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Kolache: Czech It Out

by

I often refer to the early German settlers in Texas. They were the majority ethnic group of the immigrations of the middle 1800s, but the Slavic peoples also came in great numbers and contributed greatly to the foundation of Texas.

The Slavs came mainly from Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, and were mostly working class people looking for a better life. These immigrants were identified by their origins as Bohemians or Moravians. They came to be identified as "Czech" when Czechoslovakia was established after World War I.

The path into Texas started at Galveston and proceeded up into Austin County at Cat Springs. Many of the immigrants settled in adjoining Fayette County and their descendants are still there today. Nearly all took up farming and migrated up the Blackland Prairie region toward Waco and farther North. The town of West, which is located in North Central Texas, has a large Czech population.

The Czechs formed tight-knit family and community units. There were many social clubs that met a variety of needs. The Beef Clubs were popular enough to be adopted by other ethnic groups. In a beef club, three or four families would raise a beef for the table and share it at slaughter time. There was no real way to preserve fresh beef, so it had to be consumed quickly. Each family in the club would furnish the beef in rotation.

The Czechs have a great love of music and dancing. When I was growing up in Central Texas, nearly every local radio station had a "Czech Melody Hour". This usually came on Sunday afternoon and could have been in the Czech language or bilingual for the non-Czech speaking audience. The polka was king. The King of the Polka Bands was Joe Patek of Shiner, Texas. The senior Joe and later, his sons, spread the music far and wide. The band was sponsored by Shiner Beer, which is now Texas' only remaining originally Texas-owned brewery. It has the Czech base.

The Czechs didn't spend all their time singing and dancing. They established churches and schools everywhere they went. They kept their heritage alive. The Czech language was still heard frequently in the early 60s, and there are still a couple of Czech language newspapers being published.

The town of West located on I-35 is a must stop for kolaches spot on everyone's map. Of course, the Czechs had to eat just like everyone else. Their recipes had to conform to the food stocks available. Czech and German menus were very alike. I grew up next door to, or rather across the fence from, a Czech family. The only difference I knew of in the recipes was the use of garlic. The Czechs used a lot of garlic -- us Germans didn't.

The one food item that identifies Czech cooking is the kolache. This to-die-for sweet roll with filling is a favorite with every Texan I have ever known. The aforementioned town of West located on I-35 is a "must stop for kolaches" spot on everyone's map.

The kolaches I know are either round or square, about three and a half inches across, with an indent in the middle to hold the filling. But kolaches can come in many forms. They can be as I just described or made in a sheet of dough and rolled like a jellyroll. The dough often takes on decorative shapes. In any case, the filling tends to be a tad runny and needs containment.

The Czechs make kolaches in five flavors: prune, pineapple, apricot, cottage cheese and poppy seed. I never cared much for the poppy seed flavor, but all the rest were my favorites. There is also the Pig in the Blanket, which is a small piece of sausage wrapped in dough and baked. It's not a true kolache, but they always came together.

There are many recipes for the kolache dough. Here is one that will get you started.

Old-Fashioned Kolache Dough

  • 1 cup milk, scalded
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
Scald the milk, add sugar and butter, and stir to dissolve. Allow it to cool to warm, then add the yeast and let it begin to work. Add eggs.

Put the milk mixture in a large mixing bowl. Measure the flour and salt into another bowl. With an electric mixer, slowly work the flour mixture into the dough bowl. When the dough becomes too thick for the mixer to handle, start working in the flour by hand. When the dough starts to come together and leave the sides of the bowl it is just right. Form the dough into a ball and cover. Let rise in warm place until doubled.

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead gently until it comes together and is soft and elastic. Divide the dough into egg-size pieces. Flatten and form into square or round. Make a depression in the center with your floured thumb. Fill the depression with 1 rounded teaspoon of filling. Let the filled kolaches rise about 20 minutes. Brush tops with beaten egg mixed with a little milk and sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

This recipe will make enough for your family and the neighbors, too. Exact count depends on how big you make them.

Prep time: 1 hour; Cooking time: 20 minutes; Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Kolache Fillings

Apricot
Place 1 pound dried apricots in a pan with cool water. Let soak several hours. Bring to slow simmer and add sugar to taste, if desired. Cook until very soft. Stir vigorously to get a smooth consistency or run them through the food processor. Re-cook until you get the desired consistency. You can add a few drops of lemon juice for a little added zip.
Prune
Made the same way as the apricot filling.
Pineapple
Simmer well-drained canned, crushed pineapple until it thickens.
Cottage Cheese
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and let cool. Combine 1 pound dry cottage cheese (Farmers cheese) with 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 beaten egg, 1/4 cup of sugar and a 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest. Taste and adjust for sweetness.
Poppy Seed
Combine 1/2 pound ground poppy seeds, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Add enough milk to make a thick mix. Let stand overnight to absorb the liquid.

You can use just about any fruit filling in the kolaches. Just don't use jam or jelly. Jam and jelly will liquefy in the heat of the oven and make a big mess.

Real Quick Kolaches

Grab a can of biscuits. Separate and place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Make a depression in the center of each with your thumb. Add a teaspoon of filling, brush with beaten egg with small amount of sugar added. Bake until done to your liking. You might get away with using some no-sugar jam in this recipe. It doesn't break down like regular jam.

In all cases, sprinkle your fresh-out-of-the-oven kolaches with powdered sugar before serving.

Let's everyone polka.

Kitchen tools you'll need: Cookie Sheets, Mixers
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