How did such a humble, unassuming Czech pastry become so deeply intertwined with Texan foodways that it became an inextricable part of southern culture itself? While it remains largely unknown just beyond state borders, kolaches are serious business to any conscious eater. I had never heard of such a thing before visiting the Lone Star State, but kolaches are as essential to the local cuisine as barbecue. Arriving along with European immigrants in the late 1800s, central Texas became the nexus of kolache creation.
Technically, the savory version most popular in my immediate area are klobasneks, NOT kolache. Both employ a lightly sweetened, buttery yeasted dough, stuffed with a variety of fillings, but genuine kolaches are sweet breakfast treats, employing fruit preserves, cream cheese, or poppy seeds for flavor. Klobasneks are arguably more popular in these parts, calling for any sort of meat, from sausage links to ground beef to shredded chicken, cheese, jalapenos, and sometimes even egg and potatoes. Truth be told, any sort of stuffing might reside within these baked buns. For the sake of simplicity, they all get wrapped up under the kolache moniker. Those wise enough to tell the difference are also smart enough not to pick a fight.
Terminology aside, what makes for the best kolaches? It’s all in the dough. Supple, pillowy soft, catching the light with a subtle buttery shine, the tender bread should practically melt in your mouth. Impossibly light for such a rich mixture, it’s a delicate balance of art and science to achieve the perfect crumb. Years of experience with tireless practice are the secret ingredients; otherwise, the standard recipe is largely unexceptional. Flour, sugar, yeast, butter, and all the other usual suspects are present.
The key is all in quantity. Speaking with chef Craig Vanis of Bistro Vonish, his carefully honed formula makes liberal use of butter, both in and brushed on the rich dough. Coming from a long line of Czech bakers, his recipe reflects that heritage to create the best version around, vegan or not.
“When I said I wanted to open my own place, one of the first things I did was make and sell kolaches at various events in an effort to get my name and face out there,” chef Vanis explained through email.
“Before that, when I lived in Houston, I would occasionally pick up work at a bakery that made kolaches. Even though grandma always had kolaches made and on hand, I was never a part of making them, like I sometimes was with cinnamon rolls. I think that’s a large part of why I enjoy them so much now. My grandparents passed away many years ago, but as I think about the baking and enjoyment of kolaches, there’s an opportunity to create new memories that are connected to grandma’s house. I don’t feel like I missed out on a chance to bake them as a child. I do feel grateful that I have those fond memories attached to them now.”
According to Craig, poppyseed or plum are the most traditional fruit fillings, but the sky is the limit. Any jam or preserves will bake in beautifully to make sweet pastries, and any sort of savory meatless or vegetable stuffing can create a hearty stuffed bun.
What remains a mystery is why the art of the kolache has stayed contained within the Texas Czech Belt, when the base formula is infinitely adaptable, and its appeal so universal. If you’ve never been so lucky to see them in local bakeries, do yourself a favor and start your own family tradition, baking from scratch.
- 1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk, Warmed to Room Temperature
- 1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
- 2 1/4 Teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
- 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
- 1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 3/4 Cup Vegan Butter, Melted and Divided
- 1 Cup Jam or Preserves
- In a medium bowl, combine the non-dairy milk, sugar, and yeast and stir gently to eliminate any clumps. Let stand for about 5 minutes, until slightly frothy.
- Meanwhile, place the flour, cornstarch, and salt in a large mixing bowl or stand mixer. Stir gently to combine.
- When the yeast has dissolved and starting to foam, stir to mix in any sugar that settled on the bottom. Pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, along with 1/2 cup melted vegan butter. Mix until incorporated, creating a lumpy mass of dough.
- Continue to knead, either by hand or with the dough hook attachment for your stand mixer, for 5 - 10 minutes. It will be a very wet, sticky dough, but should smooth out and become elastic. Tightly cover and proof on the countertop until the dough has doubled in size; typically 1 - 1 1/2 hours, but will vary depending on how warm your kitchen is.
- Once risen, punch the dough down to deflate it. Use a sharp knife to divide the mass into 8 equal pieces and roll them on a lightly floured surface into smooth, even balls. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat with at least 3 inches of space all around.
- Brush with 2 tablespoons of the melted vegan butter and let rest, uncovered, until they rise to about 50% larger than their original size.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
- Using your fingers or small pinch bowl, create a well in the center of each dough ball. The indentation should be round and about 2 inches across. Fill each with 2 - 3 tablespoons of jam or fruit preserves, then brush once more with the final 2 tablespoons of melted vegan butter. Let stand for about 10 minutes before baking.
- Bake for 20-24 minutes, rotating every 8 - 10 minutes, until golden brown. Allow the kolaches to cool on the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.
Baked kolaches freeze well; to re-heat, place frozen pastries directly on the rack in a 350 degree oven and bake for 5 - 10 minutes, until warmed through.
Recipe adapted from Craig Vanis of Bistro Vonish.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 488Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 48mgSodium: 299mgCarbohydrates: 74gFiber: 2gSugar: 29gProtein: 7g
All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.