Czech Christmas Cookie #5
Pracny (or Medvědí Tlapky) are very traditional Czech nut and spice cookies baked in special cookie molds, some looking like bear paws. The following recipe has a light amount of spices. Other recipes include more. Feel free to increase the ground cinnamon and clove amounts a bit, according to your taste. Too much clove can get overwhelming, though. This is an eggless recipe. Traditional molds for pracny can be found online. I purchased mine at https://www.slovczechvar.com/?cat=26&scat=88, which is an online store in the US.
I have only ever used smooth flour for this recipe. Unbleached pastry flour (see below) should be an equivalent. I’m not sure how they would turn out using all-purpose flour.
Pracny Dough Ingredients:
- 140 g (5 oz) smooth flour (hladká mouka) or unbleached pastry flour (i.e. Bob’s Red Mill, in the US)
- 70 g (2.5 oz) of walnuts, finely ground, but not to a paste
- 70 g (2.5 oz) of confectioner’s sugar
- 100 g (3.5 oz) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 packet (8 or 9 g) vanilla sugar (OR, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, plus extra 2 Tbs confectioner’s sugar)
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon, or more, if desired
- 2 whole cloves, finely ground, or one extra (total 3), if desired (Note: 3 whole cloves=1/4 tsp finely ground)
- Choice: 2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder OR fine zest of 1/2 lemon (affects cookie color)
- For decorating/topping: Either a dusting of confectioner’s sugar (or mixed with vanilla sugar) or chocolate for dipping with maybe almond slivers as “bear claws” on the relevant shaped cookies
Either in a large bowl, or on a pastry mat, mix all dry ingredients together completely and then add melted butter. I use my cleaned hands. If I mix on the mat, I make a well in the center of dry ingredients, then incorporate the melted butter in very quickly and thoroughly. The dough will be sort of crumby, but should still be binding enough to be formed into a large ball or mound. Once in a ball/mound shape, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours for the butter in the dough to firm up a bit.
This recipe requires the use of small shallow metal cookie molds, like the ones pictured below, which are about 5 to 6 cm (~1 1/2 to 2 1/4 “) long. Or the ones in the featured photo above. I suppose acrylic molds, of similar small size, could also be used, but I don’t recommend ones with deep grooves or are too deep. Baking time with acrylic molds may vary.
Before taking out the chilled dough, very lightly butter or spray (with cooking spray) the insides of clean molds. This is important! [This recipe used about 50 of the ones pictured. When you buy the molds, there are usually 25 or more of each shape in a stack.] Then remove the chilled dough and put on a working surface or wax/parchment lined plate. I find cutting the ball into about six ½” slices helpful. [The dough will be slightly hard.] To fill the molds, first spray their interiors lightly with cooking spray, or oil. Break off a little chunk of the dough enough to almost fill an individual mold. Press into the mold completely, but not quite above the fill line (beyond the mold edges), adding a teeny more dough, as needed. The dough will still seem crumbly, but will bind. Make a shallow indentation into the molded dough with a finger. As molds are filled, put them metal side down (cookie dough showing up) onto a rimmed cookie sheet. No need to put much space between molds on cookie sheet. Bake about 12-18 minutes, depending on thickness, in a 180°C (355°F) oven. If tested with a toothpick, the cookies may seem cake-like, but they will harden (and slightly deflate) as they cool. Let the cookies slightly (not fully) cool in the molds, before removing. If some are stubborn to fall out, give the back of the metal mold a bit of a tap. Or, run the tip of a small paring knife around the edges (mold perimeter) of the cookie to release. Work quickly. It helps to have a friend help.
While the cookies are still slightly warm, dust or roll them with a combination of confectioner’s sugar and vanilla sugar (I use about ¼ packet, 2 g, of vanilla sugar for each ½ cup of confectioner’s sugar. If you have no vanilla sugar, just use confectioner’s sugar. If you roll or dust them in the sugar while too hot, the sugar will melt onto the cookie, which is not as pretty (see photo to the left for a few examples). Alternatively, you can dip the “toes” of bear paw shaped cookies (like ones pictured left) in chocolate, and even decorate the chocolate part with slivered almonds to look like claws.