Friday, December 31, 2010

Kolaches - A Czech Tradition

The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight."
~ M. F. K. Fisher (1908-1992)

Baking and cooking for my family and friends has to be on my top 10 list of favorite things to do (minus the dishes).  I can pretty much find a reason to celebrate any calendar event with food - no kidding, ask my kids.  This year they wanted to know what we were going to bake for Kwanzaa.  Ok, so we skipped that one....but the Advent and Christmas Seasons magically inspire a greater joy for baking.  They tend to instill a sense of sentiment and feelings of nostalgia.  We desire to renew and continue traditions of the past, and even begin our own traditions within our families.

The boys love to join me in the kitchen - especially if it involves something sweet.  I like to give them little "recipes" that they can handle on their own, such as white chocolate dipped pretzels.  As you can see the first three are diligently dipping, while #4 is strictly munching.

During Advent, our boys love reading the story of King Wenceslas, upon which the traditional hymn "Good King Wenceslas" is based.  This year, its recitation generated a lively discussion, which evolved into a full-fledged lesson on the history of the Czech Republic, Czech traditions, a map study and most importantly a further story-telling of my dad's family who immigrated here from what used to be known as Czechoslovakia.

Growing up near my grandparents farm outside Munden, Kansas meant frequent visits to their farm.  And, as many of you know, it's rare to visit anyone's farm without being offered something to eat....
This is a lovely picture of my grandma, Blanche.
Grandma was a very gentle, yet strong woman who represented so many wonderful talents to me.  She loved to garden and cared for the most beautiful peonies I've ever seen.  She talked to her chickens when we would go to fetch eggs, went for a walk every day, recycled everything (when it was more necessary frugality and not a religion), had an unmistakable giggle (especially when playing cards), and most of all she made the best Kolaches in Republic County.  We all like to think that she baked for us, her precious little grandkids, but it probably began with this handsome fella -
This is my grandpa George, my third son's namesake.  We know Grandma had him wrapped around her finger - how else could it be since the way to a man's heart is through his stomach???

So, back to baking, and what's a Kolache you say? It's a soft, slightly-sweet round bread with a filling, typically composed of fruit.  If you've never had one, I suggest you hop on Google and try to find the nearest bakery that has them on their menu, or better yet, plan a family trip to a Czech fest so you can try one, or two...  Now, they won't be as good as Blanche's, but you'll still love them, I promise!

Thus begins our Czech baking tradition.  The feast of St. Wenceslas falls on September 28th.  We could not wait until then to bake!  In the hymn, St. Wenceslas sets out on the feast of St. Stephen, typically celebrated the first day after Christmas, to bring gifts to the poor.  Perfect!

Baking Kolaches is an investment of time and love, and is more fun when made with family or friends. Though I decided to tackle my first batch alone, I am confident that my Grandma was coaching me from heaven, and I hope she knows that the gifts of love she gave to all of us are still being passed down through the generations.  Here are a few snippets of my baking endeavor:
Gathering up the ingredients for the dough....oh, the dough, soft, sweet, yummy - this part takes the most time.
 So far so good!  This mound of dough makes about 12 Kolaches.
If you are a fan of kitchen gadgets, but have zero intention of ever baking a kolache, you should have one of these cute dough presses if only for a culinary conversation piece.  They make the perfect indention in the dough for the filling.
Filling time.  Traditional recipes include cherry, pineapple, apricot, poppy seed and prune to name a few.  I decided to make cherry, poppy seed, lemon and apple.
The crumb topping is the final touch.  The Kolache is almost like 3 desserts in one - it's like a collision of sweet bread meets pie and finds a crisp.  Sigh....
 Delicious served warm out of the oven, but they can also be frozen and saved for later...
If you can wait!!

If you would like to try the recipe I used, please send me an e-mail, at  I would be happy to share!

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