Yugoslavian Christmas Cookies are 3-layer bar-type cookie baked in a pan with a rich buttery shortbread base, a layer of jam, and a crunchy nutty crumbly meringue topping. They’re elegant, unusual, and surprisingly easy to make. And, they’ll be a great addition to any cookie tray!
I’m always on the lookout for unusual traditional desserts and cookies. I guess they remind me of my childhood and my family. If you share my fondness for the unique, take a look at my Ukrainian Honey Cake, Kolache Cookies, and my family’s Berliner Kranz Cookies.
History of these Christmas Cookies
I did some research into these cookies and their history. And though their actual origin is not super clear, they may be from a time when Yugoslavia was made up of many different countries. They may have their roots in Croatian descent, perhaps they’re Serbian, or they could be Hungarian pastries.
There were some slight variations in the recipe, with some recipes adding chocolate (which doesn’t appear to be traditional), and some leaving the lemon extract out.
I found that they go by many names: Jam Bars, London Bars, Londoners, Zora Kolachi, štanglice Londenske, Damen Kapric, Zagorje Kolach, London štanglice, Docci Bojai or bohai.
I did find that this particular version was adapted from a Sunset Magazine issue in 1958, and brought back to life by the New York Times in 2008.
Regardless of where they came from, they’re sure to be loved by everyone! And, this Yugoslavian Recipe is delicious with a cup of coffee for afternoon snack.
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The Sweetest Season
Today’s Cookies are a part of a virtual cookie swap hosted by my friend Erin at The Speckled Palate, where we are supporting Cookies for Kids’ Cancer during this year’s exchange.
Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is in a match window with their friends at OXO, who will be matching every dollar raised through the end of the year, up to $100,000. So whatever money we raise will automatically double!
Pro Tips for making the best Yugoslavian Christmas Cookies
These bar cookies are so much fun, and super easy to make.
Be sure to scroll down to the printable recipe card for detailed ingredient amounts and instructions.
Be sure to get all your ingredients out and at room temperature when you’re ready to bake. Softened room temperature butter will cream or emulsify better than cold butter, and room temperature eggs white will whip better for the meringue.
Chilled eggs are easier to separate than room temperature ones, so start separating the eggs first, and pop the yolks back in the fridge for another use. Make sure no yolks get in your egg whites.
Make the shortbread base
Cream the butter and sugar together thoroughly. Since there’s so much butter in this recipe, I recommend a hand mixer or a stand mixer to help you.
Add the egg yolk and salt and mix well. Add flour and combine. The dough will be crumbly.
Press the dough into a thin, even layer, covering the pan. You can flour your hands to keep them from sticking to the dough. For the pan, it’s your choice, use a jelly roll 11×16-inch pan or a 9×13-inch pan.
Make the meringue layer
You may need to grind your own walnuts. If so, pulse a scant cup of walnut halves in a food processor until they are finely ground. Be sure to keep an eye on them, as you don’t want walnut butter. Then measure out ¾ cup to make sure you have enough.
Time saving tip: if you want to use almond meal in these cookies and not grind your own walnuts, that will work just fine.
Again, make sure your egg whites are at room temperature.
Make the meringue in a large clean, dry glass, ceramic, stainless steel, or copper bowl. Plastic can hold traces of oil, which might affect how your meringue turns out, so don’t use a plastic bowl. Be sure to use a bowl that’s very large to accommodate the expanding egg whites.
Beat egg whites until stiff. Again, I like a hand mixer for this, and use the whisk attachment. Another tip I have, is to place the bowl in the kitchen sink, and that way when the splatters get out, they splatter in the sink, instead of on the kitchen walls.
Start beating the egg whites on medium-low speed, then increase to medium speed until they expand in volume and soft peaks form. Be sure to move the mixer around the bowl to evenly incorporate the sugar into the egg whites to help stabilize the foam.
Once soft peaks form, switch to high speed, and continue to beat until egg whites are glossy and hold a firm peak that doesn’t fall back onto itself.
