. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.
Category: Comfort & Joy, Woodwind GourmetTags: apricot, bake sale, Christmas, cookies, czech tradition, featured winter, Grace Episcopal Church, holiday baking, kolaches, Kołaczki, polish tradition, Traverse City, Winter Songs & Carols, Winter Songs and Carols, woodwind gourmet