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
Makes 20

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.

Cherry Filling

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.

Peach Filling

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.


  1. I have her hand-written recipe for Kolache's on the back of an envelope, (of course) and she spared no detail, writing up and around all the edges of that envelope! One has to keep turning

  2. @Pauline
    Oh, Pauline, I love it! That makes me smile. I just pulled out her recipe for vanilla ice cream...lots of eggs and cream and looks divine. I hope you're enjoying summer!

  3. I love the memories that this evokes for you. So many of the things I cook carry memories with them. I cannot peel a potato without thinking of my Gramdmother telling my Mother "You,ll be lucky if you have any potato left with the amount of peel you are taking off". Makes me very careful to peel just the skin with my angel/devil Grandmother imagined standing behind me. Your kolaches look delicious.

  4. I HAVE to send you her reciepe for the most amazinng pickles!7
    She would send me back to college every year with a case.
    Lime soaked, crisp, and lots of celery seed +.
    And, of course, green food coloring!

  5. I've never heard of these before but they sound so tasty! What a lovely treat!

  6. I love how friendly and happy they look! I've heard of them but haven't tried one yet.

  7. @Penny
    Thank you so much, Penny! It's amazing what becomes infused in us over time and what we learn from our grandmothers, mothers and others in our lives. Lots to be cherished!

  8. @Pauline
    Yes, you do have to send me the pickle recipe! And soon! They sound marvelous (although can I skip the green food coloring and still keep their authenticity?). :) I've been pickling and have a crock of sauerkraut fermenting away.

  9. @Maria
    Thank you, Maria! They are fun to indulge in, especially warm from the oven.

  10. @Lauren Hairston
    What a lovely description, Lauren! I love it. Hope you can try one soon.

  11. Hi Hannah, just came across your blog and am enjoying reading through your last few posts; I love your writing style, so easy to read and interesting. These kolache sound interesting - although I cook gluten free, perhaps this is a new recipe challenge for me! Kate:)

    Thank you, Kate! I'm so happy you visited here. I'm familiar with gluten free cooking (my sister-in-law is gluten and dairy free) but haven't had a lot of experience in the baking area yet. Please let me know if you are successful in creating gluten free kolaches. It does sound like a fun (and tasty) challenge. Enjoy your weekend!

  13. I have never heard of them before but they look like delightful little morsels!

  14. @Mairi
    Thank you, Mairi! I hope you can try them sometime. They freeze well, too, so you can pull a couple out and warm them to have with a cup of tea.

  15. @Hannah Cordes
    Oh NO, you HAVE to use a drop, (won't kill ya) of green coloring. These are peeled, Grandma to you says: good for the big, overgrown ones you miss.
    Otherwise they are pale and sickly looking.
    Please, for Grandma? :)