In our small farming town in Starke County, Fingerhut Bakery is our storefront pastry shop with a history of more than six decades.
Years ago, back in August 1997, I remember being surprised to see a large obituary story in one of the Chicago daily newspapers about Ann Fingerhut, who had died at age 85 and was listed as "the former owner of the Fingerhut Bakery on Cicero Avenue in Cicero."
Of course, I recognized the last name. And even though the tribute read "Mrs. Fingerhut was born in Chicago and grew up in Berwyn,Ill.," there was also a reference to our farming town of North Judson.
It said she retired "about 25 years ago after working for most of her adult life at the Fingerhut Bakery at 2114 S. Cicero Ave. in Cicero" and "the Fingerhut bakeries have been a fixture in the near west suburbs since the late 1800s, after the Fingerhut Family emigrated from Czechoslovakia."
The section of the story that especially captured my attention read: "Throughout the last century, various family members have owned and operated bakeries in the area and one even branched out to North Judson, Ind., and by the 1950s, four bakeries were independently owned and operated by four Fingerhut brothers, including Mrs. Fingerhut's husband, Clem."
(After Clem Fingerhut died in 1963, Mrs. Fingerhut continued to run the business until the late 1960s, and then shut it to retire and live in Hoffman Estates, Ill. with her daughter, Carol Vacala.)
There aren't many local neighborhood bakeries left these days. And European family bakeries still in operation are even more rare.
Our town's Fingerhut Bakery is owned and operated by the seventh generation bakers of the Fingerhut Family, using family recipes that are more than 100 years old.
Keith Fingerhut (6th generation) and his sons, Doug and Greg, own the business and still continue the same baking traditions, including their counter glass cases showcasing trays brimming with hand-decorated tiny Danish butter cookies and kolacky. (Keith's brother Jerry has passed away and only his other brother Ken remains.)
Last month, when I judged the holiday baking contest Nov. 17 at the 5th Annual Holiday Kick-Off Celebration: A Tribute to "A Christmas Story" in Hammond, two of the winning recipes reminded me of our town bakery's recipe pastry claim-to-fames.
Jessica Klidaras of Lowell and her Coconut Jam Bird Nests won in the category of "Best Use of Ingredients" and Barb Pakan of Munster and her grandmother's recipe for the Hungarian cookies called "Keflee" took home honors as grand prize winner. Enjoy these favorites to dress up your holiday cookie trays.
"Keflee" Hungarian Fruit Filled Cookies
6 cups flour
1 pound butter, chilled
6 egg yolks
1 cup sour cream
1 cake yeast (dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water)
Canned Fruit Pastry Filling, such as Solo Brand (cherry or apricot are traditional)
Powdered sugar (for garnish)
DIRECTIONS: Mix flour and butter in a large bowl with hands until crumbly. Add egg yolks, sour cream and yeast and water mixture. Knead dough until smooth. Divide into 12 balls the size of a walnut. Place in refrigerator until chilled. Once chilled, roll out each ball to make small circle, like a tiny pie crust. Cut the center of each circle into a small triangle, reusing any remaining outer dough to from into more circles, cut into triangles. Place 1 teaspoon of desired filling in each triangle piece and roll up like a small crescent roll. Bake on cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool and dust with powdered sugar. Makes 3 dozen.
Coconut Jam Bird Nests
3 sticks of margarine
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
10 ounces sweetened cocount
1 cup of raspberry jam
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until combined. Add vanilla. Sift together flour and salt. Using a low speed setting on mixer, add flour mixture to the creamed mixture. Mix only until dough comes together. Place dough on floured board and roll until flat. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Once chilled, pinch off pieces of dough and roll into balls about 1 1/4-inches high. Beat the egg and add 1 tablespoon of water to create an egg wash. Dip each ball of dough into egg wash and roll in coconut. Place in sprayed muffin tins and use thumb to form an indentation in the center of each. Fill each with a teaspoon of jam and bake 20 minutes. Makes 1 dozen.