Eastern European

What Happens When a Czech Pastry Moves to Texas

March 11, 2016

Ask any Texan about kolaches, and you’re bound to be answered with adamant enthusiasm. Ask anyone not from Texas, and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare.

A sweet kolache from Brooklyn Kolache Co. Photo by Autumn Stanford

If you're among the blank starers, kolaches (pronounced cole-ATCH-ees) are filled pastries resembling a dinner roll, and they're a Texan institution by way of the Czech Republic. This may seem like a surprising mashup, but it’s true—Texas counts Czechs and Germans among its main international influences in terms of population, food, and culture. Autumn Stanford, the owner of Brooklyn Kolache Co. in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, explained these connections to me over the phone. Think about smoked sausages, she said: They're a staple of Tex-Mex cuisine, and also very German.

Starting in the late 19th century, Czech immigrants settled in little towns between big cities in central Texas, in an area that became known as the “Czech Belt.” The hub of Czech settlement is a town called West. Even today, 75% of West's population has Czech heritage.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Please know that kolaches aren't only in Texas, they're well known and loved in the Midwest where there are still large Czech communities. My mom's family is from Nebraska, and I grew up with kolaches and Czech food from her side. My great aunt's beautiful kolaches were LEGENDARY and she'd make them every weekend no matter what. One of my favorite memories was going to her house when we would stay with them on the weekends with the cousins on Saturday mornings while she baked kolaches with the same fillings: poppy seed, cherry, and apricot, and make buttery horn rolls with poppy seeds sprinkled on top. I was fortunate enough to receive a little glass dish from my mom's cousin that she always used, and my grandmother's bowl and handmade dough paddle that she always used for kolache dough to use when I miss home and make kolaches or rolls. This article brought back some great memories (even though I could not ever think of a kolache as a "breakfast taco") ”
— Rachel
Comment

West is also the kolache “mecca,” to use Autumn’s word, since it’s home the famous Czech Stop. Situated between Dallas and Austin, it's the go-to pit stop on the three-hour drive between the two cities. Flavors like sweet cheese, poppyseed, lemon curd, coconut cream, blueberry, strawberry, peach, and cherry tempt hungry motorists. For Autumn, these sweet flavors were all she knew growing up in Austin. She's noticed the rise of savory breakfast kolaches in the last few years, with many going the egg, cheese, and sausage route—she's even seen smoked pork belly kolaches.

On display at Brooklyn Kolache Co. Photo by Autumn Stanford

Those breakfast kolaches were how I learned of the pastries in the first place: from my friends and Houston natives Sarah and Sam, who casually mentioned the kolaches they picked up from the Underbelly’s stall at the Houston farmers market. “A what?” I asked. I thought I was pretty up on Texan cuisine; I know about breakfast tacos. (Speaking of which, our Controller and longtime Austin resident Victoria Maynard declared kolaches to be “the new breakfast tacos.” Discuss.)

Sam, in particular, is a kolache connoisseur; he advised me that sausage trumps bacon, and more specifically, chorizo trumps kielbasa. His other guidelines: “Gotta be served hot.” “Often have cheese.” And, because this is Texas, “jalapeños are common.” About the fruit kind? He’s not a fan, even though North and Central Texans insist the egg-and-sausage-stuffed kolaches aren’t “true” kolaches.

Sausage kolaches: questionably authentic. Unquestionably delicious. Photo by Dan Wang Photo

And they’ve got a point: the savory ones aren’t, in fact, authentic; they’re not even technically kolaches. They’re klobasnek, or kolache dough stuffed with sausage. It’s a Czech-Texan creation that is found nowhere in the Czech Republic, Autumn told me. “They kind of bastardized kolaches,” she said. But inauthentic doesn’t meant less delicious: The breakfast kolaches have caught on in South Texas for a reason. “If you’re in Houston and go to a shop, they won’t even offer a sweet kolache,” she said. Now, depending on where in Texas you come from, you may have differing ideas of what kolaches are. “People will come to our bakery and we’ll be out of the sausage and cheese [type], and they say, ‘How can you be out of kolaches?!’”

