Aside from being easy to grab-and-go, fluffy and filling, easily found in some parts of Texas, kolaches have a storied past. The bakery breakfast staple comes courtesy of Eastern European immigrants who brought this once special-occasion pastry along for the ride over a century ago. Let’s unwrap the mysteries of this perfectly self-contained bundle and find out what they are, where they came from and where you can find the best kolaches in the Lone Star State. And because there’s not enough controversy stirred up in the world right now, we’ll even delve into the argument of saying “klobasnek” vs. “kolache.”
What is a kolache?
A kolache is a pastry traditionally eaten for breakfast, and found in the Central and Southeastern regions of Texas. The fluffy dough has a consistency like that of a yeast roll and is stuffed with variations of sweet or savory ingredients. Fruit often fills sweet kolaches, which come in square shapes with a filling on top. Sausage, ham and even boudin (the Cajun rice-based sausage that hails from Louisiana) are often found inside the savory kolaches, which have the dough completely encasing the ingredients, similar to a pig-in-a-blanket. There’s a tiny bit of controversy between the two styles, but more on that below.
Where did kolaches come from?
“It was a special occasion food in the Czech Republic (or Moravia) during the time of immigration, pre-20th century, late 19th century,” says Texas-Czech enthusiast and author of the Svacina Project blog, Dawn Orsak. “People made them for weddings or large gatherings, because it’s a lot of work. You didn’t just do it on a Sunday morning and make 60 for your two kids.”
As culturally-specific comfort foods tend to do, the humble kolache—which is actually spelled “koláč” in Czech—evolved to a higher consciousness, which in this case, was mass production.
“People started opening commercial bakeries and using what we call a jelly roll pan, which has a lip on it, allowing for a four by six grid of kolaches in there,” says Orsak. “They baked them close together to make the square shape that is not traditionally Czech, but it is considered Texas-Czech.”
Orsak also says that the traditional Czech fillings were cheese, prunes and apricots, though she’s not sure what the first Texas-Czech kolaches contained, knowing some of those ingredients weren’t readily available in rural Lavaca County, circa 1880.
Presumably, it was from this point that Texans of all stripes fell in love with the portability and tastiness of the pastry, which helped increase its popularity and encourage its evolution. Today there are plenty of old school, traditional iterations of the breakfast favorite as well as creative, new school takes (brisket, meatball, sausage and gravy).
Orsak credits some of the kolache’s current popularity to the Houston-based company, Kolache Factory, which was founded in 1982, and has since branched out nationally.
“They have so many franchises and gained a whole audience who wasn’t Czech,” says Orsak.
What is a kolache versus a klobasnek?
Among kolache buffs, there’s a bit of dissent when it comes to the shape of the pastry and what it should be called. Fruit versions are generally round or square with the filling placed on top while savory ones are almost always totally encased (all of the filling is actually inside the pastry). Technically, Orsak says the round or square pastries are the “real” kolaches while the pig-in-a-blanket style, or fully encased, pastries are known as “klobasneks.” But to those who order either style at a commercial bakery, the term “kolache” does the trick.
Where can I find a kolache?
The Original Kolache Shoppe is the mecca of Czech pastries in the city of Houston, though there are many contenders. A handful of recommendations would be the newly remodeled Kolache Shoppe (not the same as above), Koala Kolache and Hugs & Donuts.
Road trips are always some of the best opportunities to visit the stalwarts like Weikel’s Bakery in La Grange or Hruska’s Bakery in Ellinger, both conveniently located between Houston and Austin. Czech Stop in West (just north of Waco) is another cult classic for the famed kolache, but also offers a full menu of fresh baked goods.
Orsak also highly recommends a visit to the Caldwell Kolache Festival in Caldwell, Texas, to taste kolaches made from recipes passed down through generations of Texas-Czech families.
“You will see so much variation in the shapes—some are dense, some are fluffier, some are square, some are round—they have all kinds of filling categories,” says Orsak. “It’s a good place to see, even within Texas, that some people have stuck with a more traditional dense dough and round shape, when others have branched off into a Texas-Czech version which is a fluffier dough and a square shape.”