Interview: Baker Klára Řezníčková on the Czech Christmas cookie tradition

What's it like to be a baker during the holidays? A Czech pastry chef says the tradition is "nuts" in every sense of the word.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 20.12.2021 15:00 (updated on 21.12.2021) Reading time: 4 minutes

Klára Řezníčková left her studies at the Czech Technical University to do a confectionery internship in chef Marek Fichtner's kitchen and never looked back. The experience changed her life so much that she switched career paths, becoming a pastry chef in a 5-star hotel, and after two years of grueling work learning the ropes, followed Fichtner to Červený jelen where she creates amazing desserts that are almost too pretty to eat.

Řezníčková recently spoke to us about what it's like to work in a bustling kitchen during the holiday season and gave us some background on the Czech "cukroví" tradition.

Tell us a little about a day in the life of a Czech baker around the holidays. I imagine it's pretty hectic for you right now.

Yes, every year I think that this year's Christmas baking will be less stressful, but I still spend whole days and nights at work anyway. But I really like it and I'm already sad that the cookie baking season is over again for the year.

When do most Czechs start their holiday baking?

Most people definitely start at least a month in advance. Christmas cookies can't be rushed and are much tastier when made in a laid-back setting. Most families methodically bake as many as 15 varieties every year, so you have to start early to manage it in time.

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Do you have a special memory of holiday baking? Did these kinds of activities inspire you to become a baker?

My mother hates baking, but every year at Christmas she baked lovely cookies with me and my siblings so that we would have some common traditions and memories. Then I took over as an adult and fell in love with baking.

Christmas cookies
Christmas cookies by baker Klara for Červený jelen

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How many different kinds of Christmas cookies are there? I read that 12 different varieties of cookies represent the 12 months of the year.

In my opinion, there are infinite types of cookies, thanks to the endless combinations that can be created from basic recipes. Families then guard their secret recipes for many years, and each member looks forward to their favorite all year round.

Is there some special etiquette for serving the cookies? Or do you just put them on a tray on Dec. 24?

No special serving is required. Usually, the mother of the family tends to ensure that the cookies are not eaten until Christmas Day so that they can decorate the Christmas board. For example, my grandmother hid cookies in her wardrobe away from my grandfather every year, otherwise he would have eaten it all in November.

What is the easiest cookie to make?

The simplest and most practical sweets are definitely rum balls. All of the pieces of the other cookies, the remaining chocolate icing from the decoration, are ground into them, rum is added and it's done. It doesn't sound very appealing, but believe me, it's delicious.

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Which one is the most difficult to make?

Gingerbread takes up the most time. Not only does it have to be done well in advance in order to soften by Christmas, but the main work comes with decorating. Long winter evenings, sugar-painting lessons, and a sore back -- that's gingerbread.

Which is your personal favorite?

I like simplicity in cookies. I rarely reach for cream-decorated ones. That's why I prefer Linzer cookies with currant jam. And Grandma's "pracny" (bear paws).

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Are you inspired by Christmas cookie traditions from other countries or have you invented your own special kind of cookie that's atypical for Czech confectionery?

This year, I did "Moroccans" (with raisins and sweet dried fruits) although not traditional Czech sweets, they have had their place in our tradition for several years. I like them very much and they are really easy to prepare.

Any interesting tips or hacks for beginners who want to try baking cukroví?

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I am surprised, for example, by how few people use baking paper. Buy it, it's a great helper! Washing baked-on from a baking sheet seems like the worst thing in the world to me.

What's the most important thing for baking Christmas cookies successfully?

Patience! This is absolutely essential for confectionery. You have to slow down and be able to dip thousands of tiny little pieces in chocolate.

Can you give us a super easy recipe anyone can make?

As I mentioned, "linecké" cookies are really easy. Just remember 3:2:1 and you're all set. 300g plain flour, 200g butter, and 100g powdered sugar. (Watch the full recipe here).

Is there a good place in Prague to buy all the molds and other hardware you need?

You can find home baking cookies in every supermarket. Especially around the holidays, the selection is really varied.

Tell us something surprising about Czech Christmas cookies.

Most varieties of cookies contain nuts. It's a traditional Christmas flavor. As a child, I remember all the men in our family shelling nuts in the evenings so that the women could bake.

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