Since I don’t have a kitchen up at the Red House (a two-burner electric stove and a fridge does not constitute a kitchen), I have to really stretch my imagination to think of a day when I will be able to prepare holiday meals in a kitchen that right now doesn’t even exist on paper.
This past Thanksgiving as I was baking in my house on Long Island (a task I don’t particularly like by the way), I started to think of what it would be like to be at the Red House to celebrate a holiday. Actually, what I’m really thinking about is the view I have from the Red House kitchen that looks out onto the meadow and up to the forest. As I was kneading dough and mixing batter on Long Island, I glanced out of a kitchen window that reveals nothing more than a white fence and lots of ugly houses. Although I see them, I don’t. I see my meadow.
Even though I wasn’t cooking Thanksgiving this year, I still wanted to bring something to the table. That’s why the Wednesday before the holiday, I found myself making bread (The New York Times recipe they published November 21, 2007 entitled Simple Crusty Bread), a dried cranberry and apricot tea bread I found online, and an old Hungarian family recipe, kolach.
A few years ago I finally typed up my grandmother’s handwritten kolach recipe because it was beginning to fade and I was afraid it would eventually just disappear. Making kolach in our house is usually a once-a-year affair, simply because of the effort involved.
When I pulled out my grandmother’s recipe this year, I noticed for the first time that it was dated November 22, 1960. I wondered if she too had wanted to prepare something special for Thanksgiving. Here’s her recipe and my sorry attempt to photograph the finished product. If anyone wonders why there was only half a loaf left in the photograph, it’s because three loafs were gifted and I ate nearly half a loaf myself the day after Thanksgiving! Yes, it’s really that good.
November 22, 1960
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup luke warm water
1 cup milk
1 cup butter melted (2 sticks)
3 egg yolks slightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
4 cups sifted flour
4 cups ground nutmeat (walnuts)
1/3 cup sugar for each one cup of nuts
3 egg whites beaten stiff
1/3 cup milk (more if needed)
1 cup raisins (generous)
Dissolve yeast in water. Mix melted butter, egg yolks, salt and sugar in large bowl. Add milk. Add flour and beat thoroughly until dough comes clean from hands. Let rise for a minimum 4-5 hours. Cut into four pieces and roll each piece on a floured board into a rectangle. Spread filling over dough. Roll like a jelly roll. Brush with 1 egg slightly beaten. Bake in moderate oven 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Makes 4 nut rolls (medium-sized)
Some notes about the recipe:
Originally the recipe called for scalded milk. I realized that this was probably because the milk she was using wasn’t pasteurized. My grandmother would also occasionally put the dough in the fridge which defeats the process of having the dough rise. (Somehow, still the kolach would turn out fine.)
There are also three other filling variations that can be used but the nut/raisin combination is my favorite. She mentions using “nutmeat” in the recipe. I’ve always used walnuts and I’m not quite sure what other nut she might have used. My mother has made kolach with a prune (Lekvar) filling, apricot filling and poppy seed filling. Making the fruit fillings is as simple as buying a jar of prune or apricot preserves and spreading it on the dough. The poppy seed filling is made by Solo and comes in a can (which you can even buy online these days!) but I think it’s kind of nasty.
Finally, while she generally cooked the loaves for 40 minutes, my oven is temperamental and sometimes it’s taken closer to an hour.