Cherry and Cream Cheese Kolaches
I grew up in a small town surrounded by even smaller towns with names like Prague and Bruno in what is known as Nebraska's "Bohemian Alps." As a child, I remember Czech families making kolaches, fruit-filled pastries similar to danishes, with an eggy dough and crumbly streusel topping called posypka. They were common for breakfast and dessert and a thing of cultural pride at social gatherings like weddings, Friday-night fish fries, and polka dances.While ubiquitous throughout the Czech Republic even today, kolaches are rarely seen in the U.S. outside of the Great Plains, where many Czech immigrants settled in the late 1800s. Since moving to Oregon, I had all but forgotten about them until a recent road trip from Austin to Dallas, when I learned that the rural region in between the two cities is also home to many Czech descendants. The town of West, Texas, in particular, is known for its numerous kolache bakeries.My travel companion and I pulled off the freeway at West to pick up a kolache for the road. The first bite led to a nostalgia-induced tasting frenzy in which we ended up stopping at four bakeries to compare the shapes, dough textures, and to try all the most common flavors—apricot, cherry, blueberry, poppy seed, and cream cheese. When I returned home, I was hell-bent on perfecting a recipe of my own, inspired by recollections of my childhood in Nebraska and the Texas versions I tasted, too.Since baking several batches, I’ve come to realize that it’s important to make sure the dough is moist to the point of almost being sticky, but not quite. Also, if like me, you love a deeply browned pastry crust, you’ll have to set aside that bias in favor of a lighter golden brown exterior here, which keeps the kolaches tender and prevents them from becoming too dry. For the filling, a quick jam of summer’s fresh sweet cherries is dolloped over lemon-scented cream cheese—my favorite combination.