Main Course

Keeping Up with the Kolatches

Czech immigrants arrived in Texas around the mid-1800s and brought many native foodways with them, including the kolache. Over time, the stuffed dough balls evolved beyond their original form to include the beans, meats, and other foods for which Texas would become known. Now this iconic regional snack is on the national scene, thanks to bakeries like New York City's Kings Kolaches.


Paul Ashley: Kolache is a traditional Czech pastry. Started off as a dessert pastry and then it kind of entered the American food scene in like, the 1800s. Mid-1800s. The traditional Czech one is, a lot of times, like, poppy seed and sweet cheeses, and berries and when it kind of moved down and got popularized down in Texas, they took that same dough and, of course, being Texas, they added meat and cheese and peppers and all that.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So it kind of feels like it’s a cousin of the bun. Like the Asian bun. Because it feels a doughnut, it’s got stuff inside it, and yet it’s a little bit drier and not as sweet. So how do you make a kolache?

Paul Ashley: So it’s made, the dough is the most important part. It’s this amazing like, semi-sweet yeast dough that we let rise and then punch down, and encase everything else, like you would in a pork bun or in a bao, for example. And then we just bake them with all those fillings inside already.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And so you grew up in Texas?

Paul Ashley: Yeah, I grew up right outside of Houston.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Were there a lot of kolaches around when you were growing up?

Paul Ashley: There were. Yeah. Saturday mornings, for me growing up, [we would] have a dozen kolaches for the family in the morning.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Sweet kolaches or savory kolaches?

Paul Ashley: See, we would have the Texas style. We would have the savory ones.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Is kolache Czech for Hot Pocket? They feel a little Hot Pocket-y.

Paul Ashley: They’re like Hot Pockets for adults, yes.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah. Are there strong opinions about kolaches down there?

Paul Ashley: There are strong opinions. There are the traditionalists who, you know, see the kolache as what it is. It’s dessert pastry with poppy seeds. Technically, I believe, we’re making the klobasnek, which is essentially just the same exact dough but with meat and cheese and savory fillings baked inside, which, you know, Texas has kind of adopted as its kolache.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Tell me about the sorts of kolache you make at Kings Kolache.

Paul Ashley: So we try to stay true to the Texas kolache, which can be found, you know, in like, road stop places like Hruska’s, and between Houston and San Antonio. One of the best, one of the classics, is smoked beef sausage and cheddar. Sometimes we’ll add like, candied jalapeno there. We’ll make sure that it’s this really great smoked beef sausage in there. Sharp cheddar cheese.

Brendan Francis Newnam: We’re looking at some. You brought some kolache with you.

Paul Ashley: Yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So these are some beef and cheddar kolaches. They look like somewhere between a racketball and a tennis ball.

Paul Ashley: That’s right.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But they are, they’re perfectly kind of round, and I’m looking at this and, I’m going to say it, looks like good stoner food.

Paul Ashley: It’s true. It’s also really great food for bars. A lot of bars we distribute to. It’s perfect drunk food at the end of the night.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, because it’s just very portable. It’s filled with savory goodness. And you’re not going to spill on yourself because there’s, like, a built-in container.

Paul Ashley: Exactly. We have this one customer that, she would get them in the morning. We were halfway between her house and her work. She would get them in the morning and she would use them as hand warmers in her coat.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Is that real? Kolache hand warmers?

Paul Ashley: That’s real. I know. It’s a fantastic use. And she would use them as hand warmers and then just eat them when she got to work.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right. I used the special Dinner Party Download microwave to heat these up. Does that do damage to dough?

Paul Ashley: No. You know, it’s best when it’s toasted but it holds up really well in the microwave, too.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right. Well, the Fire Marshall doesn’t allow us to have one of those, so do you want two? I heated up two of them.

Paul Ashley: Definitely.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I’m going to take a bite of the kolache.IMG_4990

Paul Ashley: Me, too.

Brendan Francis Newnam: There’s a really nice proportion of dough to meat interior with gooey cheese and then this is, looks like a classic orange cheese.

Paul Ashley: Oh, yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Would you get in trouble in Texas if you used a non-orange cheese?

Paul Ashley: Probably. You know, we gotta keep it orange.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I’m looking at these other kolaches. We have another pair of them. What are in these kolaches?

Paul Ashley: This one is one of my favorites. It’s a black bean, chorizo, cilantro, and corn, and a little bit of lime in there.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Cilantro? So there’s green in there.

Paul Ashley: There’s a little green in here.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So it’s a little healthy.

Paul Ashley: It’s very healthy for you.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, I’m going to try this guy.

Paul Ashley: All right, me too.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I like the bean situation.

Paul Ashley: They’re fantastic.

Brendan Francis Newnam: What is a filling you tried that didn’t work out?

Paul Ashley: That’s a very good question. Another thing I love, that’s also kind of distinctively southern, which we thought would be good with our kolaches, is pimento cheese. And we like stuffing these things with as much filling as possible, and we just found out that, if you do that with pimento cheese, in an oven, it just explodes. It just rockets out of that kolache.

Brendan Francis Newnam: They’re little hand grenades?

Paul Ashley: They’re little hand grenade bombs of cheese and gluten.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You could firebomb a cronut store with your kolaches.

Paul Ashley: Oh, yes. See, that’s probably the realistic future for us. Just firebombing cronut stores.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s going to happen next.