In our series Saving Southern Recipes, Southern Kitchen Associate Editor Kate Williams explores the deep heritage of Southern cooking through the lens of passed-down family recipes.
Frito pie. Chile con carne. Chorizo breakfast tacos. Brisket. I'm willing to bet that simply reading the name of these dishes conjures up an image of Texas, big and proud and full of meat. But they're not the only quintessential Texan delicacies. There is, in fact, a truly Texan dish that has its origins not in cowboys and giant steaks, but in Czech immigrants and, well, not meat.
I'm talking about kolaches.
Kolach-what, you ask? These hand-held treats are a specialty of the central Texas "Czech Belt," which spans the area between Houston, Austin and Dallas, and is centralized in the small town of West. A typical kolache (pronounced koh-la-chee) is made from a tender, enriched brioche dough, shaped into a dimpled circle and filled with some kind of sweet filling, often made from dried fruit and/or cheese. Think of them as a sturdier, breadier (and more delicious, in this writer's opinion) Danish. And while you'll now find kolaches with fillings as wide ranging as chorizo-jalapeno, boudin, and chocolate-cream cheese, the original baked goods were always slightly sweet and totally meat-free.
Czech immigrants brought kolaches with them when as they immigrated to Central Texas hill country during the late 19th century railroad boom. Many settled in and around West, located about 70 miles south of Dallas-Fort Worth, 20 miles north of Waco and 120 miles north of Austin. Today, Czech-Americans make up the vast majority of residents in West, and kolache bakeries dominate the landscape.
You'll find kolache bakeries in all shapes and sizes; some, like Kolache Factory, have franchised expanded and expanded far outside of the state, while others, like The Village Bakery, maintain a single location. They're popular enough in the state that, a few years back, much of the food mediawas predicting a kolache takeover of nationwide breakfast snacks. Alas, this explosion of popularity never really happened; instead, we were inundated with far-less delicious concoctions like unicorn bagels and Doritos Locos tacos.
If you don't live in the Czech Belt, or can't afford to make the trip, it is, luckily, easy to find great recipes for kolaches all across the internet. They're not the simplest things to bake, but, with a little patience and some enthusiasm for kneading, you can certainly whip up a batch for your next brunch party or even just to eat for breakfast, all week long.
My favorite recipe is a hybrid of a few different sources, and I like to mix and match fillings between dried fruit and cream cheese. Try the classic prune filling for a tangy-sweet treat. Amp it up with a few tablespoons of rum or brandy if you're feeling frisky. My cream cheese filling evokes a classic Danish and comes together in a jiffy. Whatever you do, make sure to let the dough rise and proof as directed — these kolaches are worth the wait.
Get the recipe for kolaches here