Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bohemian Kolaches

As part of my mother’s ongoing quest for her cultural identity, she announced a few days before Easter that she wanted to make kolaches for the occasion. Kolaches, for those of you who are not familiar, are fruit filled pastries of Slavic origin. I had never had one- or even seen one, I don’t think.
When questioned further by my father about why she wanted to add making them to her already long list of things to do that weekend, she said she felt she had to make them before she died, because it’s “part of her heritage.”
The recipe for “Bohemian Kolaches” she dug up came from another vintage bread baking book, Homemade Bread, published in 1969. I’ve developed a real affinity for these old cookbooks not only because they have great recipes, but because the language and notes to the cook (who is obviously an eager to please housewife) are pretty funny. For example, underneath the title “Bohemian Kolaches” it declares that they are “fruity and gay.” Fruity and gay! You don’t say! Let’s make them right now!
The book also contains a litany of suggestions and advice aimed at helping you become the most formidable homemaker of all time.
If you want to collect compliments for the bread you bake, do make Kolaches.”
Well, now that you mention it, I do want to collect compliments, for everything I do.
“Some women consider Kolaches tedious to make, but almost everyone believes they’re worth the effort.”
That’s okay, I have all the time in the world to stand at the counter, making “tedious” things. Especially if it is going to impress my guests.
“Arrange the apricot-and prune-filled rolls, dusted with confectioners sugar, on a tray for your next tea or coffee party, or pass to guests with coffee at any time of the day.”
I’m especially grateful they included this direction, because I don’t think I would have been able to think of doing this with the Kolaches myself.
The book also has small historic anecdotes too, about the origin of the “crescent roll” for example. (I won’t go into it, but it involves Turks, and tunnels, and nighttime bakers in Vienna.)
While this was supposed to be my mother’s project, I was the one who initially ended up making them Saturday afternoon. I say “initially” because I ended up reading the directions incorrectly and totally screwed everything up . I added the yeast to the scalded milk instead of to the warm water, thereby failing to activate the yeast, and was left with a heavy, somewhat dry ball of dough. Half an hour after setting my dough to rise, I excitedly peeked under the dishtowel expecting to see the glorious ball of dough, shiny and swollen, expanding like a balloon, only to realize it hadn’t change a bit. Not one bit!
It was my mother who identified my mistake, and I, who was growing increasingly less enthusiastic, decided to toss my failed kolache dough into the compost bucket.
“I’ll just whip up some more dough,” she said. “You go and relax.”
So I did. And she made the kolaches, which ended up being beautiful and sweet and very impressive. She even hauled my discarded dough out of the compost and invented a delicious, round, loafy thing filled with dried fruit and nuts, which we ate Easter morning. I think it all worked out and that her Aunt Mary, and all the other Czech mothers that had come before her, were looking down on her, knowing that from the beginning baking the kolaches was meant to be her task.
Bohemian Kolaches
½ cup milk
2 pkgs. Active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
¾ cup butter
½ sugar
1 tsp. salt
4 egg yolks
4 ½ cup all purpose flour
Scald the milk; cool to lukewarm.
Sprinkle yeast on warm water; stir to dissolve.
Cream butter, sugar, salt and egg yolks together until light and fluffy. Add yeast, milk and 1 ½ cups of the flour. Beat for 5 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. Batter should be smooth.
Stir in enough remaining flour, a little at a time, to make a soft dough that leaves the sides of the bowl. Place in lightly greased bowl, turn dough over to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Stir down; turn onto lightly floured board and divide into 24 pieces of equal size. Shape each piece into a ball. Cover and let rest 10 to 15 minutes.
Place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets; press each piece of dough from center outward with fingers of both hands to make a hollow in center with a ½” rim around the edge. Fill each hollow with 1 Tbs. of filling.
Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, 30 to 40 minutes.
Bake at 350 for 15 to 18 minutes, or until light brown. Brush tops of rolls with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with confectioners sugar.
Prune Filling
Cook 30 prunes in water to cover until tender. Drain and then mash with a fork and stir in ¼ cup of sugar and ¼ tsp. allspice. Filling should be thick. Makes enough for 14 kolaches.

Apricot Filling
Cook 25 dried apricots (about 1 cup) the same way as the prunes. Also mash with fork or in the food processor, adding ¼ c. sugar. Filling should also be thick and will make enough for 10 kolaches.


  1. Your writing always puts me right in your family kitchen. I love that aspect so very much. Sounds like it was a great Easter!

  2. so...ya wanna impress some guests tonight?

  3. We also made the kolaches with hard-to-come-by poppy seed filling (thanks to Betsey)...thus evoking one of the richest memories of our midwestern Bohemian Aunties.

  4. 1919 Cather My Antonia 381 NE, Show him the spiced plums, mother. Americans don ' t have those. . . Mother uses them to make kolaches.

    So Willa knew about kolachys too.. almost cooked poetry???

  5. good link to Cather cooked poetry mom!!