Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas Kolaches

When I was a kid in grade school, I was the student who had a compulsive need to constantly raise her hand. Always had the answer, always had to talk first... Yeah. That kid. The only problem with that was the occasional question from the teacher that went something like this: "Who has been to Zimbabwe?" *Emily's hand shoots high in the air as quickly as possible* Even though it is clear I have never been to Zimbabwe and I am in no way qualified to contribute to wherever this conversation is going, I felt compelled to feign globetrotter status.

Fast forward to adult life. Very little has changed. While I now avoid the obvious traps (instead of saying I'd been to Zimbabwe, I just act like I know a lot about it), I still fall victim to this set-up from time to time when it's a topic on which I feel I need to seem intelligent.

This past week I was trying to arrange a presentation during a coworker's training session. In order to make my offer for a power point at 8 am on a Friday a little more appealing, I offered to bring coffee and whatever breakfast treat he would like. "Kolaches" he responded. I stared back blankly. He interpreted this blank stare as me being impressed he came up with such a difficult and obscure food item. I was actually staring because I had no idea what the hell a Kolache was. I wasn't even sure what he said. I only had a string of syllables that I thought were what he said. Instead of admitting my cluelessness, I assured him I could make them (because, duh, I can make anything). I've never raced back to my laptop to call on the powers of Google quite so fast.

For those out there who are equally as ignorant about Kolaches as I was, they originated as a semi-sweet dessert in Czechoslovakia traditionally served at weddings. Basically, it's a yeast-based pastry with a fruit or savory filling inside. I am so glad I accidentally walked into a Kolache challenge because these little desserts are so very tasty! Their semi-sweet nature keeps them from being too rich, while their filling gives a great balance to the fluffy, bread-like outside. The first batch I made (per the coworker's request) were strawberry-based. I tossed in a few apple flavored ones as well.

I made them again this weekend to see if I could fix a few things with the dough I thought could be improved and used leftover cranberry relish for the filling (best use of leftover cranberry relish, ever, by the way). I've landed in a spot that I like a lot, so I want to share these with you. I'm dubbing the cranberry-stuffed version Christmas Kolaches. Even though cranberry is not a traditional filling, I think the semi-sweet dough is meant to be paired with a slightly tart inside. Plus, they're delightfully festive. I think Santa would be as happy as a clam if some of these awaited him at the bottom of your chimney this year.

Christmas Kolaches
3 hours, 2 ½ unattended
Makes 16 kolaches
Adapted from Simply Recipes

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 stick butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 cup filling (see tips and tricks below)
  • Egg wash (1 egg whisked together with 1 tbsp. milk)

1.   In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, yeast and nutmeg.
2.   In a medium saucepan combine milk, butter, sugar and salt. Heat on medium low until all of the butter is nearly melted.
3.   Add the contents of the saucepan to the mixing bowl along with the eggs, vanilla and lemon zest. Using a dough hook, beat on low speed, scraping sides of the bowl until ingredients are combined. Beat on a medium-high speed for three minutes.
4.   Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth. Coat the mixing bowl with nonstick spray, return the dough to the bowl and cover. Allow to rise for 2 hours.
5.   Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Punch the dough down and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into two equal parts.
6.   Roll the dough as close to 16” x 8” as possible (your dough should be about 1/8” thick). Cut the dough into 8 4”x 4” squares.
7.   Spoon a tablespoon of filling into the center of the dough. Brush the outside of the square with your egg wash, fold the four corners together in center and pinch to seal the kolache. Place a toothpick through the sealed corners to ensure they stay together.
8.   Preheat the oven to 375. Place the kolaches on the stovetop, covered, and allow them to rise for 30 minutes.
9.   Brush the remainder of the egg wash over the kolaches. Bake for 15 minutes, or until tops are golden brown.

Tips and Tricks:
  1. The Christmas Kolaches are filled with cranberry relish made with 1 cup of finely chopped cranberries, 1-2 tbsp. of sugar and 2 tsp. orange juice. For an apple filling, dice 1 cup of peeled apples and combine with 2 tsp. brown sugar, ½ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. nutmeg and 2 tsp. apple juice. For a strawberry filling, dice 1 cup of strawberries and combine with 2 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar and 2 tsp. water.
  2. If you secure the kolaches with toothpicks you can place them through the top and angled towards the bottom of the kolache or you can skewer them straight through the top with the toothpick parallel to the surface of the pan. The latter is more secure, but more difficult to remove once they’re baked. Either one should do the trick.
  3. To make sure I'm actually cutting 4"x4" squares (because you know I'm terrible at eyeballing it), I use a yardstick (a ruler would be fine, too) to measure and rolling pizza slicer to cut straight lines. It might sound excessive, but it's very easy and accurate. If you're off a bit here and there it won't matter too much, just make sure it's still a square. If it's too rectangular, fillings tend to fall out when you pull the corners together.

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