Thursday, August 4, 2011
Grandma’s Kolaches: Another Taste of Summer
Have you ever tasted a kolache? I haven’t met many people outside of the midwest who have heard of them, much less had the pleasure of eating one. They are pillowy Czech pastries and one of the treats I remember most from visiting my grandparents’ farm in Nebraska. My Grandma spent a lot of time in the kitchen baking many warm, comforting sweets.
To be honest, since I only ate kolaches at my grandparents’ (and never saw them in bakeries in Massachusetts), I grew up thinking we were calling one of her sweet rolls by a name my Grandma had made up! It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I discovered this was not the case. My family in Nebraska is not Czech, but my mother-in-law, Ann, was Czech (her father came through Ellis Island on his own in 1920 as a 16 year old!). When I learned that kolaches are Czech in origin it further endeared me to them. Love making those sweet connections!
Kolaches are buns made from a slightly sweet, yeasted dough with fillings such as apricots, prunes, poppy seeds or sweet cheese. If you desire, they can be frosted or dusted with powdered sugar (which I do recommend!). I’ve heard of a savory kolache with sausage filling, but have never tried that kind. I recall my Grandma making a pineapple filling, too, which was a favorite. To me, kolaches appear to be a cousin of Danish pastries or perhaps hamentaschen, especially given their similar fillings. They are perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack with tea.
Summer is when I most often think of kolaches. This is due to my childhood visits to my relatives’ farms in Nebraska and also to the annual Czech Days Festival in nearby Wilber, NE. Wilber is the official Czech capital of the U.S. and kolaches are a big part of the celebration (including a kolache eating contest). The Czech Days Festival is this weekend, August 5-7, so if you are in the area I highly recommend attending and eating some kolaches for me.
Since I can’t be in Wilber this weekend, the next best thing is to make these pastries. When I copied my Grandma’s recipe for kolaches after she passed away some years ago, I made sure to include her note that reads, “Real Czech, brought to Nebraska before 1880.” This is a recipe with history! I’ve scaled her recipe down since she was clearly baking for 15 grandchildren and any other hungry guests wandering through the kitchen. I made fillings here using tart pie cherries and peaches since I had both sitting on my counter. Feel free to use a seasonal fruit or your favorite jam. I’ve also made fillings with rhubarb and strawberries, blueberries, and have cooked down dried apricots if I didn’t have fresh fruit. If you’d like to frost them, you can make a simple glaze to drizzle from powdered sugar mixed with a few drops of milk.
Biting into a kolache takes me back to hot days of dirt roads lined with cornfields, stopping at the local Dairy Queen after a day spent swimming in the town pool with cousins, and the feeling that summer is endless.
From my Grandma’s recipe
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
3 tablespoons melted, unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups all-purposed flour, plus more for kneading
Filling of choice (my cherry and peach recipes follow)
Powdered sugar for dusting or powdered sugar glaze for drizzling (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast and warm water. Let sit and bubble up, about 5 minutes. Add the warm milk, melted butter, sugar, egg yolk and salt and stir together.
Add the flour one cup at a time, stirring until incorporated. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and place it in a warm spot to rise for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Punch the dough down and pull it out onto a floured surface. Knead until the dough is smooth, adding a little more flour if it’s sticky. Divide the dough into 20 pieces (egg sized) and roll each piece into a ball. Place 10 of them on the prepared baking sheet and very slightly flatten the top. Let rise for a half hour.
Using your thumb, make an indent and fill with a teaspoon of filling. Bake in the oven for 14-16 minutes, until a little golden on top. Cool the kolaches before glazing. Repeat with the remaining 10 pieces.
1 cup tart pie cherries, pitted
1/8-1/4 cup sugar (depending upon how tart the cherries are)
In a small sauce pan, stir the cherries and sugar together. Cook over medium heat until the cherries are soft and break down a bit, about 20 minutes, stirring often.
1 large ripe peach, pitted and diced
1 tablespoon sugar
In a small saucepan, stir the peach and sugar together. Cook over medium heat until the peach is soft and mushy, about 10 minutes, stirring often.