Polish Kolachy Like Grandma’s

My grandma used to make Kolachy – a Central European cookie that comes in many forms. The ones I’m showing you here are the cream-cheese version, which are popular among Poles. Typical of old-school Polish pastries, they’re big on pastry, light on filling, and the pastry isn’t especially sweet. The sweetness comes from the filling, for which the pastry provides a rich, neutral contrast.

"Polish Kolachy," from Make It Like a Man!

When I was a kid, I thought of Kolachy as more of a grown up treat, because they decidedly were not the sugar bombs I thought of as cookies. I suppose I still feel that way today, although now I have a deeper appreciation for flavor, scent, and texture. A Kolach provides these things in spades. In fact, the pastry for the Polish Kolachy recipe I’m passing on to you today has no sugar. “That must be a mistake,” you’ll think. “Surely I should add at least a few tablespoons of sugar to the dough.” No, you shouldn’t.

This pastry recipe is remarkable. It’s delicate, layered, tender, and rich. All that from such humble ingredients and a simple preparation. Cutting the cheese and butter into the flour by hand is critical to the dough’s success. Believe me, the jelly will add just the right amount of sweetness, and what you’ll wind up with is the comfort food of cookies.

What you need to make about 3 dozen cookies:

2 cups AP flour (bread flour: 5.5 oz. plus cake flour: 4.5 oz.)
1 tsp baking powder
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, cold
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cold 
Jams, jellies, or preserves – about 1 cup total
Powdered sugar

What you need to make an optional walnut filling:

2 cups ground walnuts (7.5 oz.)
¾ cup sugar (5 oz.)
¼ cup hot water (2 oz.)

"Polish Kolachy," from Make It Like a Man!

How to make the dough:

  1. Sift flour with baking powder into a bowl. Don’t cut corners here: whip out that sifter. Set aside.
  2. Cut cream cheese and butter into flour with a pastry cutter, to a coarse meal.
  3. Knead by hand just until the dough is able to form a compact ball.
  4. Divide into two discs. Wrap each in plastic and chill until very cold – preferably overnight. Dough will keep well like this for more than a week.

How to assemble and bake the cookies:

  1. Roll out one ball at a time using as little flour as possible to ⅛-inch thickness.
    Cut into 2- or 3-inch squares. Place 1 or 2 tsp of jam or filling in the center.
  2. Fold one corner of the square toward the center, over the filling, bring the opposite end toward it, and pinch lightly to seal.
  3. Place on ungreased cookie sheets or cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, as the jam tends to run.
  4. Bake at 350°F for 15-18 minutes or until light brown.
  5. Cool for five minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
  6. Dust with powdered sugar.

How to make the optional nut filling:

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Notes

  1. Every kolachy recipe tells you to bring the edges of the dough together and press lightly to seal. What most writers omit is how finicky those little bastards can be. One tray might come out perfectly, while the next might have a few, most, or even all the kolachy popping open in the oven. Rather than pinching the tips together, I fold one flap over the other to ensure success, like this: lift one of the dough corners and pull it over the filling. Tuck the point into the place there the filling meets the dough. Then, roll the cookie up like a cigar. Orient the cigar so that the exposed filling is facing up. Lift the top flap, pinch the dough underneath to seal the cookie, then lay the flap back down. On the other hand, though, a square, open-faced Kolachy is not a bad thing. With a dollop of sweetened cream and a cherry topping, it’d resemble a Danish.
  2. Too much filling will make the cookies open up. You’d think it’d just run out the ends – and it will, but it will steam or bubble the cookie open in the process.
  3. Solo fillings are ultra-traditional, in part because of their thick textures, and in part because they make Polish-centric flavors like poppy seed and apricot. However, my grandma always used jams, jellies, and preserves. They have the advantage of being readily available, and if you go to a really good grocery, you can find high quality brands in an amazing array of colors and flavors. Another thing I like about jams and such is their glassy appearance. You may not get that from a pastry filling.
  4. I’ve seen so many different doughs calling themselves “kolachy,” that it’s hard to group them all together and claim that they’re variants on a single theme. The one I’ve presented here is soft, pastry-like, and rich. It’s not dry, not crunchy or crumbly, and not very cookie-like at all. These Polish kolachy are – when you get right down to it – little, two-bite pastries.
  5. Alternate spellings: the two I’m familiar with are “kolachy” and “kolacky.” They’re pronounced identically: like “cola,” if you were to put the stress on the second syllable, plus a “tch,” followed by “key.” There are other spellings and pronunciations that, I presume, come from other regions of Central Europe.
  6. Kolachy can be shaped in all sorts of ways. They way I’m showing you here isn’t meant to be a perfect cylinder, but it isn’t meant to be especially flat, either. If yours come out of the oven flatter than you’d wish for, chill the filled and formed kolachy for a half-hour or more before baking.

"Polish Kolachy," from Make It Like a Man!

Polish Kolachy are best freshly made, cooled until any residual warmth is just about undetectable. They’re still good for days or even weeks after, kept tightly sealed at room temperature, but if you can grab a few straight from the cooling rack, definitely do. Because their sweetness comes only from the jam, you may want to avoid less-sweet types, like marmalade. But it’s a matter of taste; my newly minted husband loves the marmalade version. I’m somewhat partial to apricot and raspberry, but something a little sideways – like prune flavored with anise and ginger – can be absolutely fantastic.

"Polish Kolachy," from Make It Like a Man!

Polish Kolachy

This content was not solicited, sponsored, or written in exchange for anything. While researching this topic, I came across an article from Kitchn that suggested using a sifter to flour your countertop to prep it for kneading or rolling. It also suggested using a fine-mesh sieve in lieu of a sifter. Good tips. In looking for alternatives to cutting flour into butter, I also stumbled onto this delicious-looking cream puff making delicious-looking cream puffs. I especially love the way he has his stove top lined with tin foil – I’m not being sarcastic! I love it! My research for ingredients and proportions relied heavily on A Muse in my Kitchen.

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17 thoughts on “Polish Kolachy Like Grandma’s

    • Yes, I must say I love the walnut ones, too. Maybe I’ll make some for Christmas.

  1. Making pastry I’m used to rubbing butter into flour but not cream cheese. Interesting! I’m lucky that my mum still makes home made jam so I think one of her strawberry ones would be an ideal filling for these kolachy pastries. I would make jam myself as we’ve plenty of great fruits in abundance in Scotland, I just don’t have the time at the moment! Great recipe. I’m always interested in recipes from different countries. Thanks Jeff!

    • I’ve never had a savory one. The walnut filling is much less sweet than the jam. There’s another Polish pastry called “chrusciki” that has a similar dough, but no filling. It’s dusted with powdered sugar; it’s not particularly sweet.

  2. Mmm, these look terrific. I’ve had these, but never made them. I should — I don’t see these in stores as much as I used to (ages ago — decades! — I lived in Milwaukee, and always saw them). Good stuff — thanks.
    John/Kitchen Riffs recently posted…Date-Walnut Squares

    • You’re not the first person to ask about a savory version! I’ve never heard of them, but it makes perfect sense that there would be. I could imagine a cheese-and-herb filling, for instance.

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