Magazine article Russian Life

Lucky Cookies

Magazine article Russian Life

Lucky Cookies

Article excerpt

ARKHANGELSK KOZULI--COOKIES made from dark, aromatic dough and decorated with colorful glazed frostings--have been a central part of Christmas traditions in the North since the middle of the nineteenth century. Giving someone kozuli was thought to bring them good luck; if a young woman baked one for a man, they were sure to be married the following year. Hanging kozuli on fences where livestock were kept was believed to make them more fecund and keep them from getting lost in the forest.

Kozuli are a peculiar synthesis of the baker's art from various times and peoples. They take their yuletide shapes from western European Christmas cookies, prepared by bakers in Arkhangelsk's foreign settlements; they borrowed their name from a ritual cookie long baked by the Pomor people in the Kholmogory and Mezensky regions (a kozuya, in the singular, was a cookie made from a coil of rye dough and thus resembled a coiled snake, whence the Pomor name is derived); and their taste and color come from the famous "honey-cakes" and pry-aniki so beloved by Russians.

Widespread production of kozuli took off when markets saw a glut in molasses--a by-product of the sugar production that began in Arkhangelsk in the mid-nineteenth century (today, however, bakers simply caramelize sugar to obtain the desired color and flavor). Bakers began producing kozuli in early October and by the middle of December the cookies could be purchased in any bread or pastry store. They ranged in size from 6 to 50 centimeters (2-20 inches). Just before Christmas, the city market was full of them, but by the time the holiday rolled around, they would all be bought up; huge packages full of kozuli were sent throughout Russia and even abroad.

At first, kozuli were hand-cut (usually by laying a template on top of rolled dough) in the shape of domestic animals (goats, sheep and cows), symbolizing the "celestial herd" vital to sustaining life. …

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