Pola Pola Kolačiči (Croatian “Half + Half Cookies”)
Each year I hold on to our family tradition of exploring the foods of a different culture during the holidays, and Pola Pola Kolačiči is a new recipe on its way to becoming an old classic.
These Croatian cookies (kolačiči) take jammy thumbprints to the next level: One half (pola) studded with poppy seeds, the other half (pola) bathed in espresso + glistening with cinnamon sugar. Where the two meet, a dot of pear cardamom butter — a favorite wintry flavor pair — adds a little something extra. Plus, of course, all the crumbly, buttery goodness you expect of a Christmas cookie.
In keeping with the pola pola (“half + half”) theme, these cookies are made with half whole grain spelt flour + half all-purpose white flour — to mix wholesome nutty flavors with a light, airy texture.
As for the filling, my pear cardamom butter is delicious + easy to make, but you can use any fruit butter or preserves you like. For the next bake I’m torn between fig preserves, marmalade or plum jam!
What’s in it for me?
Diets rich in whole grains + whole grain flours may reduce risk of diabetes, and can improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels to help prevent heart disease — exactly why the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends making at least half of all grain intake whole grains.
Spelt is a whole grain that, when milled, creates a smooth, nutty “medium-weight” flour that can be directly substituted for other wheat or white all-purpose flours in most baking recipes. Spelt flour provides about 4 g protein per 1/4 cup, both soluble + insoluble fiber, the trace mineral manganese, plus small amounts of iron, magnesium, several of the B vitamins, antioxidants + healthy oils. Spelt flour has a relatively low glycemic index, translating less of a rise in blood glucose levels after eating; it is not gluten-free.
Poppy seeds are a rich source of calcium (about 13% of your DV in 1 Tbsp), and provides magnesium — a mineral involved in more than 300 necessary reactions in the body, including the delivery of oxygen to the brain + muscles. And beyond flavor and spice, cinnamon offers natural antioxidant + antibacterial properties.
This Christmas, introduce beautifully festive Croatian Pola Pola Kolačiči to your family + friends. Better bake a double batch — some for you, some for Santa. He has a long night ahead of him, and the espresso would do him well!
Tell me… Is there one particular cookie (or treat) you remember baking, or continue to do so, with loved ones during the winter holiday season each year?
- 12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks, roughly 180 g) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste, if you have it)
- 1 cup all-purpose white flour (or a gluten-free AP blend)
- 1 cup spelt flour (or whole wheat pastry, Atta; see HGN Notes for more alternatives)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp milk (any kind will do, but higher fat is better; unsweetened non-dairy is okay)
- 2 Tbsp turbinado, coconut, maple or other raw granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 Tbsp poppy seeds
- 1 Tbsp pear butter (or any other fruit butter/jam you like; see HGN Notes)
- 1/4 cup espresso (or strong brewed coffee)
- Preheat the oven to 350º F with a rack in the middle position, and line 1 extra-large or 2 medium to large baking trays with parchment paper or a baking mat.
- Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat together the butter softened butter, superfine sugar and vanilla extract (or paste) until light, fluffy and creamy. Onto a piece of wax paper or into another bowl, sift together the flours, baking soda and salt. Gradually add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, then add the milk and stir until the ingredients just form a soft dough.
- Grab two shallow dishes or small bowls: In the first, mix the turbinado (or other raw sugar) and cinnamon; to the second, add the poppy seeds. Set aside.
- Use a small cookie scoop or tablespoon to portion the dough into approximately 24 small balls. Roll half of one ball in the cinnamon sugar, and the other half of that same ball in the poppy seeds. Transfer the coated dough ball to the prepared baking tray(s) so that both coatings are equally visible. Repeat the process with the remaining balls, spacing about 1-inch apart.
- Using a flat-bottomed glass or jar, gently press down on each of the dough balls until about 1-cm thick. Made an indentation in the top of each pressed dough round with your thumb or a rounded spoon, and fill each with about a tiny dollop of the pear butter.
- If using two trays, bake one at a time on the middle rack. Transfer the tray to the preheated oven, and set a timer for 15 minutes. Remove the tray, carefully brush some of the espresso (or strong coffee) onto only the half with the cinnamon sugar (NOT the poppy seed half), and return the tray to the oven for an additional 5 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown. Allow the cookies to cool on the tray 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack. Repeat with the second tray, if needed. Cool cookies completely before storing in an airtight container at room temperature for 5 to 7 days, or frozen up to 1 month.
Other HGN recipes to try for a filling: Fig Chia Jam (https://buff.ly/2ktVlGG), Citrus Medley Marmalade (https://buff.ly/2ksc39t), or Strawberry Chia Jam with Lemon Balm (https://buff.ly/2krBLLp).
+ You can substitute other dry sugars in place of the white sugar, such as granulated maple, honey or coconut sugars, or sucanat, demerara, turbinado, etc., based on your flavor preferences -- the darker the sugar, the stronger the taste. For a textural match, as the recipe calls for superfine sugar, you may want to run any of the above briefly through a spice mill, coffee grinder or food processor first.
+ If you don't have spelt flour, substitute with an equal amount of Atta flour, whole wheat pastry flour, brown rice flour, or even regular whole wheat flour.
+ To make the cookies gluten-free, swap spelt 1:1 for sorghum or oat flour. You could also try slightly heavier millet flour, buckwheat flour, teff flour, or a nut flour. Keep in mind that you may need to adjust the levels of liquid (milk) based on the changes.
+ To make it dairy-free + vegan (with an alternative sugar as noted above), replace the butter 1:1 with chilled olive oil (to give it more substance) + use an unsweetened plain non-dairy milk.
+ Play around with the "coating" ingredients: Instead of poppy seeds try toasted white sesame seeds or black sesame seeds, finely crushed nuts, or finely processed unsweetened coconut flakes. Instead of cinnamon sugar try making your own ground cardamom or ground ginger sugars. Vanilla bean sugar would be great as well!
+ My cardamom pear butter is amazing here, but any jam, jelly, fruit butter, marmalade, even fruit curd will work. You could go further afield and use a nut or seed butter, pastry cream, or ganache!
Recipe adapted from He Needs Food.
+ + + +
p.s. I love hearing from you! Check back if you ask a question, because I’ll answer it here.
And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing. Thanks!