Bear Paws – Czech Christmas Cookie Recipe

Bear Paws - Medvedi Tlapky

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.

 

Bear Paws Molds

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.

[vc_video link=’https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rz4wccvYKc’]

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.
Ingredients

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

Method

  • 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.

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24 Responses

    1. hi katka! thanx reminding me. the thing is the video was there but keeps disappearing. anytime i touch the article (add some things) the video is gone. weird. anyway it is fixed now. thanks again.

  1. Hi, very nice blog and I hope you attract lots of people to Central European Cuisine.
    Here I have a little note, this is called medvedie labky in Slovak, maybe tlapky in Moravia, but Czechs call it pracny.
    My favourite are those without cocoa.
    Thanks for this beautiful and inspiring blog. Lusikka

    1. As you said, this cookie seems to have different names. My Mom, whose parents came to the US from Bohemia in 1911, has Medvedi Pracky, with an accent mark over the 2nd “e”, on her recipe card. She used ground hazelnuts instead of walnuts and squares of unsweetened chocolate instead of cocoa. I have only 3 of her molds and wish I could get more. The madeleine pan ones just aren’t the same.

      1. Hi Janet! Thanks for the comment. Mědvedí Labky or Tlapky are one few names of these cookies. The recipes are family specific. hazelnuts are more available in the mountainous regions and they are also considered more “fancy”. Walnuts are more of a “common guys” ingredient. This is how my mum makes them and her mum used to make them. If you are lucky you could try to find these molds in the antiques stores or if you are every lucky on ebay. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

        1. Great recipe. My parents came to Canada from then Czechoslovakia in the late forties. This is exactly like my mum use to make them and we do call them Medvedi Tlapky.

  2. where do you get new forms? My husband’s family has some, and we have been looking for more for years, but all we can find are tiny ones shaped like walnuts.

    1. i think they re available in Slovakia and Czech rep in kitchen hardware stores. Perhaps try ebay? Good luck 🙂

  3. Hi, My great grandparents came to the US from The Czech Republic many years ago. We would make the cookies every Christmas with the mounds shown above (the silver ones). My parents just had everything they own stolen from their moving truck. Insurance will cover furniture etc, but some things can’t be replaced like the Czech cookie molds. My parents are heartbroken. They also lost their wedding album and other personal items (they have been married for 47 years). I tried to look online to find the molds with no luck. Do you know where I can buy them? The picture of your molds in the article was the only exact match I could find. My email is: lsflathau@hotmail.com. Thanks, Laura

    1. Hi Laura,

      I am sorry about what happened to your parents. When it comes to these molds, you can buy them in Czech Republic, unfortunately nowadays the silicone versions are very popular. They are more efficient, but kill the romance of making them.

      Do you have someone who can send them over?

  4. Thank you so much for posting this recipe! My family couldn’t tell me precise measurements, or oven degrees; they’ve been making the cookies for so long that they just eye ball it. My grandmother made them every year, and we called them breshnevs. My aunt just gave me my grandmother’s vintage molds and I finally got to make them myself for the first time! Like one user commented, we use hazelnuts and no cocoa. Tasted just like the holidays.

    1. Thanks. Yes there are actually “white bear paw”. They do not include ocoa. We are happy that you found this recipe

  5. Thank you so much for posting this recipe. I have the molds from my Czech mother but I lost the recipe. These brought back many happy Christmas memories.

    1. Hi Patric. did you try ebay? Ours are family heirloom.

      Search for “vintage cookie molds metal” I have found few sellers.

  6. My grandmother would make bear paw every Christmas with another Czech biscuit I know as pernic, it was a ginger like bikky.

    My grandmother passed away last year and my aunt took her moulds. My mum has some moulds that grandma brought back to Australia after on of her many trips home to Slovakia but I would love some of my own. Do you know any online stores I could buy them from?

    1. What an amazing story. As I mentioned previously I checked on ebay and there are some molds which look like the one we have.

      Search for “vintage cookie mold metal” or “vintage cookie mold tin” or “vintage chocolate mold tin”.

      I hope this helps

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