If you’ve never heard of kolaches (pronounced koh-LAH-cheez), then it’s time you got the good news! Kolaches are simple, delicious pastries that originally hail from the area of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but have made their way in America as a staple of Texas donut shops, bakeries, and even country convenience stores.
Kolache pull temp: 180–190°F
A good kolache can be hard to find outside of Texas, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat one! Here, we’ll give you the temp tips you need for kolache success. We’ll also provide you with a fantastic apple filling recipe from King Arthur Baking for your first go-around. We’ll be checking our temps for the dough with a Classic Super-Fast® Thermapen®, and recommend you do the same!
These are a wonderful make-ahead breakfast for special occasions or lazy weekend mornings. The warm cinnamon and toasty pecan flavors in this filling lend themselves to winter festivities. As a neighbor gift, these would be amazing, and as a Christmas morning breakfast, they’d disappoint no one at all.
What are kolaches?
Simply pout, kolaches are filled bread. They can be presented much like danishes—open-face, fruit filling or sweetened cream cheese mounded into an indent on top—or closed, completely encasing a more savory filling, like bacon, eggs, and cheese or, classically in Texas, a whole chunk of smoked sausage, jalapeños, and cheese.
And while kolaches are infinitely adaptable, 2 there are certain things we want from them all. Kolaches should have a dough that is light and pillowy while still being somewhat substantial. The finished bread should be able to stand up to the weight and water of the fillings without falling apart but should be soft and enjoyable to eat. The tender dough will be accomplished by the addition of butter and eggs, and the strength of the dough will come from very thorough kneading and gluten-development.
The dough can be ever-so-slightly sweet, even for the savory ones. The best ones will have homemade fillings, not canned pie filling—and if you’re going to make a good kolache, you may as well make a good kolache.
Kolache dough is a rich dough, the eggs, milk, and butter of which bestow on the kolaches the tenderness we seek and also help them stay fresh longer without getting hard and stale. (In fact, it is very much like brioche.) As with all yeast doughs, kolache dough needs proper temperature care during the making. Yeast needs activation in warm-but-not-hot water—about 95–100°F (36–38°C) is perfect—and it needs to ferment in an environment that is about 85–105°F (29–41°C).
So far, this is all pretty common knowledge. But what many people don’t know is that bread dough, including rich dough like this, has a doneness temperature. Rich-dough breads are done cooking at 180–190°F (82–88°C) (a temperature that is lower than their lean-dough counterparts). With “loaves” as small as these, it’s important to have a thermometer that can accurately gauge the temperature even in small spaces, and Thermapen’s very small sensor tip is just the tool for the job.
A note on kolache filling
You can fill your kolaches with whatever you want, but you don’t want the filling to be overly soggy. Too much water will soak through your bread. This filling uses cornstarch to take up the slack on the water. If you are stuffing your kolaches with anything else, just be sure that there’s no loose water running around in it. Thicken or concentrate your filling to the point that it will take a little shape in a spoon and you’ll have greater success.
Once you’ve had a good kolache, you’re going to want to make them part of your lifestyle. Kolache Saturday mornings are some of the best mornings! If you’re from the parts of Texas (or the Czech Republic or Slovakia) where kolaches are common, you can put your skills to the test to see if you can equal your local baker. But if this is all new to you, then you’re sure to enjoy this delightful, folksy pastry. Use your Thermapen to treat your yeast right and to make sure everything is properly cooked, and you’ll love the results. Take a plate to a friend this holiday season and spread the joy!
This recipe is based on the one from King Arthur Baking. The pecans are a very nice touch and I recommend including them, even though I don’t always love nuts in pastries.
For the dough
- 1 1/4 C lukewarm—95–100°F (36–38°C)—milk, divided
- 2 1/2 tsp instant yeast or active dry yeast
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 3 1/4 C (390g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened (you can soften butter by beating it repeatedly with a rolling pin)
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 3/4 tsp salt
For the streusel topping
- 1/3 C sugar
- 1/4 C (28g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
For the filling
- 4 medium Granny Smith apples
- 1/2 C sugar
- 3 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 C chopped pecans
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Make the dough
- In a mixing bowl, combine 1/4 C flour, 1/4 C milk, the sugar, and the yeast. Let this sit for about 15 minutes to activate the yeast. It should become somewhat bubbly.
- Add the rest of the dough ingredients (the butter, the rest of the milk, the remaining flour, the lemon zest, the egg, and the salt) and mix well. (I did this by hand, which was fine, but you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook.) It should become smooth, but will still be quite sticky. You may even think it needs more flour, but chances are good that it does not.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place it in a warm corner of your kitchen or, even better, in a proofing box. Some ovens even have a proof setting. Allow the dough to rise until it doubles in size, 1–2 hours.
While the dough rises, make the topping and filling
- To make the topping by simply combining all the topping ingredients in a bowl.
- Peel the apples, core them, and chop them finely. Toss the apples with the cornstarch, sugar, and ground cinnamon.
- Place the mixture in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until the apples become somewhat tender (not mushy) and the starch gels, thickening the mixture.
- Remove the pan from heat and stir in the chopped nuts and vanilla. Cool before using.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (191°C)
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface. Cut the dough into small balls, about the size of a whole walnut, about 1 oz each. Shape them into the shape of a squashed ball—make a ball and flatten it some.
- Place each piece on a parchment-lined baking sheet, about 12 to a sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to proof in the same conditions as the previous fermentation step. Let rise until they poof up somewhat, about 35 minutes.
- Make a deep indent in the center of each dough, about 1″ wide. Fill each well with apple filling (about 1 Tbsp) and top with the streusel crumble.
- Bake the kolaches for 20–25 minutes, checking their internal temperature with a Thermapen at 20 minutes. If the internal temp is 180–190°F (82–88°C), they’re done! Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for as long as you can stand it before eating them.
For make-ahead goodness, these can be stored in the refrigerator for a week. Reheat them in a 350°F (177°C) oven for about 5 minutes before serving.
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