High Country Baking: Kolaches are a delicious treat, no matter how your pronounce it
High Country Baking
Editor’s note: High elevation makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
I’m not sure how to pronounce the name of this classic Eastern European pastry, but I AM certain that it’s a delight to make and eat! It features a barely sweet, tender yeast roll that cradles a flavorful fruit or cheese filling and a crumbly topping. It’s been a favorite for generations so there are numerous variations of the recipe and more possible fillings than you can count. I opted to share three easy fillings: Two preserves (apricot and cherry) and a sweetened cream cheese mixture.
Feel free to use any fruit preserves, just make sure they’re thick. The smaller amount of lemon zest listed results in a very mild citrus flavor; add more to your liking. I found that the bottoms of the rolls overbake if the cookie sheet that holds them is thin or dark, so use a shiny one and place it on top of a second one.
Make on a shiny cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
Yields 15 rolls
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk, lukewarm
1 ¼ teaspoons instant dry yeast
1 ½ teaspoons superfine sugar, preferably Baker’s
1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
2/3 of a large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up and softened
½-1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon plus 1 pinch salt
2 ½ tablespoons superfine sugar
2-3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup cream cheese, room temperature
2-3 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons milk or cream
1/3 of a large egg
Make the dough: In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, combine 3 tablespoons of lukewarm milk, yeast, sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour. Mix well and let rest for 20 minutes. Crack the egg in a small bowl, stir to combine the yolk and white, and add 2/3 of the mixture to the bowl. Cover and refrigerate the remainder of the egg to glaze the rolls before baking. Add all the rest of the dough ingredients (remainder of milk and flour, as well as butter, zest, salt) to the mixing bowl, stir to combine and knead by hand or with a dough hook (if using electric mixer) until a smooth, sticky dough forms. Cover and let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled.
Make the topping and the fillings while the dough rises: For the topping: Add the sugar and 2 tablespoons of the flour to the melted butter and stir to combine. Crumble/toss with your fingers until crumbs form. If necessary, add more flour, a little at a time, to reach a crumbly consistency. Cover and set aside. If using preserves for a filling, stir them until smooth and easy to spoon (if needed, warm them slightly). For the cream cheese filling: Whisk the cream cheese until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk until blended and smooth. Cover and set aside.
Remove the risen dough from the bowl, place it on a lightly greased work surface, and gently punch it to deflate it. If it’s too sticky to work with, knead in a little more flour (Add as little as possible; too much flour makes the rolls hard and dry). Cut 1-ounce pieces of dough and roll them into a ball about 1 to 1 ¼ inches across. Place the balls on the parchment-lined cookie sheet, at least an inch apart, and flatten them slightly.
Let the balls of dough rise until they get puffy, about 30-40 minutes. While they rise, heat the oven to 375 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Use your fingers to make a deep indentation in the center of each ball. Be sure the indentation is deep or the filling will spill out as the balls bake.
Make the glaze by stirring the milk/cream into the saved 1/3 of an egg and brush it over the rolls. Spoon the filling of your choice into each indentation until it mounds slightly. The cheese filling puffs a little, so if you’re using it, fill the indentation slightly below the top. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of topping over each. Place the cookie sheet on top of a second one and move both to the oven. Bake until the rolls are golden brown; start checking at 18-25 minutes. Don’t overbake. Remove to cool slightly, then serve or cool completely, wrap airtight and store up to two days. Serve warm (after a quick zap in the microwave).
This recipe is a variation of one published by King Arthur Flour. Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-elevation cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards, Next Page Bookstore in Frisco, and Breck Books in Breckenridge). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our elevation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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