Czech Sweets and Pastries

Czech Sweets and Pastries

Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Czechs have duly absorbed the dessert-making know-how of their Austrian neighbors to complement their own confectionery heritage deeply rooted in the Eastern European, Slavic tradition. The end result of such cultural blend is the abundance of pastries, dumplings, pancakes and other delicacies no sweet tooth would dare to resist. To find your way amid the variety of Czech-made sweets, follow this guide and enjoy yourself!
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1. Trdelnik

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Originally Hungarian and largely popular throughout the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, Trdelník is a delectable snack made of pastry dough strips spiraled around a wooden or metal stick, then roasted over an open fire, and coated in vanilla sugar, nuts (almonds or walnuts) and/or cinnamon. The hollow, sweet bangle is usually served warm, sometimes crammed full with ice cream. A perfect treat on a cold winter day!
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2. Kolach

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A special treat for special occasions, such as weddings or parish fairs, kolaches are time-honoured pastries that are traditionally made with sweet yeast to produce a round piece of leavened dough, which is then topped with a special poppyseed filling. If poppy seeds don’t tickle your fancy, you may as well pack it with cottage cheese, raisins, plum-, strawberry-, pear-, blueberry-, apricot-, or any other fruit jam. Kolaches come in a variety of sizes, sometimes big enough to feed a whole family, and can be either “open” or “closed”. The name kolach (kolač – singular; koláče – plural) comes from the Czech “kola” which means a “wheel,” “round.”
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3. Buchta

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Buchta or buchty, if plural, are the small, square, baked buns made of sweet yeast dough, traditionally filled with sweet cottage cheese and raisins [tvarohové buchty], plum jam [povidlové buchty] or ground poppy seeds [makové buchty]. To prepare the latter, the seeds are first cooked in milk to become softer and tastier. Originated in Bohemia, these fluffy rolls are somewhat similar to British scones. They are equally good if doused with vanilla sauce or eaten plain, straight from the oven. The Buchty are often mentioned in Czech fairytales as a staple food of the heroes embarking on a new adventure.
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4. Medovnik

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Medovnik, or essentially a honey cake, is reportedly the most popular cake in Prague - a complex answer to the American honey cakes in their variety. This multi-layered creation features a generous load of honey, as the main ingredient, complete with a multitude of (up to 10) sweet crumbly sponge dough wafers made of flour, butter, eggs, sugar and nuts (walnuts). In between layers there is a delicious cream filling made of caramelized milk – a sort of Czech variation of the South-American “Dulce de Leche”. Once made, the cake is left to rest for at least a day in a fridge, so as to let the flavours blend perfectly. Prior to serving, Medovnik is usually topped with chopped nuts for a crunchy finishing touch. Curiously though, back in the day, Medovnik recipes were a heavily guarded secret, passed down for generations, from father to son.

5. Knedlíky

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A staple part of the Czech diet, dumplings - steamed balls of goodness, known locally as knedlíky - serve many different purposes, including garnish to main courses (wheat or potato dumplings traditionally filled with plum and peach), but most importantly as standalone desserts – sweet dumplings filled with jam, marmalade or fruits (strawberries, apricots or blueberries), sprinkled with chocolate, curd or sweet cottage cheese, or poppy seeds, dusted with sugar, or served with a generous dollop of melted butter, or heaps of whipped cream, or perhaps a sprinkle of cinnamon or grated gingerbread. This all sounds a bit decadent, but the flavors blend deliciously well!

6. Palačinky

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The Czech analogue of French crêpes, palačinky (pancakes) are cooked somewhat differently. Their traditional fillings include a wealth of ingredients, such as jam, marmalade, chocolate spread, fruits, whipped cream, nuts, sweet cheese, vanilla sauce, ice-cream, almonds or sugar, or even a dash of fruity liquor. For those in favor of savory treats, there are palačinky stuffed with meat, cheese and spinach. Either way, the Czech palačinky are truly delightful snacks, especially during festive season, such as Christmas.

7. Strudl

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A very close cousin to Viennese strudel, renowned for its elastic, paper-thin pastry layers, the Czech strudl is slightly thicker and more rustic in appearance, but not less tasty. Historians reckon, this traditional Austro-Hungarian dessert stems from the early versions of Turkish baklava. Early on, the strud(e)ls were made stuffed with parsnips, whereas today's versions are usually filled with grated apples, apricots, cinnamon and raisins. Of these, apple strud(e)l (jablecny zavin) is by far the most common flavour, whereas for a savoury take on it, the strud(e)ls may also come with poppy seeds or cottage cheese filling. The making of strud(e)l involves a large plate of puff pastry topped with a filling, which is then rolled in a U shape and baked. Upon that, the roll is cut into large slices and served hot with homemade whipped cream and vanilla custard on the side.

8. Větrník

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Větrník is the Czech for “pinwheel” and also the name of a choux pastry filled with vanilla and caramel whipped cream, and glazed with caramel. In essence, this is a classic pâte à choux-based cream puff, but with a difference – a properly baked větrník has a light, barely-felt pastry, an intense burnt caramel icing, and a barely-sweet caramel custard filling. There are two sizes of větrníks out there: smaller and larger ones; with the latter big enough to feed the company of up to three-four.

9. Venecek

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Resembling a donut with a hole in the middle, sliced lengthwise in halves, and then either topped off with vanilla or sugar icing, or loaded with custard cream, this Czech pastry is surprisingly not as sweet as its American counterpart. An ideal side to coffee, venecek is best taken cold, paired with a shot of hot strong brew. Beware, though! - This little sweet can be quite messy when eaten, with glazing and cream going everywhere.

10. Kremrole

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The Czech word “Kremrole” speaks for itself and means a cream roll. This popular treat is basically whipped cream put in a puffy, crispy tube, somewhat reminiscent of cannoli. The roll is made of flaky pastry and the filling is a soft meringue cream.

11. Rakvičky

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The “little coffins” in Czech, Rakvičky may sound a bit morbid to an ear, but taste great to a tongue. A delicate concoction of sugar and egg yolk, baked in a long hollow rectangle (hence the name), this pastry comes topped with unsweetened whipped cream that counterbalances wonderfully the sweetness of the crust. A slightly fancier version may also include fresh mint leaves, ice-cream and caramel syrup on top. The small pastry is very light and makes an ideal accompaniment to coffee.

12. Bublanina

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Bublanina cake, quite similar to a coffee cake in texture, usually contains some sort of fruit filling. Depending on a season, this could be cherries, plums, nectarines, apricots, strawberries or blueberries. The name of the cake means "bubble" in Czech and is due to the cake batter bubbling up around the fruit, almost enveloping it. Bublanina is often served as a breakfast pastry or desert with coffee or tea.
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