When most of America wants to do something nice for the gang at the office, they stop on the way to work for a dozen doughnuts. Texans may also appreciate and consume their fair share of Krispy Kremes, but, if you want to start their work day off right, you bring kolaches!
Not familiar with the kolache? Originating in Central Europe, mainly in Czechoslovakia which has since become the Czech Republic, traditional kolaches were a semisweet dessert served at weddings and special occasions. In the 1800s, Czech immigrants brought their favorite foods with them as they began settling around Houston and smaller towns in Texas in an area that actually became known as the Texas “Czech Belt”. It did not take long before these tasty pastries were discovered by locals and adopted as their own. Even though Czechs would settle in other parts of the U.S., the largest concentration has always been Texas. This explains why something that comes in second only to Tex-Mex food is often relatively unknown outside of the Lone Star State.
Kolache comes from the Old Slavonic “kolo”, which means circle or wheel. In their original form, kolaches consisted of butter-laden dough that was more dense than fluffy, usually formed into a small circle with a depression in the center that was then filled with a small amount of fruit, farmer’s cheese, nuts or seeds. Once their popularity started taking off in Texas, evolution took its course.
There’s a reason they say that everything is bigger in Texas and that includes the imagination. Many Texans may not have any idea that their beloved kolaches are actually a European delicacy, and most Czechs would undoubtedly be hard pressed to even recognize many of the current incarnations of the original kolache. The larger chains use more commercial methods, but many independent bakers still do each step by hand. No longer limited in any way, kolaches now come in all sizes and a variety of shapes. Some are still circular but others tend to look a lot more like pigs in a blanket than a traditional kolache. Consistency of the dough has also morphed, with some retaining the original denseness while other versions have a much softer and light texture.
What has probably changed the most is the variety of fillings. Dessert-type kolaches with fruit and nuts are, of course, still available and popular. If you ever get the chance, make sure you try the pumpkin and cream cheese kolache that is often available around Thanksgiving. You will be so glad you did! More popular in Texas, though, are the torpedo-shaped kolaches that are standard breakfast fare. Fillings include your choice of sausage, bacon, chicken, egg, cheese, jalapeño peppers (it is Texas) or pretty much whatever someone can imagine. For later in the day there are cheeseburger kolaches and Philly cheesesteak kolaches. There are even snack-sized kolache poppers that are spicy bites of bacon, cream cheese and jalapeños!
True kolache connoisseurs or anyone with a Czech background will tell you that these new variations are not kolaches. In reality, they are closer to Czech pastries called klobasneks. While this may be technically accurate, it’s not hard to understand why “I’ll have a dozen sausage, egg and cheese klobasneks” never caught on at Texas drive-throughs.