If you’ve lived in Texas (or are lucky enough to have a grandmother from Moravia) you may be familiar with kolaches, the Czech pastry made of yeasted dough and traditionally filled with apricot, prune, poppy seed, or sweet cheese. These delicious treats have a European heritage and a very American following deep in the heart of Texas—and lately, from coast to coast. Here are some facts for the kolache novice to nosh on.
1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A WHEEL, A BALL OF DOUGH, AND A PLUM.
The word kolache (pronounced ko-LAH-chee, and also spelled kolace, kolach, or kolacky) is from the Czech and Slovak word for wheel. Legend has it that long ago, in the Czech Republic (then the Austro-Hungarian Empire), a mother was trying to bake bread, but her daughter Libuše kept pestering her. In an effort to appease her, Maminka (mother) gave the girl a small ball of dough to play with. Libuše happily rolled and flattened her dough, then snuck a plum from the table, slipped it into the dough ball, and put the dough into the oven with Maminka’s bread. When Libuše’s father came home from the fields for a snack, he grabbed Libuše’s creation, bit into it, and was squirted with scalding plum juice. Crazy with pain, he began hopping around in circles. Libuše found it all very funny and cried out, “Tatinek je do kola!” (“Daddy is making a wheel!”). The “kola” inspired the kolache.
2. PRAGUE, NEBRASKA HOLDS THE RECORD FOR WORLD’S LARGEST KOLACHE ...
In 1987, the community of Prague, Nebraska celebrated its centennial by baking a cherry-filled kolache that weighed 2605 pounds and measured 15 feet in diameter.
3. ... AND PRAGUE, OKLAHOMA HOSTS THE LARGEST KOLACHE FESTIVAL IN THE WORLD.
The Kolache Festival in Prague, Oklahoma is held the first Saturday of each May and attracts 30,000 people to a town of 2500. Women in the community begin baking kolaches months in advance; it's estimated that some 50,000 of the pastries are consumed during the festivities.
4. TEXAS IS THE KOLACHE CAPITAL OF THE U.S.
When Czech immigrants arrived in Texas in the mid- to late-19th century, they brought with them their culture—and their beloved pastry. The number of bakeries serving kolaches in Texas abound. While several towns claim to be The Kolache Capital of the state, the area that runs along Interstate 35 from Dallas to Austin boasts some of the most renowned kolache in Texas.
The Czech Stop in the small town of West, Texas is easily one of the most beloved kolache purveyors in the United States. This hot spot, opened in 1983 by former marine Bill Polk, made national news in 2013 when a fertilizer plant explosion rocked the small town of West and customers of the establishment raised over $200,000 for relief. It's open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and ships daily in the winter months.
5. 7-ELEVEN SERVES KOLACHES (BUT ONLY IN TEXAS).
There are two varieties available: Beef Sausage and Pork and Beef Sausage. These breakfast kolaches are filled with meat and are wrapped up in kolache dough. The meat technically makes them klobasniky, a Czech-by-way-of-Tex iteration that is wildly popular in kolache shops across Texas and beyond. (Regular kolaches only contain fruit.)
6. THERE ARE ARTISANAL KOLACHES.
If you can’t get to Texas for a kolache, how about Brooklyn? The Brooklyn Kolache Company makes theirs from all natural, often organic, and locally-sourced ingredients. These kolaches have evolved beyond the classic and traditional to include a variety of modern fillings that include Pan de Coco; Chocolate Ganache; Spinach and Feta; and Sausage, Jalapeno, and Cheese. Their signature pastry, an Instagram favorite, is the King Cake. This Louisiana-style bun—made with cinnamon, butter, brown sugar, and sweet cream cheese—is all rolled up in kolache dough and topped with purple, green, and gold candied sugar for Mardi Gras. Republic Kolache and Bayou Bakery in Washington, D.C., take their King Cake one step further by inserting a baby figurine, per New Orleans tradition, into some of their pastry. Symbolically a good luck charm, finding one in your King Cake here entitles you to a free kolache.
7. A LITERARY ICON PAID HOMAGE TO THE KOLACHE.
Willa Cather learned to make kolache from Annie Pavelka, her Czech neighbor in Nebraska. Pavelka was the inspiration for the eponymous character in My Antonia, a novel that immortalized the Czech immigrant experience on the American frontier. Cather is credited as saying, “If security could ever have a smell, it would be the fragrance of a warm Kolache.”
8. THE TASTY TREAT WAS MENTIONED IN THE AMERICANS.
The FX series gave a nod to kolaches in season 3’s penultimate episode. Are kolaches a clue for the viewer, or merely a subliminal ploy to make us hungry?