Jen Causey
Active Time
50 MIN
Total Time
3 HR 30 MIN
Yield
Serves : Makes 12

I grew up in a small town surrounded by even smaller towns with names like Prague and Bruno in what is known as Nebraska's "Bohemian Alps." As a child, I remember Czech families making kolaches, fruit-filled pastries similar to danishes, with an eggy dough and crumbly streusel topping called posypka. They were common for breakfast and dessert and a thing of cultural pride at social gatherings like weddings, Friday-night fish fries, and polka dances.

While ubiquitous throughout the Czech Republic even today, kolaches are rarely seen in the U.S. outside of the Great Plains, where many Czech immigrants settled in the late 1800s. Since moving to Oregon, I had all but forgotten about them until a recent road trip from Austin to Dallas, when I learned that the rural region in between the two cities is also home to many Czech descendants. The town of West, Texas, in particular, is known for its numerous kolache bakeries.

My travel companion and I pulled off the freeway at West to pick up a kolache for the road. The first bite led to a nostalgia-induced tasting frenzy in which we ended up stopping at four bakeries to compare the shapes, dough textures, and to try all the most common flavors—apricot, cherry, blueberry, poppy seed, and cream cheese. When I returned home, I was hell-bent on perfecting a recipe of my own, inspired by recollections of my childhood in Nebraska and the Texas versions I tasted, too.

Since baking several batches, I’ve come to realize that it’s important to make sure the dough is moist to the point of almost being sticky, but not quite. Also, if like me, you love a deeply browned pastry crust, you’ll have to set aside that bias in favor of a lighter golden brown exterior here, which keeps the kolaches tender and prevents them from becoming too dry. For the filling, a quick jam of summer’s fresh sweet cherries is dolloped over lemon-scented cream cheese—my favorite combination.

How to Make It

Step 1    

Make the dough: Whisk 1 cup flour, granulated sugar, and yeast in a large bowl. Add warm milk, and whisk to combine. Set aside until small bubbles begin to appear on the surface, about 5 minutes.

Step 2    

Whisk together melted butter, egg yolks, and salt in a separate bowl. Stir butter mixture into yeast mixture using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Stir in remaining 2 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time. After the second cup is added and it becomes too difficult to stir, tip the shaggy dough out onto a lightly floured countertop, and begin kneading by hand until smooth and springy, 3 to 4 minutes. The dough should be very tacky and a little greasy, but not sticky. If it does stick to the surface, dust with more flour, using as little as possible.

Step 3    

Transfer dough to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place bowl in a warm until doubled in size, 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Step 4    

Make the cherry filling: Combine cherries, granulated sugar, 1/4 cup water, and salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a steady simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to a thick, syrupy consistency, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature. Stir in lemon juice.

Step
Step 5    

Make the cream cheese filling: Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, egg yolk, and lemon zest in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth, about 1 minute.

Step 6    

Make the streusel topping: Stir together flour, sugar, butter, and salt in a small bowl until crumbly. Set aside to let butter solidify. Before using, stir again to create fine crumbs.

Step 7    

Punch down the risen dough and divide it into 12 equal pieces (about 2 1/3 ounces each). Roll dough pieces against work surface with cupped hands to make smooth balls. Transfer dough balls to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, and let rise, covered with a damp towel, until doubled in size, 30 to 45 minutes.

Step 8    

Make the kolaches: Preheat oven to 375°F. Use your fingertips to form 2-inch-wide wells in the center of each dough ball. Whisk egg yolk and milk in a small bowl. Brush outer edges and sides of dough with egg wash. Spread 1 tablespoon cream cheese filling in each well. Make a smaller well in the center of the cream cheese, and top each with a dollop of cherry filling. Sprinkle with streusel topping. Bake in preheated oven until edges are light golden brown, about 20 minutes.

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