What are we if not human creatures roaming this earth in search of carbs, whether it’s to jump-start a Monday, nurse a hangover, or satisfy a late-night craving. Kolaches, most often found in Texas, have all that you seek in one delicious pastry—sweet or savory.
What Are Kolaches?
Czech immigrants brought kolaches to the U.S. when they settled here in the 19th century, mostly in Texas as well as parts of the Midwest. The population was so large in the Lone Star state that some areas are still referred to as the Czech Belt. The kolaches that came with them are sweet: fluffy dough with an indentation in the middle for fillings such as fruit jams like prune and apricot, sweet cheese, and a traditional poppy seed paste.
Like every food that migrated to the U.S., kolaches have taken on various forms over time. As they seeped into the Texas mainstream, savory versions began to appear. These are most often stuffed with sausage, cheese, and jalapeños that are enclosed in the dough, as opposed to open-faced like the sweet ones. Some bakers have gotten creative—think boudin or barbecue. Purists will point out that these are technically a take on klobasneks, another Czech pastry, and not “savory kolaches,” but the term kolache is now widely used for both sweet and savory.
Assorted Sweet & Meat Kolaches, 14 for $84 on Goldbelly
Try a taste from Pearl Snap Kolaches in Texas.
Morgan Weber, co-owner of Agricole Hospitality in Houston, grew up eating his grandmother’s kolaches and klobasneks. “She made them every Sunday for most of her life,” he says. She lived in the countryside and didn’t see neighbors very often, but on Sundays, she knew someone would drop by to visit. She made sure to always have kolaches ready to go for whoever that turned out to be.
One of Weber’s restaurants, Revival Market, makes kolaches for special weekends and holidays. Czech-style smoked sausage and boudin are regular fillings for the savory ones, and American-style cheese is a must. “I don’t want the cheese to be especially good cheese,” he chuckles. The sweet kolache flavors rotate with the seasons, such as satsumas or peaches from the Hill Country.
Weber believes Texans eat a lot more savory styles than sweet—it fits with their proclivity for meat. They’ve become a staple of the Texan diet, particularly as a road snack. “If you’re stopping in central Texas, there will probably be a bakery attached to the gas station, and they will probably make pretty good kolaches of some sort,” he says.
Kolaches on the Move
I went to Weikel’s when I visited Texas for the first time in 2017 and became instantly obsessed with kolaches. However, I was sad to learn that my newfound love was quite difficult to find outside of Texas. Back home in kolache-less New York City, I did some research and found out about Brooklyn Kolache Co. in Bedford-Stuyvesant, run by a Texas expat, Autumn Stanford, who makes both sweet and savory versions.
There will soon be another kolache shop in town. Paul and Sarah Ashley founded Kings Kolache in 2013, but up until now had been doing catering and delivery to bars and restaurants in the city, without a storefront. At the beginning of 2020, they will open what they call a Texas-style gas station in Bushwick in Brooklyn, serving kolaches and breakfast tacos, among other goods.
“Kolaches are still going through this weird adolescence in its identity as it’s been adopted in America,” says Paul, who is from Katy, Texas, just outside Houston. Through their pop-ups, they noticed Texans craved the savory kolaches, whereas they would sometimes get customers from the Czech Republic who wanted the sweet ones. They also noticed other differences.
“In Texas, kolaches are known as a breakfast food, and in Eastern Europe, they’re considered a holiday dessert,” says Sarah. “But in New York, what we’re finding is most people enjoy them with beer late-night style.”
At their new shop, the Ashleys will continue to make both savory and sweet styles. Their signature kolache is stuffed with smoked sausage from Meyer’s Elgin Sausage brought over from Texas, cheddar (always orange), and candied jalapeños (instead of the usual pickled ones, to offset the spiciness). They also became known for the Tex-Mex-Veg, which has black bean, corn, and cilantro in it; they add chorizo for the meat eaters. They briefly made a brisket, egg, and cheese kolache with meat from Hill Country Barbecue, which they’d like to bring into the regular rotation.
For their sweet kolaches, they stick with the traditional sweet cheese and seasonal fruits, but also have their own take on poppy seed, to which they add lemon.
Many Texans have spread this tradition to other spots in the U.S. Caroline Glover, chef-owner of Annette in Aurora, Colo., a suburb of Denver, recalls that kolaches were her first food memory growing up in Texas, when she was around 5 years old. “My great-aunt Netsie, who the restaurant is named after, would bring them every Thanksgiving,” she says.
At the restaurant, she makes two dozen sweet kolaches every Sunday, which sell out incredibly fast. “There’s a lot of Texans in Denver that I’m learning about,” she laughs. For the first time this year, she decided to make them for Thanksgiving, for guests to pre-order. She got up to 700 orders and had to cut it off.
What makes a good kolache, in Glover’s opinion? “For me personally, it’s the filling-to-bread ratio,” she says. “I like lots of the jammy filling. And also a bread that isn’t dry. Sometimes you can get kolaches that are almost brittle inside—it’s disturbing.”
Big companies like Shipley Do-Nuts and Kolache Factory, both headquartered in Texas, now have franchise locations across the country. But there are other independent bakeries worth seeking out nationwide, such as Café Kolache in Pittsburgh and Happy Sparrow Café in Portland, Ore. and in pockets of the Midwest where there’s strong Czech heritage, like Verdigre Bakery in Verdigre, Neb., and Coaches Kolaches in Clive, Iowa.
Wherever you are, you’d do well to track them down.
Header image courtesy of Weikel's Bakery