Gradually add 1 cup of sugar to the stiff beaten egg whites. Continue to beat until you reach a meringue consistency. Gently fold in ground walnuts and lemon extract.
Assemble the cookie
Use a seedless jam or jelly for these cookies. If your jam is particularly thick, mix it with a fork to soften, or you can pop it in the microwave for a few seconds. Then spread evenly on dough. And, if you’d rather use another flavor of jam, say seedless raspberry or strawberry, they’ll work just as well.
Swirl and spread the nutty meringue over the jam. Spread the meringue all the way to the edge of the pan to help weeping when the meringue starts to “melt”. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the top of the meringue. Feel free to use more nuts on top if you want.
Bake the assembled bar cookie for 40 minutes in the preheated oven.
Cut the cookies in the pan while they’re still warm. Use a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion so you don’t crush the cookies. Don’t worry about some broken meringue, it’s inevitable. Just lightly press the broken meringue into the jam layer.
You can also sprinkle them with powdered sugar if you want.
Can these bars be made ahead?
These bar cookies are great when stored on the counter in an airtight container for 3-5 days. Layer them between pieces of waxed paper or parchment paper so they don’t stick together.
If they’re placed in the fridge or the freezer the meringue topping will not be crispy any longer, so I don’t recommend the fridge or the freezer.
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Yugoslavian Christmas Cookies
- 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg yolk at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 & ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 4 large egg whites at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ¾ cup ground walnuts
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract or vanilla extract
Filling & topping
- 1 cup seedless blackberry jam
- ¼ cup chopped walnuts
- Preheat oven to 350 ° F.
Make shortbread base
- Cream the butter and sugar together using a hand mixer or stand mixer; add egg yolk and salt and combine. Add flour and combine. The dough will still be crumbly.
- Press the dough into the bottom of a jelly roll 11×16-inch pan or a 9 x13-inch pan. Flour your hands to keep them from sticking to the dough if desired.
- Using a hand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until stiff. Gradually add 1 cup of sugar. Continue to beat until the meringue is shiny and stiff. Gently fold in ground walnuts and lemon extract.
Assemble and bake
- Mix the jam with fork to soften, then spread it evenly over the dough in the pan.
- Spread and swirl the meringue over the jam, and sprinkle the top with the chopped walnuts.
- Bake for about 40 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the top is golden and crispy.
- Cut the cookies in the pan while still warm, using a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion. Lightly press the broken meringue into the jam layer.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations, and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary based on brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes, and more.
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These remind me of something my grandmother made when I was growing up. How fun, cannot wait to make these! And I loved your tip for ground almonds, my son is allergic to walnuts, but can have almonds!
My grandmother made a meringue cookie, so combining shortbread with a meringue topping is very intriguing. Can’t wait to try these!
What’s not to like about these cookies?! The shortbread is soft and rich, the jam sweet and I love that extra little crunch from the meringue. One of my new favorites!
I had never heard of these before I saw your share on Facebook, but they look so tasty that I had to try them for a cookie exchange that I went to. They were amazing! So full of flavor and so special! I’ll make again!
Three wonderful layers, love these cookies/bars so much! My family devoured them and I have to make a second batch. I used strawberry jam for a Christmas look.
I’ve never heard of Yugoslavian Christmas Cookies, but you better believe that I cannot wait to make these bar cookies because they highlight some of my favorite ingredients to bake with this time of year.
Thank you for participating in this year’s Sweetest Season Cookie Exchange, sharing this recipe and helping raise some funds for Cookies for Kids Cancer! I am so appreciative of you and hope you and yours have an awesome holiday season!
I traveled to Eastern Europe for my honeymoon and they had the absolute best treats! I added these to my cookie plates this year, and they did not disappoint!
What an interesting cookie; I don’t think I had ever heard of these before. Once I saw them I had to make them. My family does a specail cookie day, and so I made these. Everyone asked for the recipe. They were delicious! I used raspberry jam so it was red like Christmas, and I put green sprinkles on top! Festive. Thanks for sharing!
Yum! These cookie bars are great. I love the classic flavors in a new way!