Kolaches: Nebraskans Eating Czech

Growing up, many of my family’s celebrations included traditional Swedish foods.  So, until I met my husband, I had never tried kolaches, a traditional Czech pastry.  These sweet rolls often have fruit filling, such as cherry, apricot or prune, although in the south cheese & sausage ones seem to be common.  My personal favorite ones are the poppy seed kind.

For years, I have wanted to learn from my mother-in-law how to make these delights, but we have not managed to find the time (or it has been to hot to heat up the kitchen!)  So, when my favorite recipe catalog, Penzey’s, arrived with a refrigerator kolache recipe arrived, I was excited to try them and ordered a large bag of poppy seeds.  Two years later, they were sitting untouched in my cupboard.

Until I realized that before posting about kolaches and giving out a recipe, I should actually try making them.  So this blog motivated me to introduce kolaches to my kitchen.  And now that these treats have been there, they will return, as I was amazed at how easy they were to make.  But I am definitely glad that I did try them first, as I will be making a few changes to the recipe.  So, at the end of this post, I will provide a link to the original recipe as well as to my adapted one.  As I show you pictures of my baking, I will note what I changed about the recipe. 🙂

First: I tried to streamline the timing, so that the baking event would not take quite as long.  I would cut in the butter/shortening to the flour mixture first and set that aside, so that it was ready when I needed it.


Then I would start cooking down the poppy seeds on the stove.  The original recipe states that you do not have to grind the poppy seeds since you refrigerate the filling overnight.  That seemed to work okay AS long as I added extra sugar – the filling was not sweet enough for me in the first batch I made.  I also will add a bit of cornstarch next time to the milk before stirring it in.  I want the consistency to be more like pie filling (hopefully that would also make the filling less messy!)


Poppy seed soup?

The poppy seed mixture does cook down well, but the original recipe seemed to make more filling than was needed, so I cut down on the required filling in my adapted recipe.


As soon as I had the filling cooking, I would add the yeast/sugar to the warm water to start the 10 minute activation.  Will be ready to add the remaining ingredients just about the time the poppy seeds are ready to be taken off the stove.  The original recipe says that you should fold the combined dough with a bit more flour on a floured surface – I did not want another dish to wash, so I just sprinkled a little flour on top.


What the combined dough looked like before going into the fridge for the night.  The poppy seed filling hangs out there too overnight.

I really liked the fact that I could be done baking for a bit.  Making bread can be exhausting, so having to put it aside was nice.  I will do a better job of planning when I make these next time- starting with a kitchen full of supper dishes was not a good idea.  I was a bit (okay, possibly a lot!) crabby.  The kids would have enjoyed helping more – at this point, I just wanted them to go to bed for the night!


What the dough looked like after being in the fridge overnight.  I could not really tell much difference from the night before.  But there must have been some raising going on, as the bread part tasted flaky, rather than seeming too dense.

The original recipe makes 48 kolaches.  So, you cut the dough into 4 balls, then divide each ball in half twice, then in thirds.  I did not add any extra flour – rolling the dough into balls was very quick and easy.

While I was rolling the dough into balls, I preheated my oven to 170 degrees.  I decided that cooking more than 2 pans of rolls at a time would crowd the oven, so I put the other half of the dough back into the fridge until later.  Once the 2 pans were full of rolls, I set them into the warm oven, TURNED the oven OFF (a key step 🙂 ), then waited an hour for them to raise in their warm, happy place.  At this point, I would recommend setting out the streusel ingredients, so that the butter can soften.  I microwaved the butter to soften it – it turned out clumpy (but still tasted good!)


The raised rolls flatten out in the oven naturally.  The dough ball pictured below the ready rolls came directly from the refrigerator, so that you could see the size comparisons.

After the rolls have risen, you depress the centers lightly with a spoon and spread with the filling.  Then you top with the filling.  The key is baking them until light brown – they seem like they will not be cooked through, but they are flaky and delicious.  (Golden brown means an overdone kolache.)


Poppy seeds are definitely a bit messy to work with.  They may not look quite uniform, but they still were delicious.  I felt the original recipe did not have enough streusel topping – I like mine to cover the seeds, so I doubled that part.

As I adapted the recipe for our family, I actually cut the recipe in half, so that next time I make them, I will make only 24 (since that was all that could fit in my oven at one time anyway).  Since kolaches really taste best within a day or two of making them, having 4 dozen around is a bit much.  (Although we do have happy neighbors since we shared our extras with them! ) Within 24 hours, all 48 kolaches are gone.  (Sorry to my extended family – I will make them for you next time! 🙂 )


My husband, the longtime kolache connoisseur, decided that this version of dough was the best ever.  We both think that the filling needs a little bit of work as far as holding together better and needing to be a bit sweeter.  I thought that making my own filling would save money – I am not convinced that it did.  Although I think the homemade filling might be “healthier,” since I know exactly what was added.  If I want kolaches and do not have as much time, I might just make my own dough and use canned filling.

The original recipe:  Penzey’s No-Knead Refrigerator Kolaches (p. 53 in the catalog pdf)

My adapted recipe: No-Knead Refrigerator Poppy Seed Kolaches

We shared the kolaches with Kyle (my husband’s aunt & uncle).  She remembers her mom (my husband’s Grandma) making her own poppy seed filling.  She was not sure of the exact measurements, but she recalled her mom boiling the poppy seeds in water to soften them.  Then she used a meat grinder to grind them up, then added cream and sugar.  I am sure that her filling was delicious!

As far as adapting these for food allergies …

You could certainly try dairy free substitutions for the dairy products – it may alter the taste slightly but could be worth a try.  I could not find a kolache recipe that did this.

I did find this recipe for Gluten Free Kolaches (Savory).  I think you could possibly adapt the recipe by adding some sugar.  If I were to make the kolaches gluten free (which is a definite possibility since my sweet brother-in-law cannot have gluten), I would find more of a pastry dough and use that.  The poppy seed filling is already gluten free!)

Can’t have enough kolaches?  While she isn’t from Wilber, the charming Nadine Racek from Morse Bluff “Queen of Kolaches” is enjoyable to watch on Nebraska Story: Kolache Queen  I attempted to contact her to find out more details of where you can purchase kolaches from her. I thought she was making some for this week-end, but alas, that was for Morse Bluff’s 125th year celebration last year. Her phone number could not be found, and while there is a Morse Bluff Facebook Page, they have not posted on there since March.  I am sure that a person could do further digging and find her, but I really did not want to invade her privacy too much anyway! 🙂

Categories: Cornhusker Cuisine, Pioneer Country, Recipes from Nebraska | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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