There are a few differences between the Christmas season in Central Europe and how most families celebrate in the USA. The major one would be that the presents are brought by the baby Jesus, and not by Santa. During the dark Orwellian times, the fashion from the Soviet Union was to bring in “Ded Maroz” (Father Frost), which was the comrades’ version of Santa. It did not work for many reasons, one being that December 6 in Central Europe is Saint Nicholas day, when kids eat themselves sick on candies brought by Saint Nick. For kids it was very hard to understand why would a man in red suit and beard coma back at Christmas and bring toys. Why he wouldn’t he drop off the candies and toys all at once? We needed another character. So the concept of baby Jesus survived.
One thing we did after St. Nicholas (Mikulas) day was to start baking Christmas cookies. My mum used to make 4 batches of 6-7 different types of cookies. Emperor’s Crumbs will bring you my top three, starting with “Bear Paws” today. It has always been the tradition that everyone pitches in to make the cookies; while filling the molds with bear paw dough, my brothers and I had to sing. This way my mum was sure that we were not eating the dough (which is pretty good, maybe even better than the cookies!).
Here is our family recipe and a video tutorial as well. The video stars my mum, who has been making these cookies for more than 60 years now. Some of the molds we used have been in our family for almost 200 years.
Bear Paws – Medvedie Tlapky
This is a rich, soft dough that can be handled quite a bit without getting tough – so it’s perfect for working with kids (also, no raw eggs to worry about if someone happens to nibble the dough). While we are lucky enough to have vintage molds, we got equally good results from a brand new cookie pan like this one. Traditionally, these cookies are allowed to sit and soften for a week or more before they’re considered ready to eat, but we’ve never had a problem gobbling them up as soon as they’re cool enough to touch.
Makes one good batch for a big family and more.
- 1 cup walnuts
- 2 cups flour
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 3/4 cup cocoa
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- pinch salt
- 1 cup +2 tbs softened butter, in small pieces
- Preheat the oven to 350° F/190° C. If your cookie molds are unseasoned or not non-stick, lightly oil them.
- In a food processor, grind the walnuts until they form a crumbly paste.
- In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
- With the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, or with your fingers, blend the butter into the dry ingredients until a smooth dough comes together.
- Form the dough into a ball and gently knead it a few times.
- Pinch off a small quantity of dough and press a thin layer into your cookie mold. It should just cover the bottom and sides of the mold.
- If you are using individual molds, place them on a baking sheet; bake for 8-10 minutes, watching carefully that the edges of the cookies don’t burn.
- Allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes before gently sliding them out of the forms.