They always rise to the occasion.
Well, at least we no longer have to explain what a kolache is: interest in our beloved Czexan confection has been rising like a ball of warm dough. Last October a treatise on the pillowy pastry made the pages of the New York Times. If you need further proof that our favorite roadside delicacy may be the new Cronut, it is now possible to procure a kolache in Portland and Brooklyn and quite a few places in between. And among the many purveyors carrying the torch here at home is Houston’s Revival Market, whose immensely popular Kolache Saturdays have fans lining up for decidedly unconventional variations like smoked turkey sausage and Texas pecan with cream cheese. Kolache fever is nothing new in Texas, which has been home to a considerable Czech community since the mid-1800’s. We can thank them for the Kolache Triangle, where motorists regularly and not so mysteriously disappear from the highways that connect San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston and reappear at one of the dozens of longtime vendors that dot the area. A fresh-baked kolache, nestled in a sheet pan and exuding butter and sugar and warm fruit, is no mere off-ramp diversion: it’s a golden ticket back in time to Grandma’s—or Babička’s—kitchen. As is this classic recipe from West’s Little Czech Bakery, featured in Denise Gee’s Sweet on Texas.
Makes about 36 kolaches
12 ounces dried apricots
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste
1 tablespoon sugar, plus 1/2 cup
2 1/4-ounce packages or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110° to 115°F)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup shortening
3 teaspoons salt
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
6 1/4 cups bread flour, sifted
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
To make the filling: In a medium bowl, cover the apricots with boiling water to rehydrate. Cover the bowl and let them sit overnight or at least six hours. Drain excess liquid.
In a medium saucepan, warm the rehydrated fruit with the butter, almond extract, and sugar over low heat. Use a potato masher to soften and mix the cooked fruit. Once softened, remove the filling from the heat and let it cool completely. (For a smoother texture, you can purée the filling in a food processor.)
To make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl, if you don’t have a mixer), combine the 1 tablespoon sugar, the yeast, and the warm water; set aside until yeast starts to bubble, about 5 minutes.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk until it registers 98° to 105°F on a candy thermometer. Stir in the shortening until just melted, then remove the mixture from heat and let it cool slightly (about 5 minutes). Add the salt, egg yolks, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar and whisk well.
Add the milk-egg mixture to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add the bread flour, 1 cup at a time, and work with a dough hook (or wooden spoon) until a soft, moist, glossy dough forms (about the time it begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl).
Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
After the dough has risen, punch it down to remove any air in the dough. Lightly flour a work surface.
Use a tablespoon to remove small portions of dough and drop them onto the floured surface, rolling them into egg-size pieces using the palms of your hands. Place them on greased baking pans in rows of 4 across and 5 down (about 1 inch apart) for a pan of 20. Brush the dough balls with the melted butter. Place them back in a warm, draft-free area, covered with tea towels, to let rise for 20 minutes more.
To make the topping: Combine the all-purpose flour, sugar, and butter in a food processor and pulse until crumbly. (The topping can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready for use.)
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Make a deep, round impression in the center of each ball of dough and fill it with 1 to 2 teaspoons filling. (Be careful not to press through the bottom of the dough, or the filling will ooze out while baking.) Let the kolaches rise again for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Sprinkle the kolaches with the desired amount of topping. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.
Adapted from Sweet on Texas, by Denise Gee. Published by Chronicle Books.