In Polish families, Christmas is a time for friends to pay each other a visit. That means a glass of Christmas cheer, coffee or tea, and sweets, if not a full-blown meal. That's a lot of entertaining, so weeks before Christmas, my family would get out the cookie tins and start baking traditional Polish cookies or ciasteczka na święta. It was such a fun time. We played Christmas carols and sang while we worked -- a real Santa's Workshop. These days, with family scattered, we usually do our baking solo, but still keep tabs on each other's baking. You'll find Polish Christmas Dessert Recipes here.
This Polish almond cookie recipe or amaretti are flourless cookies which come together quickly and are ideal with tea or coffee. This is a traditional Polish Christmas cookie. With the leftover egg yolks, make Polish Egg Brandy, which is similar to egg nog.
Sometimes called Polish Foldovers, kolaczki can be square, diamond shaped or round. The dough can be made with cream cheese, sour cream, ice cream or yeast. They exist in most Eastern European cuisines and are spelled variously as kolaci, kolache, kolacky, kolachky, and I'm sure a few more. Fillings run the gamut of apricot to raspberry to prune to cheese. Some truly untraditional flavors like pineapple are sneaking into the mix. There's always room for creativity. This recipe is for a flaky cream cheese dough. Here are more kolaczki recipes from other parts of Eastern Europe.
Gingerbread cookies - pierniczki - have a long history in Poland dating to the Middle Ages when the crusaders brought spices back to Europe. Polish honey-spice cookies are not shaped like little men. Instead, they are usually heart-shaped and dipped in chocolate. Some have a fruit filling. Liberties are taken these days and, along with the traditional kind, you will find brightly colored pierniczki throughout Poland.
Polish rogaliki mean "little horns" because of their shape. There are many versions -- some recipes require rolling the dough and cutting it into triangles, adding a dollop of filling and rolling, like Jewish rugelach. This recipe is for a hand-formed cookie similar to Polish Christmas Crescents, described in 1., above, except these are made with almonds. They melt in your mouth.
This recipe for Polish florentines or florentynki is made with candied orange peel (and other candied fruits, if desired), nuts and a smear of chocolate on the bottom. It is believed the cookie was created by King Louis XIV’s master pastry chefs at the Palace of Versailles for the Medici of Florence. Many Florentine versions include oats, but I like them without.
The traditional way to make ciastka kurcha is to envelop a pecan half in the buttery dough, but my family took a shortcut and chopped the pecans finely and incorporated them in the dough. Today's generation has taken it a step further and instead of shaping the dough into crescents, we make them in rounds and call them "Polish Full Moons."
Polish walnut-shaped cookies or ciasteczka orzeszki are made in molds and then sandwiched together with creamy fillings. There are individual walnut-shaped molds for the oven, which I use, and there are some that resemble a waffle iron and are baked on top of the stove, and yet other styles exist. What remains the same, is a delectable filling either made of cream or chocolate or a combination of the two. The cookies are a bit time-consuming but worth it. Store the walnut "shells" and fill at the last minute.
This recipe for Polish kocie oczka or cat's eyes starts with a butter cookie dough made with sour cream. A jam filling of choice is sandwiched between two cookies, one with a hole in the center. I started to make large holes and use apricot preserves because they looked like my cat's yellow eyes. I used to say his eyes were as big as lightbulbs and that's why I named him Edison. Smaller holes are more traditional so you get just a peek of the filling.
Kruche Ciasto Polskie literally means "Polish crumbly dough" and refers to any pastry dough made with sieved hard-cooked eggs. This recipe can be made up into any shape -- thumbprints, scooped cookies or pretzel shapes as I have done here. Brush them with egg white and sprinkle with colored sugar or sprinkles for a festive look.