Next up in the Holiday Cookie Line-up – Balish. I think these might be Hungarian? Can any of you out there confirm (or deny)? I got this recipe from a dear friend and former co-worker of mine who used to bring these into work. I fell in love with these cookies when she made them but sadly, mine never turn out quite as good as hers, so I am a little discouraged. Don’t you hate it when that happens? There are a few of my mom’s recipes that I don’t even attempt because of the disappointment that ensues. These cookies are actually quite good, I just can’t quite get them to turn out the way I remember them. Mine come out a little softer.
I fell in love with these cookies originally because they aren’t too sweet and the dough is soft and subtle. This recipe uses margarine, yeast, and sour cream for the dough and this gives the dough a gentle texture rather than a crumbly, butter cookie. In my opinion, there is no substitute for the apricot puree filling. Unfortunately, I was a little too generous in my filling and I ran out before I finished all of the cookies. I substituted the remainder with peach preserves and while this works, I prefer the apricot puree. The puree is easy to make and I like the more solid texture in contrast with the soft dough. It also looks prettier! These keep well in the freezer, so they are also great for make-ahead gift giving. I imagine you could fill these little guys with other fruit preserve or even a cinnamon and nut mixture. Give them a try and let me know what you think!
For the dough
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 lb. (4 sticks) margarine (not butter), room temperature
½ pint sour cream, room temperature
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ teaspoon lemon juice
4 egg yolks, beaten, room temperature
~ 1 cup granulated sugar for dusting
For the filling
1 1/2 cups dried apricots
1/3 cup sugar (this is really to taste, you can add more if you prefer sweeter apricots)
Gently mix the yeast into the sour cream to dissolve the yeast, and set aside (make sure the sour cream is room temperature or even a little warmer).
Make a well in the flour mixture and add the sour cream/yeast mixture, egg yolks and lemon juice. Mix all ingredients well, starting with a wooden spoon, then mixing together with your hands. Knead the dough gently, about 15 times. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts and flatten each part into a small disc, wrap in parchment paper and refrigerate the dough for 6-8 hours.
In the meantime, make the filling. In a small pot over medium-low heat, add apricots and just enough water to immerse the apricots. Simmer until the apricots are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour the excess water into a small bowl. Using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender, puree the apricots and add the sugar to taste. If the mixture is too thick, add the reserved water 1-2 tablespoons at a time and puree until smooth, then set aside.
Gently dust a clean countertop with flour and sugar (start with 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup flour and try to keep the flour and sugar ratio, about 50/50). Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out the discs one at a time until the dough is about a 1/4 inch or 1/2 cm thick.
Cut the dough into squares and spoon about ½ teaspoon into the center of each square. Fold over two opposite corners and press gently so the dough doesn’t pop open (see below). Place on lined baking sheets and sprinkle lightly with sugar.
Bake for 13-15 minutes or until very lightly browned on the edges. Cool on wire racks.