Kolaches. When I first moved to Austin from Connecticut, I had no idea what they were. Were they like donuts, or more like a croissant? Was I supposed to eat the sweet ones for breakfast, like a danish?
The coffee shop near where I worked sold them, and occasionally my co-workers would pile in at 10 a.m. and devour cloudy pastry with egg and sausage. I saw these kolaches as a cross between a pig-in-a blanket and a convenience store breakfast sandwich. I never went near them, always opting for cheesecake (a whole different issue).
Kolaches seemed to be a subpar pastry (too dense to be a croissant) and a subpar meal (not enough filling to be satisfying). I didn’t know what to do with this novel food that everybody around me seemed to love. I just wanted a breakfast sandwich. Three years and several kolaches later, I feel the same way. This is the story of how I tried (and failed) to appreciate this food.
The kolache was originally intended as a midday snack in Central Europe. It arrived in Texas during the mid to late 1800’s, when Czech immigrants were arriving in Texas. According to Smithsonian, the traditional kolache recipes originated from Bohemia, Morvavia, and Silesia. Original bakers used whatever was leftover on the farm, often dried fruit or cheese. Prune is a fairly common filling.
Traditional kolaches were not filled with meat or sauerkraut-these are adaptations that have arisen since their arrival in Central Texas. And the jellied fruit filling? Kolache purists are horrified. Kolaches in the Czech republic come in two varieties. There are denser wedding varieties that are formed in circles, or lighter, more bread-like kolaches which are rectangular.
There is no standardized kolache recipe. Most recipes are passed down from generation to generation. There is no professional training either, as culinary schools do not include kolaches in their curriculum. The quality of the kolache depends on the skill of the baker. Kolache dough is proofed twice, the filling added, and then the dough is proofed a third time after the filling is added. To make a kolache from scratch, see the recipe featured in Saveur or if you are looking for a savory kolache recipes, consider the recipe from featured in the Houston Chronicle.
What if you’re not going to make them from scratch? Where do you go? In Austin, it is difficult–almost impossible–to find an authentic kolache. After sampling several kolache venues in the city, I discovered that the Austin kolache is closer to carnival food than an authentic Czech pastry. However, here are a few places that make a reasonable product:
- Lone Star Kolache: Lone Star features flavors such as chocolate cream cheese and chorizo, egg and cheese, While delicious, the original, authentic kolache did not feature either cream cheese or chorizo. Lone Star represents the Texan, not Czech kolache. I tried the ham, egg and cheese. The dough was semi-sweet and tender, the best of the bunch. I loved that there was a fair amount of filling in the kolache. The ham, however, was cheap deli ham, which was a major letdown.
- The Kolache Factory: Here, I tried the philly cheese steak kolache . The flavor was light and peppery, not heavy. Unfortunately, there was much more dough than filling. It also seemed like I was eating a grinder roll more than kolache dough. All in all, the kolache was soft, fresh, and flavorful.
- Moonlight Bakery: Here, I sampled a blueberry dessert kolache. The dough was flaky and soft, baked perfectly. It was a perfect sweetness. The cashier even added a free cinnamon roll, as it wasn’t going to keep. The kolache itself was more of a dinner roll shape than the traditional circular dessert shape. This wasn’t a big issue. The main drawback was the filling-I felt like I was eating blueberry pie filling instead of a made-from-scratch mix.
All in all, the Austin kolache experience was disappointing. There are other places still worth exploring, such as the Zubik House and Kolache Creations on Burnett Road. Out of the kolaches I tried, none had a buttery flavor. This means that instead of butter, these bakeries used the dreaded all purpose shortening, a corner that many bakeries cut to reduce cost. The flavor, without butter, is not nearly as good, and the entire pastry lacks quality when this substitution is made.
When done right, the kolache has potential. Too often, quality ingredients (such as butter) and technique are sacrificed during production. The result is a snack that belongs at a ballpark or state fair, but not alongside eclairs and puff pastry.
Featured image and photo courtesy of flickr.com/memestate and flickr.com/rcakewalk