2 packages dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, preferably Crisco
1/4 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
melted butter, for topping
1 recipe creamy peach, prune, or poppy seed filling (see below)
In a small bowl combine the yeast with the lukewarm water. Set the bowl aside.
In a large bowl cream together the butter, shortening, and 1/4 cup sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Mix in the egg yolks, milk, and salt, combining well. Stir in the dissolved yeast and the flour and mix until the ingredients are thoroughly blended into a soft dough. Cover the dough with a towel and set the dough aside to rise to about double in size, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
While the dough rises, choose and prepare one of the three fillings. The recipes for the fillings follow these instructions.
Grease a baking sheet. Pinch off pieces of dough about one-and-a-half times the size of a golf ball, flatten the balls slightly, and transfer them to the baking sheet. Place the balls at least 1 inch apart and brush them liberally with the melted butter. Set them aside to double in size again, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
With your thumb, gently indent the top of the dough to the depth of about 1/2 inch. Make the holes deeper for the poppy seed or creamy peach filling. Spoon in a couple of teaspoons of filling, and, with the poppy seed or creamy peach versions, coax the dough over the filling. Let the kolaches rest again for 15 to 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Bake the kolaches for 10 to 12 minutes, until they are golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven, immediately brush the kolaches with more butter, and sprinkle them with the remaining sugar. Transfer them to a rack and let them cool.
The kolaches should be tender, somewhat like a light buttery Danish. They’re best eaten the day they’re made. Makes 3 dozen kolaches.
Creamy Peach Filling
2 cups small-curd cottage cheese, drained in a sieve or cheesecloth for 30 to 45 minutes
1/2 cup peach butter (you may use cherry butter if you prefer)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Squeeze any accumulated liquid from the cheese. Mix the cheese with the remaining ingredients.
1 pound dried prunes
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Put the prunes in a saucepan and cover them with water. Add the vanilla and simmer until the prunes have softened, about 15 minutes. Drain and pit the prunes and chop them in a food processor with the sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Or chop the prunes by hand and then add the sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
Poppy seed Filling
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups poppy seeds
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
Stir together the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Set the bowl aside.
Grind the poppy seeds in a blender with about half the milk. Place the poppy seed mixture and the remaining milk in a large, heavy saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir in the reserved sugar-and-cornstarch mixture and the almond extract. Simmer, stirring often, until very thick, a matter of a few minutes.
Some kolache recipes call for proofing the yeast in milk, but the fat in milk can actually hinder the yeast’s development. It’s best to proof the yeast in water first and then to add milk later for tenderness.
You can make kolaches with sausage or almost any type of cooked fruit filling. Don’t use jelly, though, because it’s too runny. The fruit needs to be cooked to fruit-butter consistency.
Make the center depressions carefully so the bread doesn’t go flat.
Cover cheese-based fillings, like the creamy peach, and poppy seed fillings totally with dough. Stiffer fillings like prune can peek out the top.
Don’t skimp on the amount of butter brushed on the dough.