Welcome to the first recipe ever to contain yeast on Dessert For Two! I used to be afraid of yeast. And then, I read the ingredients on a loaf of store-bought bread and quickly decided to make my peace with it.
The way I learned to trust yeast and treat it well is through the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. The method is easy, convenient, and it really works. We always have fresh bread on hand.
Once yeast and I became BFFs, I knew I wanted to make my childhood favorite breakfast food: kolaches. Say it with me: ko-la-CHEY. I know some people say ko-la-CHEE, but my family is Czech, so I’ll tell you with authority that it’s CHEY.
Kolaches are Czech pastries that can be described as soft dough with a cream cheese, jam, dried fruit, poppy seed, or even sausage and cheese filling. The tender yeast-y dough lends itself to almost any type of filling. I combined my 2 favorite fillings for this recipe: apricot jam and sweetened cream cheese. I love prune kolaches, but I had a feeling that a recipe with ‘prune’ in the title would send y’all running. Also, next time you’re in the baking aisle, see if you can find a can of poppy seed filling: it’s scrumptious. Don’t be afraid to add a mini (cooked) sausage link and sharp cheddar (even in this savory version, do not eliminate the sugar from the dough recipe—the yeast need it).
This recipe requires 3 rises. If you find it difficult to accomplish this in a normal day, just refrigerate the dough after the second rise. Kolaches made with un-refrigerated dough are fluffier, but taste is not sacrificed with this time-saving technique. I usually make the dough on Saturday afternoon and refrigerate it overnight for Sunday morning breakfast. It will deflate, but do not worry.
The most important thing with this recipe is to ensure you have a warm spot for your dough to rise. I put my dough in a recently turned-off oven or in front of the fire place. I’m telling you: this dough is lazy at room temperature. For the quickest rise, snuggle your yeast in a warm environment.
The second most important thing is kneading. This dough is fun to knead. Yes, really! It’s supple and begs to be rolled around. It hardly ever sticks, though you should still flour your counter. The best way to knead is to gather the dough into a ball, push it away from you with the heel of your hand, and then fold it over. Repeat this for 10 minutes. The end result is a soft dough that just fits in your hands. Remember, we’re only making a half-dozen kolaches, so you won’t have lots of dough. See my photos below for proper kneading technique:
I love kolaches for breakfast because while they’re sweet, they’re not loaded with sugar like a cinnamon roll or sticky bun. If you use an all-natural jam filling without the cream cheese, it’s a low-sugar sweet treat. Kolaches aren’t traditionally stuffed with jam and cream cheese—that’s just my delicious variation.
Making kolaches reminds me of college, because I went to Baylor in Waco, Texas. Waco is a short drive away from West, Texas, which has many kolache stops. The best kolaches are at Czech Stop, right off the freeway, but any Czech restaurant in town has delicious ones. We used to drive 15 minutes north to West, pick up a box and bring them back to fuel our study sessions. Frequently, my parents would pick up kolaches on their drive into Waco to visit me. My Dad always goes for the savory kolaches with sausage and cheese, while my Mom and I love the apricot and prune. Everyone loves the sweet cream cheese ones.
I should also tell you that my Aunt (the one I talk about so much here), used to make a quick version of kolaches with refrigerated biscuit dough. She would cut the biscuit in half to fit in a muffin cup, then top with jam and bake. Biscuit dough is not exactly the same texture as true kolache dough (biscuit dough is greasy and heavy), but when a kolache craving strikes, I’ve been known to use the same method.
Kolaches seem appropriate for Easter to me because it was my grandmother and Aunt’s favorite holiday, and has become mine. I bake to remember them.
If you’ve ever wondered why Texas has quite a few Czech towns, I can explain: when Czechs immigrated on ships (just like my great grandparents did), the boats came up through the Gulf of Mexico. Many Czechs found the growing climate suitable to crops they were already used to growing (like cotton), and so they settled here. My family grew cotton in central Texas.
I hope y’all have a wonderful Easter holiday! Bake something special with yeast to commemorate this special day.
Makes 6 kolaches
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar, divided use
- 1 cup flour
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided use
- 1 large egg yolk
- 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 6 teaspoons apricot jam
- Warm the milk in a microwave-safe bowl for about 30 seconds until lukewarm. The target temperature is 110 degrees. Once it's at precisely 110, add the yeast, 1 tablespoon of the sugar and 1/3 cup of the flour. Mix together well and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
- In another bowl, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Ensure it's not too hot and then stir in the egg yolk. Add this to the risen dough and mix well. Add the remaining 2/3 cup of flour and mix well.
- Knead the dough according to the instructions above for 10 minutes. Smear it away from you with the heel of your hand, then fold it back onto itself. Lightly flour the board and your hands as you go. At the end of 10 minutes, the dough will be supple.
- Grease a bowl with cooking spray and add the dough. Cover and let it rise in a warm place until it doubles in size. At the end of this rise, you may cover it and put it in the fridge to use the following day. It will deflate, but it's okay.
- Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and have ready. Divide the dough into 6 balls and roll them into round balls. Flatten them slightly to have a square shape.
- Place the dough balls about 1" apart on a greased cookie sheet and let rise in a warm place while you make the filling.
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Combine the remaining tablespoon of sugar with the softened cream cheese. Beat together well.
- Using your knuckles, gently make an indentation in each dough ball to hold the filling. Brush each kolache with the remaining melted butter. Place a heaping scoop of cream cheese filling in each indentation, and top with the jam.
- Bake for 14-16 minutes until the sides are lightly brown. Let cool on the baking sheet for 1 minute, then serve warm.