My dad's sister made the best kolacky in the world. That's what I've always thought. I never did have the opportunity to watch my Aunt Elinor make the fist-size, eat-out-of-hand coffee cakes, but when we had dinner at her house, I couldn't help waiting with anticipation for the minute my aunt would walk into the dining room carrying a large plate of her homemade kolacky.
Each chubby round of sweet yeast dough was as light as a fluffy marshmallow in my hand. A generous, thick mound of filling made of poppy seeds, prunes, cottage cheese or apricot pushed its way toward the outside edge of each kolacky. Sprinkled over the top was a slightly crunchy mixture of sugar, flour and butter. I can still vividly remember biting into the soft, fragrant dough, the moist, subtle sweetness of the filling hitting the roof of my mouth and crumbs of sweet streusel falling onto my blouse.
That's the kolacky I know. It's the one my Aunt Elinor and her Czechoslovakian family and friends all learned how to make. It's the one that's spelled with a y and pronounced ko-LAHTCH-key.
My heart was happy when I discovered that my favorite sweet roll would be served at my cousin's wedding. His soon-to-be wife told her soon-to-be mother-in-law (my Aunt Elinor) that her family would be making their delicious kolacky for guests to enjoy at the wedding reception.
Imagine my surprise when, after an unsuccessful search for kolacky at the wedding celebration, my mom told me she'd already had a couple and she couldn't wait to get the recipe from the bride's family. What? This did not make sense. First of all, why would my mom, historically always a bit yeast-dough challenged, want the recipe? Aunt Elinor could teach her how to make the best kolacky. And, second, how could she eat two plump kolacky?
Then my mom led me over to the table where she pointed to a large platter of cookies. "These kolacky are the best," she exclaimed. No, no, no, no, no. What did she mean? They looked like cookies to me. I ate one thin, melt-in-the mouth cookie topped with apricot. Yes, it was good, all right. But, all I could say was, "Mom, these are not kolacky."
My cousin's marriage didn't last. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that his wife and his mother were on opposite sides of the kolacky fence.
The recipe for the dainty pastries that delighted my mom has lasted, however. As I flipped through old recipes in my mom's card file, there it was. In my mom's handwriting.
There's not a minute pellet of yeast to be found in this recipe that I really can't call kolacky. But there is butter and cream cheese, along with flour. When combined, these three ingredients deliver a crisp, thin, rich cookie-like pastry base for a small mound of fruit filling. The dough rolls out easily after chilling in the refrigerator. Cut rounds of dough with a shot glass to get just the right size to pop into your mouth.
I refused to spoon a traditional kolacky filling onto these cookies. Sweet Cherry-and-Almond Topping is just perfect. The fruit and nut topping is not sweet, but is moist with a satisfying texture.
A bite of a Sweet Cherry and Almond-Topped round will deliver crisp, fragrant pastry, as the moist, subtle sweetness of topping hits the roof of the mouth and crumbs of the rich, flaky cookie gently float to the chest.
These are cookies, not kolacky. And, they are the best.
Sweet Cherry and Almond-Topped Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 (15-ounce) cans pitted sweet cherries, drained
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Powdered sugar, for serving
In a mixing bowl, beat butter and cream cheese together until creamy. Add flour and beat on low speed until flour disappears and large crumbs form. Use your hands to gather up the dough. Form a ball. Cut the ball of dough into 4 equal pieces. Flatten each piece to form a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
Put drained cherries and dried cherries into a food processor or heavy-duty blender. Process until mixture is quite smooth. Add almonds and process until finely chopped. Transfer mixture to a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until mixture is thick. Remove from heat and stir in almond extract. Transfer to a glass bowl. Allow to cool, then cover and refrigerate. The filling can be made a day or two before baking.
When it is time to make cookies, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Take one disk of dough from refrigerator and allow to sit for a few minutes to warm up a little before rolling out. Lightly flour work surface and rolling pin. Roll dough to a uniform 1/8-inch thickness. Use a shot glass to cut small rounds of dough. Arrange rounds on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Spoon about ½ teaspoon of cherry filling in the center of each round. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for about 12 minutes, or until edges are just beginning to turn light brown.
Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust liberally with powdered sugar before serving. Makes about 8 dozen cookies.
Tips from the cook
--Sweet Cherry and Almond-Topped Pastry Cookies can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a month.
--These cookies become a dainty breakfast pastry when the dough is cut into squares about 2 3/4 inches. Use a knife, pizza cutter or zig-zag pasta/pastry wheel cutter. Spoon 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of filling diagonally on each square. Bring opposite corners toward the center. Have a little bowl of water nearby. Dip your finger into the water and use it to moisten one corner of dough. Overlap the corners on the filling and press gently. Allow pastries to sit on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before sliding into the oven. Shaping the dough this way will yield about 3 dozen pastries. You can save the scraps of dough and reroll them, if you like.