Every year for the holidays, my family indulges in kolachki, poppy seed rolls and rogaliki. It's the one time of year I feel connected to my Eastern European heritage, enjoying as many Christmas cookies as my stomach can handle (don't judge, my ancestors did it too). This time of year, there is no shortage of festive baked goods to try. Cleveland's European-style bakeries have become as much of a tradition as the festivities they feed.
Arguably the closest to the Polish baking my grandparents grew up with is Rudy's Strudel (5580 Ridge Rd., 440-886-4430, rudystrudel.com), owned by mother-daughter duo Eugenia Polatajko and Lidia Trempe. For over 68 years the bakery has specialized in Old-World recipes, sweet to savory. During our recent visit, Trempe had control of the counter, conversing with two white-haired women in Polish while Polatajko wheeled out dozens of fresh, flakey kolachki to cool, filled with fruits, nuts and cheese.
At Samosky's Home Bakery (6379 Pearl Rd., 440-845-3377, samoskyshomebakery.com), they've been offering many of the same products since 1910, including the specialty Polish houska, sweet braided egg bread studded with golden raisins and cherries. Their paczki, fruit-filled fried dough with powdered sugar, has a light and fluffy texture, making this recipe easily recognizable to connoisseurs.
For Hungarian-style nut and poppy seed rolls, called beigli, look no further than Farkas Pastry Shoppe (2700 Lorain Ave., 216-281-6200, farkaspastries.com). "Our filling is more concentrated with either poppy or nut," says Mike Harrison, who has been baking at Farkas for 10 years. "The dough itself is crisper and more cookie-like as opposed to potiza [Slovenian nut bread]."
The storefront is denoted with Hungarian and Ohio City flags. Inside, a team of four rolls out thick slabs of dough, making the small interior space smell of yeasty, unbaked rolls. Sandor Farkas first garnered acclaim for the bakery's krémes or Napoleons, a decadent layered desert made with vanilla custard and whipped cream sandwiched between sheets of puff pastry, a recipe brought from Budapest. The shop has been sitting just feet from the West Side Market for 50 years.
There is also a new cluster of bakeries in Ukrainian Village, a commercial district in Parma, including Kolos Bakery (5346 State Rd., 216-741-1282), which was opened in 2011 by immigrants Andro and Nataliya Dokhoian. They specialize in breads and carry harder-to-find varieties like cinnamon and sweet-butter rolls.
Italians are known to take the cake when it comes to their breadth of baking. While most Clevelanders are familiar with the wonderful offerings at Corbo's (12210 Mayfield Rd., 216-421-8181, corbosbakery.net), at the family run Colozza's Bakery (5880 Ridge Rd., 440-885-0453, colozzasbakery.com) shoppers can find festively decorated cassata cakes and pizzelles, popular during the holidays, plus a brightly colored assortment of sugar cookies. The shop opened in 1975 on Storer Avenue, moving five years later to its current location.
"Both of Angelo's [Colozza] parents are still here every day," a staffer proudly reports. "John is 72 years old and baking his butt off."