Around the World in 80 Dishes: Kolaches

If you are from Texas, like we are, then you have probably had a kolache at some point in your life. If you are not from Texas you may be surprised to discover that Texas historically had a very large Czech population, and kolaches are now a staple at many donut shops throughout the state. A kolache (which is technically the plural of the Czech word kolach) is a pastry hailing from the Czech Republic. It’s made of a yeasty dough and filled with sweet fruit or cheese filling. If you find yourself in Texas and want to try a kolache, I’d recommend the Czech Stop in West, Texas.

One thing that most Texans have gotten wrong, though, is that a kolache is not sausage and cheese wrapped in dough. While they are commonly referred to as kolaches in Texas, those are actually another Czech dish called klobasnek. Don’t worry, we plan on making those as well, but today we’re only making kolaches. This is an all day kind of recipe, so clear your schedule and we’ll get started.

The reason that kolaches take so long to prepare is that they are made with a yeasty dough. I know yeast doughs can be intimidating. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of yeasty kitchen disasters, but I’m going to try to keep this as simple as possible. Because I am not an experienced cook or baker, and I don’t expect you to be.

Ingredients for Baking Kolaches

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1 package of active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour

Egg Wash

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp. milk

Plum Filling

  • 1 lb. plums
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves

Cream Cheese Filling

  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest

Blueberry Filling

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice

First thing you’ll want to do is to dissolve your packet of yeast in about 1/4 cup of the warm milk. Your milk should be between 105 and 110 degrees if you have a kitchen thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer, I generally put the milk in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute. I’m looking for the milk to be comfortable to touch or drink. If it’s developed a film on top, I let it cool for a little while before adding the yeast. Technically, it may be cooler than the desired temperature range, but you’ll do more damage to the yeast with overly hot water so err on the side of cool. Once you’ve added the yeast to the milk, leave it for about 10 minutes. It should start to look a little foamy or bubbly. That means your yeast is alive and well, and you can move on to step two. Congratulations!

In a large bowl, you’ll combine your yeast mixture with the rest of the warm milk. Then stir in the butter, eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest. Remember, you also want your eggs and butter to be at least room temperature for the happiest yeast results. Then gradually add in the flour until your dough is knead-able.

Making Dough for Kolaches

Knead the dough for about five minutes then work it into a ball-ish shape. If you’re like me, then this will count as your arm workout for the day. If you poke your ball of dough then it should kind of spring back, or at least try to spring back into shape.

Making Dough for Kolaches

Place your ball of dough into a bowl that has been coated with oil, and flip it around a few times to make sure the dough has a little oil all over it. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp dish towel and leave it until the dough has doubled in size, probably about three hours.

Making Dough for Kolaches

This is another tricky area where yeasty dough can go wrong. In order for yeast dough to rise, it likes to be between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. While it may be that hot in Texas right now, we are currently in New Hampshire. There are four inches of snow on the ground. It is not 75 degrees in our house, so I experimented with some tips. One thing you can do is to turn on your oven. Just let it get warm, and then turn it off. Keep the dough in the oven with the door closed to trap the heat. Another option is to boil a shallow pan of water. Once it is at a rolling boil, carefully transfer the pan to the bottom shelf in the oven. Place the bowl with the dough on the top rack and shut the door to trap the heat. I tried both methods, and they both seemed to work. I would recommend the boiling water option, though, because it was sometimes hard to gauge how hot the oven was with the other method, and I ended up drying out my dough quite a bit.

While your dough is rising, you can prepare the fillings you like. From what I’ve read, it seems like plum and poppy seed are both very traditional fillings, and while we were in Prague I did have a delicious plum kolach. For the ones I made at home, though, I tried a plum filling, a blueberry filling, and a cream cheese filling. You could do something similar with any fruit you have on hand.

Plum Filling

Combine the plums and sugar in a small bowl and let it sit for one hour. After an hour, combine the plums, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and cook until thickened. It should take about ten minutes. Remove from heat, and cool.

Cream Cheese Filling

For the cream cheese filling you will combine the cream cheese and sugar in a small bowl until it is smooth. Then add the egg yolk, vanilla, and lemon zest. Cover it and leave it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake the kolaches.

Blueberry Filling

In a medium saucepan combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cinnamon over medium heat. Add the blueberries and lemon juice. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer until thickened. It should take about ten minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool.
Once your dough has risen, punch it down. Knead it again for just a few minutes. Then place it back in the bowl, and let it rise until doubled a second time. It should take around two hours.
After the second rising, knead the dough briefly again then divide the dough into two equal parts. You can cover one half and set it aside. On a lightly floured surface roll the other half of the dough out to about 1/2 inch thick. Cut out 2 and 1/2 inch round circles and place on a greased or lined baking sheet. If you don’t have a circular cookie cutter, you can use a glass. After you’ve cut out as many circles as you can from your rolled dough, combine the scrap pieces into a ball. Roll that ball out again, and cut out more circles. Once you’ve finished with the first half of the dough, pull out the half you set aside and repeat the whole process. You should be able to get 12 circles out of each half of the dough you made.

Circle Cutout of Yeasty Dough

You should now have 24 circles on two baking sheets. Cover that baking sheet with a damp cloth or a piece of plastic wrap that has been greased so it doesn’t stick to the dough. Let it rise again for about an hour.

Cutout Dough Rising on a Cookie Sheet

Preheat the oven to 375.
Once the dough has risen, uncover and use your thumbs or a spoon to create an indention in the center of each circle. There should still be a rim bout 1/2 inch wide left on each circle. Brush the rim with the egg wash mixture. Fill each indention with the filling of your choice. Feel free to mix and match if you made more than one.
Bake at 375 for about 12 minutes, or until the kolaches are golden brown on top.
Baking Homemade Kolaches
1. Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir for one minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Add nutmeg and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, and whisk constantly until sauce
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