Other than the occasional disappointed Texan, Brooklyn Kolache Co., which is the only brick-and-mortar kolache shop in New York, has won rave reviews from its customers—once they learn what they’re eating. “Kolaches are actually perfect for New Yorkers, just like a portable breakfast sandwich,” Autumn pointed out. They just haven't realized it yet.

If you’re heading to Austin this weekend, lucky you—sweet and savory kolaches await. But for the rest of us, consider trying your hand at making kolaches, a portable little piece of Texas that's totally doable at home.

All photos courtesy of Autumn Stanford.

Are you from Texas? Do you have thoughts on kolaches? Tell us in the comments!

15 Comments

Will M. August 21, 2018
Woah. As a Texas Czech I would like to revoke your use of the word "kolache."<br />A kolache is a pastry, not a klobasniky, which is a sausage wrapped in a Czech dough. Please understand that what you are doing to Czech culture is much worse than what Taco Bell does to Mexican culture, because not only do Austinites not know what a Kolache is, but it's like calling a taco a churro. <br />
 
Jana M. August 2, 2016
Thete are more bakeries on the kolache trail and more bakeries in west
 
Alfonso D. April 6, 2016
Read and learn:<br /><br />https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolach
 
Alfonso D. April 6, 2016
Your connoisseur doesn't know his rear end from a hole in the ground. Kolaches are sweet. Pastries filled with sausage or anything else salty have another name.
 
Vicky March 14, 2016
Texanans have an uncanny ability to make most food ~ just that much better. We LIKE bold flavors, spice & texture and don't mind borrowing from all the immigrant influences of our great state!
 
Andi H. March 14, 2016
I've lived in Texas since the mid 80's. Kolaches have always been big, especially in the Houston area, and they've ALWAYS had ham, cheese, eggs, sausage, etc. in them!
 
Ryan H. March 13, 2016
FYI - A Kolache is not a specific thing. The translation is "snack", the same word is used in multiple Slavic languages
 
daniella March 13, 2016
I'm reading an article that, from its first line, celebrates a distinctly Texan food, but the only person interviewed is in Brooklyn. Seriously?
 
frank March 12, 2016
Austin is not the arbiter of culture in TX.<br />what's the difference between Austin and yogurt?<br />yogurt has live culture
 
Loribeth T. March 11, 2016
I had no idea what a kolache was until I moved to Houston with my husband. He is now a devoted kolache lover. Me, I still prefer a buttermilk biscuit with a slice of cured ham.
 
tia March 11, 2016
Does anyone know if these can be made ahead and frozen? I'm always on the lookout for make-ahead breakfast food.
 
Author Comment
Annie C. March 11, 2016
Hi Tia - <br /><br />Yes! I have some stashed in my freezer and have been reheating them. They take probably 15ish minutes at 375-400F.
 
tia March 13, 2016
Good to know, thanks!
 
Allison B. March 11, 2016
About time kolaches got some time in the spotlight! Great read, though I feel I need to give a shout out to my mom's hometown of Caldwell, TX - designated Kolache Capital of Texas in 1989.
 
Rachel March 11, 2016
I cringed when I saw the comment about kolaches are the new "breakfast taco," what is this? Please know that kolaches aren't only in Texas, they're well known and loved in the Midwest where there are still large Czech communities. My mom's family is from Nebraska, and I grew up with kolaches and Czech food from her side. My great aunt's beautiful kolaches were LEGENDARY and she'd make them every weekend no matter what. One of my favorite memories was going to her house when we would stay with them on the weekends with the cousins on Saturday mornings while she baked kolaches with the same fillings: poppy seed, cherry, and apricot, and make buttery horn rolls with poppy seeds sprinkled on top. I was fortunate enough to receive a little glass dish from my mom's cousin that she always used, and my grandmother's bowl and handmade dough paddle that she always used for kolache dough to use when I miss home and make kolaches or rolls. This article brought back some great memories (even though I could not ever think of a kolache as a "breakfast taco")