The kolache: Czech-Tex road food - The Buffalo News

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The kolache: Czech-Tex road food

HOUSTON – Morgan Weber grew up eating poppy-seed kolaches baked by his Czech grandmother, who honed her technique on a wood stove. Kolaches, soft pastries of yeasted dough with a divot in the center, traditionally filled with sweetened cheese or fruit, are a humble link to the Old World.

But in the Revival Market in this city’s Heights neighborhood, Weber and his business partner, Ryan Pera, the market’s chef, serve sweet and savory pastries that are decidedly American: kolaches laden with satsuma oranges or filled with strawberries and ricotta cheese, and savory versions girded with house-made sausages poached in locally brewed beer.

This is the new world of the kolache, a food that now straddles several constituencies: the descendants of Czech immigrants, who still make the pastry in the broad swath of central Texas known as the Czech Belt; the highway commuters who have made it a coveted road food; and the artisans and entrepreneurs around the country who are positioning it as the next-generation doughnut.

As it juggles all these incarnations, the pastry seems to be having something of an identity crisis.

“Kolaches are in the love-child phase of their development,” said Dawn Orsak, an Austin, Texas, folklorist working on a traveling exhibition that showcases Czech heritage in Texas. “The experimental versions got a lot of popular attention. An artisan backlash is peaking now. And another move toward wide popularity is building. Kolaches will probably continue to evolve as part of that cycle.”

The kolache (pronounced ko-LAH-chee) entered the American repertory in the mid-1800s, soon after immigrants from Central Europe settled in the hills and prairies of central and south-central Texas.

Yet kolaches – once considered a svacina (pronounced sfah-CHEE-nah), or midday snack, in Central Europe – are being quickly adopted and just as quickly transformed by all sorts of audiences.

Now expatriate Texans in places like Portland, Ore., have begun to build customer bases at restaurants like Happy Sparrow Cafe, which serves Nutella-and-banana kolaches. Autumn Stanford, who owns the Brooklyn Kolache Co. in New York City, takes an artisanal tack, selling fruit-filled kolaches like apricot, as well as savory ones stuffed with bacon-wrapped hot dogs of Mexican-American derivation.

The inspiration for her business came from the roadside purveyors.

“My kolache story doesn’t involve Grandmother making them in the kitchen,” Stanford said. “Growing up in Austin, I didn’t even know they were a Czech food. When I was young, both sets of my grandparents lived in Houston. And when we went to visit, we always stopped for a bathroom break and a box of kolaches.”


For the pastry:

¼ ounce (1 packet) dry yeast

1 cup whole milk, lukewarm (110 to 115 degrees)

¼ cup granulated sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour (about 420 grams), more for kneading

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon salt

Vegetable oil, as needed

For the dried-fruit filling:

1 cup dried apricots, prunes or other dried fruit

2 tablespoons granu lated sugar

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

For the cream cheese filling:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

¼ cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons all- purpose flour

1 large egg yolk

½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

For the crumble topping (posypka):

2 tablespoons all- purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Make the pastry: In a large bowl, combine the yeast, milk, sugar and 1 cup flour. Mix well, cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 20 minutes.

Melt 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of the butter. Pour into a large bowl and whisk in the eggs and salt. Add to the flour mixture and mix well. Slowly add the remaining 2 cups of flour; the dough will be soft and moist. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary to make a soft workable dough. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, make your choice of filling.

Make the dried-fruit filling: Place the fruit in a small saucepan and add ½ cup water or just enough to cover. Set aside until plumped and softened, about 1 hour. When the fruit is ready, add the sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Purée in a food processor or blender and set aside.

Make the cream cheese filling: Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Add the flour, egg yolk and lemon zest. Mix to blend and set aside.

After the dough has risen, punch it down and divide evenly into 12 pieces. Roll the pieces into balls and place on an oiled baking sheet several inches apart. Flatten each ball slightly so it is about 3 inches in diameter. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, prepare the crumble topping.

For the topping: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon. Crumble with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Set aside.

To assemble and bake the kolaches: With your finger, gently make an indentation in the center of each bun, being careful not to flatten too much. Fill with 1 tablespoon of filling and sprinkle with topping. Bake until risen and pale gold, 12 to 15 minutes. While baking, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter. When the kolaches are removed from the oven, brush with melted butter and serve warm.

Makes 12 kolaches.

– Adapted from “The Homesick Texan Cookbook,” by Lisa Fain.

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