My last name gives away the fact that there’s some Italian heritage in my ancestry. That lineage includes the typical big Italian mostaccioli dinners and homemade gnocchi lessons. It includes knowing how to say bruschetta and focaccia, and an affinity for Montelpulciano
But what the surname doesn’t accurately represent is the other half of my genealogy, which is an eighth Slovakian, eighth Czechoslovakian and a quarter Polish (so mutt). Recently, my mom found out there was some even some Roma (a.k.a. gypsy) in us but that’s another story.
Over a plate of homemade pasta sautéed with red cabbage from my father’s Spokane, Wash., garden last week, my family — mother, aunt, uncle, sister and father — discussed our pride in the Italian side of our family and the traditions we keep, while recognizing that there is little ritual that honors the Eastern European side of my sister, Francesca, and I. Most of my mom’s family has died, but the Benedettis are, for the most part, still kickin’.
My mother’s parents lived in New Jersey. There wasn’t much in the way of big holiday gatherings, but the few times we visited them for Christmas, the one thing I do remember were the cookies. These weren’t the typical red sprinkle sugar kind, but nut-and-honey-filled sweetness that actually tasted like European pastries should. This was a tradition I could get behind.
So when my aunt and mother get together at Christmas, we pay homage to those who got us here. Both turning into gregarious babička themselves, Slovak Ice Box Cookies, also known as Filled Butterhorns are a way to do this. And, through years of trial and error, this last time around the cookies were almost as good as my grandma’s many years ago.
Slovak Ice Box Cookies
4 cups flour
1 cup butter
4 egg yolks
2 packages of yeast
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
½ pint sour cream
2 egg whites
½ cup sugar
Honey, chopped walnuts and cinnamon (Combine 2 cups of walnuts with 3 teaspoons of cinnamon in a food processor. Add honey until it sticks)
Mix flour and butter until it becomes mealy. Add beaten egg yolks, yeast, salt, 3 tablespoons of sugar and sour cream. Mix together lightly.
Roll dough into little balls, one per cookie. Should make around 40.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and evenly space dough balls onto sheet. Let stand overnight in a warm place.
In the morning (or a couple hours later), preheat oven to 325. Roll out each ball on a sugar-coated counter, and put a teaspoon of nut mixture in the top of the flat dough and roll up and make into a crescent shape. Repeat for all cookies.
Brush the top with egg whites and sprinkle more sugar on top.
Bake for 20 minutes until a golden brown.