Czech Christmas Cookies

Well so that title’s not entirely accurate.  There.  I said it.  We’ve taken down our Christmas tree, but we haven’t stopped making these cookies.

Hang with me for a second as I explain. Most cultures have traditional Christmas cookies, however when my mother-in-law translated this recipe with me, she was very clear in stating, “These are not Christmas cookies. Czech women begin making them at Christmas time. But then we keep going all winter long. That’s why these are Czech winter cookies.”

I’m taking her word for two reasons.

  1. We’ll happily have this cookies for a few more months.  No questions asked.
  2. My mother-in-law translated the recipes for me right from this Czech cookie book as I typed, so I’m pretty sure she knows what she’s saying.


Then my own mom and I began testing the recipe to see if we could compare with the cookies my husband grew up with.

European treats are really wonderful.  They don’t have nearly the sugar as is customary in American cookies.  (Have you heard the hysterical story about how my American chocolate chip cookies were rejected at Martin’s office?)  So if you’re looking for a little treat that’s not too sweet, I think you’ll find that these cookies hit the spot just about any winter day.  Plus with descriptive phrases like, “curl so it looks like your pinky finger”, you’ll feel like a classic European baker in an instant.

Oh and for those of you thinking, “Wait a second!  Those are German cookies!”  or shouting, “No, Katie.  Those are Austrian cookies.”  Well yes.  When these cookies were first created, the countries of Europe did not have the same boarders that they do now.  Heck, Czeckloslovakia doesn’t even exist any more.

(You knew that, right?  You’re not going around saying, “Czeckloslovakia” are you?  That’s sooo 1990s.  Now if you don’t know that Czeckloslovakia isn’t a country any more, you either (1) don’t have Czech relatives correcting you or (2) you haven’t seen this tour of a 350 square foot Prague home from waaay back in the Making This Home archieves.  Go check it out.  Err… czech it out!  You gotta take the classic Czech jokes where you can, you know.)

Anyway, back to the cookies because I know it might be your sweet tooth that I should be talking to about now.  Or your semi-sweet tooth.  Whichever.  Basically, these cookies were created in a region of the world that is now divided into several countries.  The Czech Republic happens to be one of them.  This happens to be their version.

And this happens to be my husband’s hand at Christmas.  It’s not certain, but I suspect he is completely dodging my grandmother’s American fruitcake and going straight for his grandmother’s Czech cookies.  Just a hunch I have.

I personally will not be commenting on which treat I chose to reach for.  Okay, Grandma?

What’s interesting about these old Czech recipes is that they really are more of guides than detailed on-the-dot instructions.  I’ve tried to leave it at that while incorporating a few details we’ve picked up through trial and error over the past few months and a certain someone’s picky preferences in Czech cookies (hint: his hand is pictured above).  These cookies aren’t so much baked as dried out, so feel free to play around with the recipe in ways you can’t with typical American cookies.

The challenge in these cookies is knowing exactly when to take them out of the oven if you want to be a true Czech baker.  The best bakers know how to pull these cookies out of the oven when they turn a deep yellow color.  They can’t be brown, not even on the bottoms, to truly master these cookies and make Czech grandmas proud.  So you’re basically cooking until the cookie is dried out enough to hold together.  It’s a very interesting thing to try, especially because it varies so greatly from oven to oven.

My mother-in-law had the difficult job of explaining this recipe to me in English.  The first recipe is good for European kitchens based on the things I know we can find in Germany.  The second version is adapted for American kitchens.  I chose not to convert this recipe into cups and half cups and all that sugary jazz because I have a little secret…

Cooking by weight is so much cooler than dangling measuring cups all over the place and making puddles of flour that catch on the lips of your cups.  You just set your bowl on the scale, clear the weight to zero, and spoon your ingredient right into the bowl until you read the required weight.  You hit clear again and add the next ingredient.  It’s so fast!

Or as a true German would say:  It is efficient.

