A traditional food on the Christmas eve meal table in many Slovak families are little pieces of sweet bread known as bobaľky (bo-ball-kee). Boblaky is often served tossed with ground poppy seeds and honey but may also be served in a savory version featuring sauerkraut and onions.
Depending on family traditions which vary among areas and regions, they are either served as a course early on in the meal or eaten as dessert.
Centuries long traditions
Christmas Eve is very special in Slovak households. The evening begins with the arrival of the first star in the night sky. The “lady of the house” lights the candles. Prayers are said. An apple is sliced horizontally in the middle – seeing an unbroken star indicates good luck.
Next come oblátky, Christmas wafers traditionally prepared by the school teacher or priest of the village, but now usually baked commercially. They are eaten with honey and garlic. In many families, oblátky are followed by these bobalky.
Bobalky are some of the most ancient of all foods in Slovak cuisine. Their history dates back to the days when only unleavened breads were baked, which had to be softened in milk unless eaten fresh out of the oven. The exact beginnings and history of the poppy seed and honey dish is unclear. It appears to have been part of the Slovak and Central European Solstice and Christmas Traditions for many centuries.
Pre-Christian Slovaks believed that the spirits of the dead lingered around after an individual died. These spirits needed to be respected and acknowledged. Serving this bread at Solstice time was a way to communicate with the dead. By leaving a small portion of Bobalky on an open window sill, and having birds or small animals eat some of this bread, the living could communicate with the “dead spirits” and the “dead spirits” communicate with the living.
Poppy seeds were sometimes scattered throughout the home to ward off evil spirits. Honey was considered a source of life and vitality. These pre-Christian myths were later included into the Christmas Traditions. (Source: myerchin.org)
Boiling water? Over bread?
It may go against common sense to soak your nice, pillow-y, home-baked bread with boiling water as this recipe directs, but as the wet bread pieces are tossed and mixed, they take on a ball shape. Wetting the bread with hot water should be done very gradually; you are making them “damp” not making them “mushy”. These moistened pieces of bread are then tossed with either the sweet poppy seed/honey mixture or with the savory sauerkraut/onion topping.
“Dough” you know…
Bobalky, although traditionally made with a homemade yeast dough, can be made using frozen bread dough from your grocer’s freezer. Simply thaw a pound of dough, pinch off portions into small pieces about an inch in diameter, then shape into a ball. Place dough balls, lightly touching, on a greased and floured baking sheet, set in a warm location lightly covered with a kitchen towel, and let rise for for 15 minutes. Then bake at 375F degrees for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Finish the dish the same as if you had made homemade dough.
Poppy seed TLC
Poppy seeds are upward of 40 percent oil which can turn quickly, making the seeds’ naturally sweet and nutty flavor disappear. They grow rancid in a heartbeat so they must be purchased fresh from a reliable merchant. Keep them frozen or refrigerated at home.
Poppy seeds should be ground for use in recipes such as this. Their emulsive properties are similar to those of ground nuts, and they can be used in cakes, fillings and sauces. To grind, best results come from using a poppy seed grinder. A a spice grinder (do them in small batches) or a mortar and pestle may also be used. A food processor often just tosses the seeds around in the bowl and does not break them open.
For a quick and easy version of the poppy seed topping, use canned poppy seed filling like Solo brand and add honey to your taste. Use like the homemade version in the recipe.
Taking advantage of frozen bread dough and ready-made poppy seed filling makes it very easy to add bobalky to your Christmas eve and holiday menus.
BobalkyCourse: Appetizeer, DessertsCuisine: Eastern European, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
Balls of yeast dough baked and then tossed in a sweet poppy seed or savory sauerkraut topping.
2 cups water
3 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons canola oil or butter
2 packages active dry yeast
6 cups all-purpose flour
- Poppy Seed Topping
1/2 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup honey
- Savory (Sauerkraut) Topping
1 pound sauerkraut
1/2 cup chopped onion or to taste
Butter, to taste
- In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups water, 3 tablespoons sugar, salt and oil to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool (110F to 115F degrees).
- Meanwhile, dissolve yeast in remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115F degrees). Stir well, set aside and allow yeast to “foam” for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Place flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast mixture and stir and knead until smooth dough forms (about 10 minutes). Cover, allow to sit in a warm place and let rise until doubled in size.
- Punch dough down. On lightly floured surface, roll dough into a sheet about 1/2 inch thick. With knife or pizza cutter, cut into 1 inch pieces. Roll and pinch these pieces into balls
- Place on a greased and floured baking sheet with the dough balls lightly touching each other. Cover with a kitchen towel or oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size.
- Pre-heat oven to 375F degrees.
- Bake 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely.
- Meanwhile make topping(s)
- Poppy Seed
- Grind poppy seeds.
- Break cooled dough balls apart and place in a colander. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and gently pour just enough water over the balls to soften them but not turn them mushy. Toss to drain well.
- Place the drained balls in a bowl and pour the warm honey and ground poppy seeds over them. Toss to distribute the topping. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve cold.
- Savory (Sauerkraut)
- Rinse sauerkraut and squeeze out all moisture. Set aside.
- In a frying pan, melt some butter and saute onions in butter over medium heat until tender. Add sauerkraut to pan, mix well, heat through.
- Follow Steps 2 and 3 as for Poppy Seed Bobalky above, topping and tossing with the sauerkraut mixture instead of the poppy seed mixture. Serve warm.