While there are a lot of odd things that come along with the holidays, there are also some treasured traditions. If you’re a member of my big Polish family, first of all, thank you for admitting it. Second, you know that the holiday season brings with it not only Christmas music, kielbasa and kapusta and a few hours of dysfunctional family members drinking “slushies” trying to act functional, but also chrusciki.
Polish Ebonics: This is pronounced “kroosh-cheek-y.”
My grandma has over 60 grandkids and great-grandkids, but there are only an elf-sized handful of us that actually had the pleasure of making these with her when we were growing up. (I take great pride in being one of the few.) While she hasn’t been able to make them for quite a few years, my mom and I still roll and fry them out every Christmas.
Just like Thanksgiving was different for us this year, Christmas will be too. There will be no big family gathering as we’ve done throughout the years. But part of growing up is accepting that traditions can evolve and change shape just as easily as the people who are so attached to them and the memories created.
For me, I will always remember making chrusciki with my grandma in her kitchen when I needed a stool to reach the counter and could only make the bows. Then came the year that she couldn’t stand that long in the kitchen and left me in charge of the dough—she would fry and yell at my grandpa for “testing” too many of them.
It wasn’t long before that became a bit too much and mom took over that step, with a widowed gram yelling her helpful two-cents from her recliner in the living room during “The Wheel” or “Jeopardy.” Eventually we started making them at our house and bringing them over, and this year, we will be bringing them to her room at St. Ann’s.
But the truth is that while they’re delicious, they’re not my favorite holiday treat. For that matter, they’re not my mom’s favorite holiday treat either. But we roll and fry and cover the counter with powdered sugar because we know that every year there is a woman who looks forward to eating a couple with a cup of tea—just as she’s done since she needed a stool to reach the counter helping her mom so many years ago.
So even if she only eats one and enjoys that one—and the memories it brings—it makes entirely worthwhile.
Well, that and the fact that every time she tells me they taste perfect—just like hers—I feel as if I’ve been able to give her a little (powdered sugared) piece of the happiness she’s brought me.
I have to admit that I’m a bit protective of this tradition, as it is often replicated in a fashion not as favorable as the real thing.
There are a couple tricks, the first being that the water has to be ice cold. Second—and most important—it you MUST roll each and every strip out paper thin. This means rolling it out once, cutting it into strips, rolling each individual strip, cutting them into sections, rolling each section out and then finally making the slits and pulling them through.
If it’s not thin, it’s crap.
No, this is not a political statement, but rather the most important thing to remember. Too many people make them thick, which in turn makes them heavy and chewy—not what we’re going for. They should end up delicate and light.
There aren’t a lot of ingredients—only seven in fact—and they’re not that complicated to assemble. But to make them traditionally is truly a labor of love—and totally worth it.
From gram’s pen to our rolling pin.
4 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
3 t. baking powder
1 stick of butter (softened)
3 egg yolks
3/4-1 c. ice cold water
Sift dry ingredients and add cut butter.
Add beaten egg yolks in center.
Gradually add in water and work mixture with your hands and a fork—yes, only your hands and a fork—until the sides of the bowl are free of dough. The amount of water needed may vary from batch to batch.
Form handful-sized balls of dough and roll out on floured surface with rolling pin. Cut into long, thin strips and roll each until paper thin.
Cut each strip into 3-4 inch segments, slit each segment and pull top through middle to form a bow-tie of sorts.
After all dough is rolled and twisted (should take around 2 hours if done correctly,) fry in peanut oil, drain on paper towel, transfer to large bowl and sprinkle with large amounts of powdered sugar.
At this point I’m covered in powdered sugar and stink like peanut oil, meaning I may pull out a couple other things I learned to say from my grandma, namely “Jezusa I Maryi” and “gouvna” at different decibel levels. Ahh…traditions.
So although I have no idea how to say it despite her many (failed) attempts to teach me—Wesolych Swiat!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
What’s a traditional family recipe that you make every year, even if you don’t really enjoy eating it yourself?