Kolache is a food with an unusual history to match its varied flavors. Students taking culinary arts institute courses in baking may benefit from familiarizing themselves with the item’s many variations and complex background. After all, this combination of roll and pastry is becoming more widely available across the U.S. and gaining new fans wherever it appears.
Czech, by way of Texas
Kolaches originated in central Europe as pastries consisting of fruit or sweetened cheese surrounded by dough. According to the New York Times, the dessert made its way into Texas in the mid-19th century with a wave of Czech immigration. In many bakeries, the rolls are still made in the traditional manner, featuring fillings such as poppy seed, apricot or prune.
Texas Monthly provided a recipe for apricot kolaches adapted from the celebrated Little Czech Bakery at the Czech Stop in the small town of West, Texas. The filling consists of dried apricots, almond extract, butter and sugar. After assembling the dough, the baker adds the filling and places the kolaches in an oven set to 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes to an hour. Then, the pastry is finished off with a crumb topping.
However, kolaches as they have become widely known in the States often differ significantly with rolls containing sweet and savory fillings that depart from Czech recipes. The meaty versions frequently include sausage, jalapenos and cheddar cheese. Serious Eats explained that where sweet varieties usually look like a danish, those with meat resemble a long roll. Many European-style bakeries and purists refer to the savory versions as klobasniks, but the kolache name has stuck nonetheless.
The various innovations on the rolls became commonly available in Texan doughnut shops, roadside stores and specialty kolache establishments over the past few decades. The most widespread purveyor is the Kolache Factory, which began in Houston in 1982. Company-owned and franchise shops have since proliferated all over Texas and also in places like California, Indiana and Nebraska.
Cookbook author Lisa Fain discussed the expanding reach of this treat with the Times.
“The pastry now making its way around America is what Texans have done with kolaches, not what Czechs brought to Texas,” she explained. “What we’re seeing might be the emergence of another cuisine, like Tex-Mex. This is Czech-Mex.”
What makes a great kolache?
Not all kolaches are created equal, but some bakeries have created truly exceptional versions in both its savory and sweet forms. As the pastries have spread out from their central Texas roots, makers have continued to try out different flavors and textures.
Austin restaurant The Zubik House specializes in finding innovative ways to combine Czech and Texan influences. The brunch menu boasts a variation on French toast with kolache bread soaked in egg whites and grilled with vanilla, cinnamon, clarified butter, strawberries and agave nectar. The kolaches themselves show off creativity with combinations like Texas figs and smoked, cured ham or Honeycrisp apple with bacon, Brie, brown sugar, butter and cracked pepper.
Republic Kolache in Washington, D.C. offers several noteworthy types drawing on various culinary traditions. This begins with a signature pastry made with half smoke sausage – a regional favorite containing both beef and pork – alongside jalapeno relish and cheddar. Another draws on both Tex-Mex and Indian flavors with chipotle-spiced sauteed spinach and fried Cotija cheese. Meanwhile, one of the sweet choices has a filling of cherries prepared in a red wine reduction and cream cheese custard.
Brooklyn Kolache Company focuses on using all-natural, locally sourced ingredients to make fillings by hand. The available styles include a beef hot link with cheese and a vegetarian option with pimento cheese. Patrons can also select options like peanut butter and banana jam or cherry and sweet cheese.
Portland, Oregon’s Happy Sparrow Cafe is similarly interested in preparing its offerings with local meat and produce, but it also has some particularly adventurous choices on the menu. One kolache includes Alaska smoked salmon, cream cheese and a dill weed topping. Another is made with barbecue pulled pork, onions and sriracha.
Kolaches demonstrate how the basic idea of a dish can be transformed and intermingled with many different approaches. While purists may question the authenticity of these new versions, there’s no doubting their popularity with pastry enthusiasts. You may even find exciting new variations on the delicious rolls when you craft your own in culinary arts programs.