Kolaches are pretty commonplace in Texas. With a multitude of towns boasting descendants of Czech settlers, locals find themselves lucky enough to grow up eating the little concoctions of sweet dough dolloped with a fruity filling, topped with a sugary crumble. My youth was spent in a town full of folks with Czech, Polish, and German heritage, so I don’t remember a time not eating these or struggling to pronounce the Central European names of the bakers.
While most people know them for being sweet, somewhere along the way savory meat was added. And in a completely different form than the little pillow of dough. The meat finds itself wrapped in a rolled blanket of the dough, much like the party-time favorite, pigs in a blanket. The meat of choice could be ham, bacon, or even sausage, often with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese, the final product glazed in a sweet buttery mixture. I don’t know how authentic these versions are, nor when they came to be, but I’m glad they exist.
I made meat-filled kolaches in 3 of the bakeries I worked in while I was in college and shortly after. At the first one, where I was figuring out how this little organism called yeast worked, I made them with monstrous clumps of dough, ending in a football-sized monstrosity that engulfed the tiny sausage link. But we sold them anyway.
We also sold them in the second shop where I worked after the first bakery, a cute little coffee shop in our college town, lined with hundreds of mugs hung from the walls with hooks. Hence the name: MugWalls. This version of the meat-filled kolache holds a special place in my heart, because it takes me back to my time at this shop. It was there I met the boy. I was the baker and he was the barista. Summer was upon us, so the customers (primarily college students) were few. I’d arrive around 5:30 AM, and he’d saunter in at 7 AM, immersed in sleepy grumpiness until he’d poured enough caffeine in his veins to carry a conversation. That’s the summer we met and started dating, getting to know one another across the empty bar, only pausing in our talks if a customer wandered in. A year and a half later, he proposed to me at that same shop, under the tree strung with lights in the back courtyard, with my favorite mug filled with my favorite drink. It’s an extraordinarily special place in our history and memory.
These are the kolaches we made at that shop – or they’re my best interpretation, at least. They became a staple at MugWalls, offering some form of protein beyond the array of muffins and cookies that filled the pastry case for the hordes of college students bent over books studying (although it really felt more like a watering hole, with students chatting and flirting, books open to present the facade of education). These kolaches were delicious and well known among the patrons. We used a sweet, generic dough, and a hearty type of sausage link halved lengthwise in two. For spice lovers, we layered the inside of the dough with a few slices of jalapeno (pickled or fresh) and a sprinkling of cheese, placing the sausage link on top and wrapping it neatly and tightly. From there, we’d generously brush the tops in butter and sprinkle them with some restaurant-sized container of garlic, pepper, and salt. Into the oven they went, until they baked to a golden crisp and oozed cheese and the sweet and savory scent of sausage and dough.
People loved them, and I’m pretty sure they’re still made today at the shop, years after we left and moved on. It’s exciting and fun to be a part of the start of something extraordinary, like that shop. Although the staff is a revolving door of young college students, each of them making their own stories there, it was remarkably special to us. Beyond the kolaches, the boy made a signature drink that was called “The KevToddy” for about a week until it was given the moniker “The Iced MugWalls”, and we still enjoy sipping on one whenever we get to stop by when we’re back in town. But beyond that, we made amazing friends and long-lasting relationships there, and of course met and fell in love, blah blah blah.
So the recipe below is my homemade version of these kolaches. They aren’t exactly identical, but are a close second to eating them in the shop with a piping hot mug of Texas Pecan flavored coffee beside you. I’ve wanted to share these on the blog since I started the blog a year and a half ago, but I felt I needed time to fiddle with the recipe and make sure I could photograph them well enough to do them justice. The dough recipe comes from Rebecca Rather’s book, The Pastry Queen. And because I haven’t visited a restaurant supply store lately to buy a gallon of the obscure garlic salt and pepper mixture the shop used, I simply replaced it with freshly cracked pepper and salt.
These kolaches take some love and dedication, since any venture involving a yeast-rising dough can be tedious. But the end product is delicious, even if it’s not laced with love and nostalgia like ours are.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 1/4 teaspoons (or one .25 oz packet) active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 8 cups all purpose flour
- 8-10 links of jalapeno sausage (I used Kiolbasa), ends removed and halved down the center
- 3 jalapenos, sliced (de-seed if you don’t like heat)
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- Salt and pepper for sprinkling
- 1. For the dough, warm the 2 cups of milk in a sauce pan over medium heat until it starts to steam and forms a bit of a skin, then let cool for about 10 minutes. Dissolve the yeast in the 1/2 cup of lukewarm water until it’s foamy. Let it stand for about 5 minutes. Melt the butter in the microwave, then let cool for 5 minutes.
- 2. Using a large bowl, combine the sugar, salt, eggs, and melted butter. Add the milk and yeast mixture. From here, add the flour about two cups at time, using your hands or a wooden spoon to incorporate. Try not to overwork the dough too much. The dough should be sticky but still easy to handle. If you reach a point where you don’t think you can add any more flour, just leave it out.
- 3. Grease another large bowl with vegetable oil or cooking spray, and place the dough mixture in it. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm, drafty place for about 2 hours (or until it doubles in size). From there, punch it down to deflate the dough, then recover with plastic wrap. Let it continue to rise for 4 hours to overnight in the fridge.
- 4. To assemble the kolaches, use a rolling pin and a well floured surface. Pinch off dough that is roughly larger than a golf ball (refer to pictures above to gauge size). Roll into a circular shape, about as wide as your hand. In the middle, layer a few tablespoons of the shredded cheese, then a few slices of the jalapenos. Place the sausage link on top. Roll the sides of the dough over the sausage link tightly. If dough is hanging off of the ends, you can simply cut it off with a knife. Place seam-side down on a baking sheet. Continue this process until you run out of ingredients.
- 5. Let the baking sheets of kolaches proof in a warm, drafty place, uncovered, for about an hour, until the dough rises and softens just a bit. Before putting them in the oven, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with freshly cracked pepper and salt. Bake in an oven preheated at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until the dough is golden.
- 6. These are best served warm, straight out of the oven, but they are also excellent microwaved the next morning.
- The kolache dough comes from Rebecca Rather’s recipe book, The Pastry Queen.