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What Happens When a Czech Pastry Moves to Texas

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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.
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.

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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.

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.
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.)

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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.
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.

Breakfast Kolaches

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Makes 8 kolaches

Dough:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon (1 packet) active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable (or neutral) oil
  • 3 egg yolks

Fillings: (I liked egg-chorizo, jalapeno-cheese, or jalapeno-egg-cheese, but you can mix and match)

  • 2 chorizo sausages, casings removed, browned in skillet and cooked through
  • 6 to 8 eggs, scrambled
  • 3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 to 3 whole pickled jalapeños, thinly sliced

All photos courtesy of Autumn Stanford.

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


Tags: kolaches, austin, sxsw, breakfast sandwiches