Czechoslovakia is probably not the first country that comes to mind when people set out to identify the ethnic influences on Texas food. However, any Central Texan who has ever slurped a bowl of homemade noodles in rich chicken broth or sunk their teeth into the soft, yeasty cloud of a fruit kolache knows that Czechs bring a delicious contribution to the Texas culinary table.
Czech immigrants began arriving in Texas during the mid-to late nineteenth century, entering through the busy port of Galveston and spreading out though the rich Blackland Prairie that runs from just north of the Houston area to just north of Dallas. They settled in rural areas and became farmers and craftsmen whose society revolved mostly around family life and the Catholic Church. The Czechs rich cuisine was based on roasted meats with noodles and dumplings; homemade sausages, potatoes and sauerkraut; and baked goods such as fruit strudels and kolaches continues to be a valued part of Czech family life today.
The kolache is the most prominent edible symbol of Texas Czech culture and probably the most tested pastry in all of Texas. Kolaches are made with sweetened yeast dough formed into rolls and filled with fruit, cheese or sausage before baking. Classic Czech fillings are prune, poppyseed, cottage cheese, and sausage, though fruit fillings such as cherry, peach, apple, and apricot have become popular as well. Some family recipes call for a crumb topping and others do not; some German-influenced bakers add mashed potatoes to assure a moist dough while others swear by lard instead of vegetable shortening. No true Czech wedding feast would be complete without a bountiful supply of kolaches on the dessert table and the homemade variety are always a fixture at Czech church functions and heritage society gatherings. Now that kolaches are also available in local bakeries, they can be a delightful everyday treat. Texas Monthly: We Gotcha Kolache
When groups of Texas Czechs around the state began to look for ways to preserve and celebrate their culture, they wisely built festivals around two of their biggest assets: polka music and kolaches.
Today, there are kolache festivals and baking contests all over Central Texas, from West to Houston and Caldwell to Rowena. The granddaddy of all kolache contests is the annual Westfest, a Labor Day tradition in the hamlet of West, just off IH-35, north of Waco in McLennan County.
Westfest began in 1975 as a local celebration of the area’s Czech heritage with authentic food, costumes, arts and crafts, polka bands and a kolache baking contest. Today, it’s an end of summer ritual that draws visitors from all over the world. The little town now supports a dressmaker who specializes in traditional Czech costumes, and no less than four kolache bakeries.
The Westfest kolache contest begins the festival season which continues around the state all year long. It goes to Caldwell and Halletsville in September; moves through Pasadena, San Antonio, and Rowena in October; picks up again in Houston in April; goes to San Bernard in June; and Praha in August. We can be sure that Czechs and connoisseurs of good food and polka music will be in attendance, enjoying all flavors of kolaches, of course.
This year, a much-needed soaking rain didn’t deter the contestants from the fourteenth annual Caldwell Kolache Festival held in mid-September. With their precious cargo securely covered in plastic wrap and sheltered under umbrellas, dedicated bakers braved the rain to register at the Caldwell First Methodist Church fellowship hall early Saturday morning. County residents are eligible to enter the Burleson County amateur or youth divisions while visiting non-professionals may enter in the county or statewide categories. Professional bakers must enter the professional division. Contestants submit six average-sized kolaches of the same filling on a disposable plate and can enter up to five different classes, i.e. cherry, apple, apricot, cheese, and sausage.
County residents are eligible to enter the Burleson County amateur or youth divisions while visiting non-professionals may enter in the county or statewide categories. Professional bakers must enter the professional division. Contestants submit six average-sized kolaches of the same filling on a disposable plate and can enter up to five different classes, i.e. cherry, apple, apricot, cheese, and sausage.
To try your hand at kolache-making,here’s three time-tested recipes from sources who definitely know their kolaches. Each recipe has subtle differences in the ratio of fat to sugar and flour, the desired result being a soft, elastic dough. Each of these recipes is assured to be a success, so try them all and compare.
Mrs. Jerabek’s Kolache Recipe
Mrs. Jerabek’s Kolache Recipe. Published often in The West News of West, Texas, this recipe comes courtesy of Nita and Freddy Gerik, longtime residents of West who answer the Westfest information line in their home. According to them, Mrs. Jerabek’s recipe is very reliable.
Dorothy Bohac’s Kolache Recipe
This recipe comes from Dorothy Bohac, PhD., President of the Travis-Williamson Counties Czech Heritage Society. She says that “the quality of a kolac is in the texture of the dough. The texture is controlled by the ingredients, particularly the amount of flour used. A baked kolac should be soft to the touch and the dough should be elastic.”
The Morkovsky Sisters Kolache Recipe
Rose Morkovsky Hauger and Ann Morkovsky Adams are Czech sisters who grew up in a large family in San Antonio. Their family farm near Floresville is the focal point of family gatherings and celebrations. They’ve demonstrated their lifetime of kolache expertise in presentations for Texas Folklife Resources around Texas and at the Smithsonian Institution’s Festival of American Folklife.
Central Texas bakeries specializing in kolaches
Village Bakery, Inc.
108 E. Oak Street, West, TX 76691 (254) 826-515
Czech Stop & Little Czech Bakery
105 N. College, West, TX 76691 (254) 826-5316
Kolacek Kolache Kitchen
306 N. Main Street, West, TX 76691 (254) 826-5031
Old Czech Bakery
511 W. Oak, West, TX 76691 (254) 826-3307
The Kolache Shop
7113 Burnet Suite 112, Austin, TX 78757 (512) 458-5542
The Kolache Capital
203 Highway 21 East, Caldwell, TX 77836 (409)567-7584