CNN photojournalist John Bodnar is a second-generation Slavic-American whose grandparents emigrated from Eastern Slovakia, and his mother’s Carpatho-Rusyn ethnicity is the prominent influence for his cultural and family traditions. Previously, he wrote about haluski, holupki and paska.
I’ve always enjoyed the Slovak food my mother and extended family prepares. We eat these dishes at every family gathering: weddings, funerals and holiday celebrations. We eagerly approach the buffet display to find the holupki and haluski that usually occupy the first few trays, but at the end of the tables are the treats.
Cookies and cakes dominate that section, but the pastry that has always delighted my palate is the kolachi nut roll. Kolachi (sometimes spelled "kolache") is the name often given to a standard type of Slavic dough-filled pastry. Our kolachi is rolled dough filled with a walnut mixture, but other families fill theirs with a poppy seed mixture.
My aunt Eleanor was always celebrated as the one whose recipe held the quality edge over the other family members'. Obviously, this unofficial title has been disputed, but I concede that hers had a slight advantage in my childhood memories.
But Eleanor’s health eventually left her unable to make the delicious kolachi. As her health was failing, she insisted that her daughter Renee learn her kolachi recipe and carry on the tradition and her legacy. My cousin Renee embraced her mother’s challenge, and carries, in my mind, the title for making the best kolachi nut roll.
Prepare the nut mixture first, then set it aside while you prepare the dough.
8 cups of finely-ground walnuts
Mix these in a bowl, adding warm milk until the mixture is at an easily spreadable consistency.
– Step one ingredients:
1/2 cup milk
Warm the milk in a pan on the stove, but don't make it too hot. Remove it from the stove, add the yeast and sugar and stir lightly once. Let it sit and begin to ferment.
– Step two ingredients:
6 cups of flour
In a large bowl, combine 5 cups of the flour, the salt and the sugar.
Stir in the softened margarine until totally incorporated.
Add the eggs, sour cream and yeast mixture and mix. Then add remaining flour until the dough is at a consistency where it can be rolled.
When the dough is mixed, it is important that you don’t let it rise, either before rolling or baking. This ensures that the dough remains thin.
Divide the dough into six equal parts. Then roll the dough thinly into an approximately 18”x18” square.
Spread the filling on the dough and gently roll it into a long, tight cylinder. Be sure to pinch or push in the ends of the roll so the filling stays in.
Before baking, puncture the top of the rolls every few inches with a fork.
Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes until light brown. Brush with butter while the rolls are still hot.
Cool before slicing and wrap with plastic wrap and freeze or eat within one week.
Got a favorite family recipe you'd care to share, or some warm kolachi memories of your own (or, gasp, a better recipe)? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below.
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