Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Polish Cookies

I want to post about these Polish Christmas cookies my family makes every year, but I'm having a hard time starting the post. You see, I don't know what to call them. My mom, brother and I always called them suhadki (which I haven't a clue how to spell, by the way - I've only ever heard and said it aloud). Grandma, however, (whose cookies these are) calls them suhadi (no 'k' sound). When asked how to spell it, she replied: sucharki. We've always just lived with that discrepancy in pronunciation. Interestingly, my dad's father, who is Italian, has always called them chrusciki, which is what they're called when you see them in the grocery store. While we've accepted our own idiosyncratic pronunciations, his has always been wrong.

So in order to solve this mystery, I went to the repository of all knowledge: the internet. When I googled 'sucharki,' I got this recipe for 'Polish Papal Wafers,' a traditional Easter cookie which looks like this. Our cookies look nothing like that. So I decided to google 'chrusciki' for comparison. Apparently, Grandpa was right - a thousand pictures of our cookies came up.

I'm not sure how this came about. It's possible that Grandma confused the names of two Polish cookies. Or even that her own mother did, since Grandma herself is not from Poland. Whatever the case, I don't think it's going to change my family's pronunciation. You can call them chrusciki. We're going to continue to call them whatever the heck we want.

Polish Christmas Cookies
My great-grandmother's recipe.

3 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp red wine (or whiskey, although we find we get better results with the wine)
~ 1 1/2 c flour (Grandma doesn't really measure flour . . . this is a guess based on this weekend's baking. I believe I was using a 1/2 c scoop and needed about three of those per three eggs, give or take a little)
powdered sugar, for topping

For this recipe, you'll need some sort of fryer filled with vegetable shortening. The shortening needs to be very hot to cook the dough properly. Best prepare this and let it heat before beginning the dough.

Mix the egg yolks, salt and wine in a bowl (Grandma advocates stirring with a fork. That's how we've always done it). Add flour until a dough forms. Knead well and continue to add flour until the dough is no longer sticky (the dough should feel a bit stiff).

Take about half the dough (yes, it is a very small amount, but you need to be able to roll it very thin - we find small amounts are easier to work with) and roll it out into a thin circle (I kept mine just thick enough that it wouldn't rip when picked up). With a pastry crimper, slice the dough into strips, cutting longer strips in half, and putting a small slash in the center of each one (like a buttonhole).

Pass the end of each strip through the slash and pull through gently in order to make a twisty knot (see the picture below - these cookies are shaped, but still raw). 

When the shortening is very hot, add cookies to the fryer (you can test the heat by adding a small bit of dough to the fryer - if it floats to the surface right away, the shortening is hot enough). The cookies will bubble and sizzle while frying. When they stop bubbling, they are done. When one side stops bubbling, flip them to cook the other side.

When they are cooked through, remove to a paper bag to drain. When they are dry, they can be put in a container (we use large tins now, but we used to use a cardboard box). They store well and last several weeks. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

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