And it’s true.  If you have never cooked with a scale for anything beyond weighing your apples for a pie, here’s your chance.  You’ll see why the Germans think Americans are beyond ridiculous to fiddle with measuring cups.  Sometimes, I almost want to sit down and translate all of my favorite recipes to the scale system. (If you’d rather stick with 100% cups and teaspoons for your measuring, here’s a handy online converter.)

If you already love your scale, well what on earth am I rambling on for then?

Please pull out your almonds and say this title ten times:  Vanilkové Rohlíčky - ’cause that’s what we’re about to make.

Czech Vanilla Cookies

Vanilkové Rohlíčky

European Version:

140 grams fine flour
160 g butter unsalted
50 g sugar
100 g almonds or other nuts, finely ground
1 egg yolk at room temperature
powdered sugar mixed with vanilla sugar for sprinkling on top

variation:
add a little lemon zest
add several drops of vanilla
swap some of the flour for cocoa powder

1.  Combine flour, sliced butter, sugar, and finely ground nuts.  Mix with a butter knife.  (A knife is traditional; I use a pastry cutter from the US or a fork.)

2. Create a cavity in the center like a volcano and add egg yolk at room temperature.  Let dough sit.

3.  Shape into a log on a clean, floured surface.  Slice.  Then shape each slice into a snake as wide as your pinky finger.

4.  Cut the snake into pieces and shape into crescents to look like your pinky finger bent over.

5.  Grease cookie sheet.  Arrange cookies.  Put in oven and bake until the cookies turn deep yellow, but not brown.  Remember – you don’t even want the bottoms of your cookies brown if you can do it.  I’ve been baking at 300F with good results.  I won’t even suggest a cooking time (well “drying out time”) because this recipe really does vary from oven to oven.  Me?  I seem to have my cookies in the oven for about ten minutes.

6.  When your cookies appear done, remove them from the heat and sprinkle heavily with your powdered sugar/vanilla sugar mixture.  I tap a small strainer against my palm for consistent, heavy sugar on the cookies.

7.  Hold back the men with Czech blood until these cookies are done.  Seriously, this has been the hardest part of the entire recipe at our house.  I need to start making them at 6:00 in the morning for surely we will end up in the ER with a burned tongue one of these days.

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Czech Vanilla Cookies

Vanilkové Rohlíčky

North American Version:

5 oz fine flour
just under 3 tbl butter unsalted
50 g sugar
1.75 oz almonds or other nuts, finely ground
1 egg yolk at room temperature
powdered sugar

*if you make your own vanilla sugar by keeping a vanilla bean in your sugar, use some to sprinkle on your cookies with the powdered sugar

variation:
add a little lemon zest
add several drops of vanilla
swap some of the flour for cocoa powder

1.  Combine flour, sliced butter, add sugar & finely ground nuts.  Mix with a butter knife.  (A knife is traditional; I use a pastry cutter.)

2. Create a cavity in the center like a volcano and add egg yolk at room temperature.  Let dough sit.

3.  Shape into a log on a clean, floured surface.  Slice.  Then shape each slice into a snake as wide as your pinky finger.

4.  Cut the snake into pieces and shape into crescents to look like your pinky finger bent over.

5.  Grease cookie sheet.  Arrange cookies.  Put in oven and bake until the cookies turn deep yellow, but not brown.  Remember – you don’t even want the bottoms of your cookies brown if you can do it.  I’ve been baking at 150C with good results.  I won’t even suggest a cooking time (well “drying out time”) because this recipe really does vary from oven to oven.  Me?  I seem to have my cookies in the oven for about ten minutes.

6.  When your cookies appear done, remove them from the heat and sprinkle heavily with powdered sugar.  I tap a small strainer against my palm for consistent, heavy sugar on the cookies.

7.  Hold back the men with Czech blood until these cookies are done.  Seriously, this has been the hardest part of the entire recipe at our house.  I need to start making them at 6:00 in the morning for surely we will end up in the ER with a burned tongue one of these days.

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Happy baking!  And best of all, happy winter cookie eating.