On our way back from Montana, we decided to take a slight detour and spend a couple days in the Green Bay area of Wisconsin. We did not choose to visit this area because we are big Packers fans nor did we wish to witness the Tall Ships Festival that was in town that weekend, although seeing a gigantic floating rubber duck in the middle of the glistening lake as we drove past was very neat! No, the reason for our little detour was to meet up with my side of the family to "czech" an item off my Dad's bucket list by attending the annual Czech Kolache Festival held every year in the Green Bay area. My Grandpa is 50% Czech and his Dad, my grandpa, was 100% Czech and extremely proud of his heritage. One of the most famed and celebrated Czech traditions is the baking of Kolache, a puffed piece of sweet bread with an indented center that is filled with a fruit or cheese topping. Apparently my Grandma used to make the most wonderful Kolache and my Dad has pined for Kolache that lives up to the ones from his childhood memories.
So, to Green Bay we went. On the morning of the Kolache festival, we met up bright and early and headed to the festival location at a historical barn located in the middle of acres and acres of green farmland in Kewaunee. My parents were already there and had already picked up a huge sampler of kolaches for everyone to try.
"Monica, this is so creepy," my brother Mark whispered to me, "there are tons of old people walking around here that look just like Dad!" I couldn't disagree with him. There was something in the faces of every attendee that made us think that there must be some shared ancestral commonality. It was truly bizarre. However, it was truly wonderful to see so many people, so many families, come out to celebrate their heritage, their faith, their traditions. The festival began with Mass in the social hall and there was standing room only for all the chairs were accounted for long before Mass began. Everyone was so friendly, sweet, and cheery that it felt almost as if, just for having some connection to the Czech Republic, all of us gathered there were considered part of one giant extended family. There was lots of food, lots of music, some crafts for sale, and some great family time.
I bought my Dad a couple pins with phrases like "Czech Me Out", "Happiness is Being Married to a Czech", or "I married a Czech and still have my Sanity" and he, Mark, and Mom proudly wore them the rest of the day. Dad was totally in his element that day and it made my heart swell.
|My Dad, the happy Czech, and my Mom, who loves to remind us kids that we are just as much Lithuanian as we are Czech.|
|"Of course I'm right, I'm CZECH!"|
The kolaches were truly the highlight of the festival for most people there. The line to purchase kolaches was so incredibly long and the festival program claimed that that more than 20,000 kolaches were sold the previous year! My parents purchased a wide variety for all of us to sample, including cherry, strawberry-rhubarb, cream cheese, raspberry, and apricot. All 30 kolaches were gone in a matter of minutes. They were so light in texture and not overly sweet that it was easy to eat more than one. I loved the strawberry-rhubarb, but surprisingly the apricot filling was especially memorable. Emma ate three kolaches on her own, although she kept insisting that they were "donuts" because, clearly, at the tender age of three she knows everything. I really loved them and Paul was surprised by how much he loved them. If they're Czech, they have to be good!
Our experiences at the Czech festival inspired me to make some kolaches to share here as soon as we came back from our trip. Apparently, kolaches were traditionally made as a wedding dessert but now are served as a breakfast sweet, dessert, or snack. Each Czech family has their own "family recipe" for kolaches and, while there may be some subtle differences in preparation, most recipes seem to be quite similar. Some call for sour cream, some for scalded milk, some for butter, others for shortening, some are sweeter than others, and, of course, the filling can be whatever you imagine although purists will claim that apricot or cream cheese are the only truly traditional ones. For my kolaches, I have a couple different recipes that I have fiddled around with but I like the one from Cook's Country the most because it is very similar to a lot of traditional recipes I have spied in Czech cookbooks (I paged through a couple at the festival) and it is also the most straight-forward. It does include a struesel topping that is not normally seen but, in my opinion, is a smart addition for a bit of textural contrast.
For the filling, I use whatever fruit I have on hand and this time that just happened to be blueberries and nectarines. I actually really liked the nectarine filling and those I shared these kolaches with agreed that it was their favorite as well, so I am including it below.
Try these Czech pastries and enjoy a little taste of my family heritage! Or, as my Dad - King of the Puns - would say: "Czech Them Out!"
Czech Kolaches with Fruit Filling
adapted from Cook's Country
For the Dough:
1 Cup Whole Milk
10 Tablespoons Butter, melted
1 large Egg
2 large Egg Yolks, whites reserved
3-1/2 Cups Flour
1/3 Cup Sugar
2-1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons Salt
For the Filling:
10 ounces fruit (blueberries, nectarines, peaches, cherries, pineapple), fresh or frozen - be sure to dice the fresh nectarines or peaches into bite sized pieces
5 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons corn starch
For the Streusel:
2 Tablespoons -plus- 2 teaspoons Flour
2 Tablespoons -plus- 2 teaspoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon Butter, chilled and cut into 8 pieces
For the Egg Wash:
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
Grease a large bowl, set aside. Whisk the Milk, Melted Butter, Egg, and Yolks together in a 2-cup measuring cup (the Butter will form lumps). Whisk the Flour, Sugar, Yeast, and Salt together in the bowl of stand mixer. Fit mixer with the dough hook, add Milk mixture to the Flour mixture, and knead on low speed until no dry flour remains, about 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough clears the sides of the bowl but still sticks to the bottom of the bowl, about 8 to 12 minutes. If the dough hasn't cleared the bowl after 12 minutes, add more Flour, 1 Tablespoon at a time, up to 2 Tablespoons.
Transfer dough to greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise until doubled, about 60-90 minutes.
To make the streusel, combine the Flour, Sugar, and Butter in a small bowl and rub between your fingers until mixture resembles wet sand. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the fruit filling, combine fruit, sugar, and cornstarch in a bowl. Mix well. Microwave, covered, until bubbling and thickened, about 6 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking. Mash with a potato masher or leave as is for a chunkier filling. Let cool completely before filling kolaches.
After the dough has finished rising, line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Punch down Dough and place on a lightly floured surface. Divide Dough into quarters and cut each quarter into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a smooth, tight ball. Arrange 8 balls on each baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Place the baking sheets in the oven, replace the water in the loaf pan with 3 cup Boiling Water, close oven door and let rise until doubled, about 90 minutes.
Remove baking sheets and loaf pan from oven. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour the bottom of a 1/3-cup measure (or a 2-1/4-inch-diameter drinking glass). Make a deep indentation in the center of each dough ball by slowly pressing until cup touches sheet. The perimeter of the dough balls will deflate slightly.
Gently brush the Kolaches all over with the Egg-Milk mixture. Spoon filling into the Kolaches, about 1-1/2 Tablespoons per Kolache. Sprinkle with streusel. Bake until just golden brown, about 25 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Be careful not to overbake! Let cool on pan for 20 minutes.