The holidays taste like poppy seed and walnut in a Slovak home. Either kolachi or bobalki are a staple. I, luckily, grew up with both traditions--eating bobalki for Christmas Eve with my dad's family and kolachi for Christmas Day with my mom's.
My dad's family always celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve. We all gather at a relative's house and eat at one big table or at least at various tables in the same room. (My dad worked for a week on coming up with a seating configuration that will work at their house this year. It involved graph paper and lots of eraser marks, but he got it to work!)
Before dinner, we eat oplatky. It's a thin, rectangular, wafer-like bread with Christmas scenes on it. It comes in both white and pink. Each person gets a piece on their plate before the meal. We each break off a small piece of our oplatky and pass our wafer to the person sitting next to us. We continue to break and pass the oplatky until we each have a small piece of everyone's wafer. It's to symbolize supporting and loving each other this coming year. It's pretty bland on its own, so we dip it in honey and always eat it before our meal begins.
Each year the main food for Christmas Eve changes. It may be turkey, ham, lasagna, or even kielbasa and sauerkraut. This year, because of the large crowd coming for dinner, we had all of the above. But no matter what the main dish is, the oplatky, the bobalki, and the ridiculous amount of Christmas cookies remain.
I've made bobalki with my grandma (Chookie Chookie Grandma) many times. It's a pretty labor-intensive treat, so the extra hands were always welcome. This year, my husband and I (with the help of my sister) have taken on the challenge.
I recently learned that my grandma had bobalki as a child; her mom and grandma always made it for Christmas Eve too. With generations of tradition behind us, I'm pretty sure it can't be Christmas Eve without those little dough balls filled with a walnut or poppy seed surprise.
Great-Great Grandma's Bobalki
Poppy Seed Filling:
-12.5 oz. can of Solo poppy seed (It's found in the baking aisle, available at least during the holidays depending on where you live. Both of my grandmas swore by Solo for poppy seed, so that's the way to go.)
-10 oz finely ground walnuts (I brought pre-ground walnuts, but if you have a grinder feel free to do it by hand)
-1/2 c. honey
-just under 1/2 c milk
-1 1/2 c. milk
-1/2 c. vegetable shortening
-2/3 c. sugar
-2 tsp salt
-2 packets of regular yeast
-1/2 c. lukewarm water
-6 1/2 c. flour
Start by making the walnut filling. I made the filling the day before and refrigerated it until I was ready to use it, but you can also make the filling as your yeast dough is rising the first time. Combine the ground walnuts, honey and milk in a medium-sized saucepan. Cook it over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Allow to cool before filling the bobalki.
The yeast dough must be made fresh, the day you plan to serve the bobalki. Start by scalding the milk. While it's still hot, add the shortening to the pot and stir it until it's melted. Add the sugar and salt. Cool this mixture to lukewarm.
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water. Add the milk mixture to the bowl, along with the 2 eggs. Add 3 1/2 c flour to the large bowl. Beat the flour in well. Add 3 more cups of flour and continue to mix everything together by hand. Cover and let the dough rise until double (1-2 hours, usually).
Divide the dough into manageable sections (3-4). Roll the dough out on a floured surface to about 1/4" thick. Brush melted butter over the dough, all the way to the edges. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 1.5"-2" squares. Place a blob of poppy seed or walnut filling in the center of each square (probably about 1/2 tsp filling per square). Fold the corners of each square up until they meet. Press the corners together to seal the filling into the dough. Place bobalki on a greased baking sheet, with the sealed side down. Bake at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes.
Just before serving, melt some more butter (probably 1/4-1/2 c.) on the stovetop or in the microwave. Place all of the bobalki in a medium-sized brown paper bag. Wet the outside of the bag with water and reheat the bag of bobalki in the oven at 350 degrees until the bag dries out. At this point, check to see if the bobalki are warm enough. If they're not yet warm, wet the bag again and stick in the oven until warm. Take the bag out of the oven, pour in the melted butter, shake to coat the bobalki and serve. The bobalki should be served fresh out of the oven covered in butter.