I have fond memories of this Czech traditional type of cake, called ‘Kolac’. It’s the first-ever yeasted dough I baked when I was about 11 years old, and it’s always the first thing I buy when I go back to Prague.
Traditionally, ‘Kolace’ would be baked to celebrate birthdays, weddings or for special Sundays. The cakes vary in size and fillings based on a region, tiny small cakes are usually for weddings and large cakes (as big as pizzas) are filled with several different fillings arranged in different sections.
They are made from enriched sweet dough and topped up various fillings and you can buy them pretty much anywhere in any bakery, coffee shop or supermarket.
The fillings also vary from region to region, but the most popular are
- Poppy seeds
- Plum butter
- Apricot Jam
- Cheese Curd & Raisins (Tvaroh)
- Pear sauce
- Sweet Hazelnut or Walnut
Practical tips on making your kolache dough
The basic recipe for the kolache dough is basic sweet enriched dough. It’s quite light and not too sweet. I use plain cake flour (all-purpose flour), because it makes the dough amazingly light and since these cakes don’t need to hold too much shape, they don’t need the gluten as much as say platted Vanocka recipe.
Ingredients for the dough
- plain flour
- caster sugar
- butter (or other baking fat – margarine, goose fat, lard)
- fast action dried yeast
- warm milk
- vanilla extract
To knead your dough, follow the same process like for any other sweet bread baking. Mix all the dry ingredients first, then add the wet ingredients (warmed up to slightly more than a room temperature) and knead (by hand) for about 10-15 minutes.
We will be leaving to prove the dough twice. Once after the initial kneading and second time, when the kolaches are filled and placed on the baking tray.
Like with other bread baking, the first proving is slightly longer than the second. You want to make sure that the second time you don’t wait until the dough doubles in size. Instead, you put the kolache in the oven before the dough doubles. This gives the yeast enough strength to do it’s final rising in the oven.
When your dough has nicely doubled in size and you are ready to create your kolaches, start first by weighting the dough and then dividing it to 12-15 equal parts. It’s best to use a digital scales for this, because it’s easier to see when your dough has nearly doubled in size. Also your kolaches are going to rise the same time and bake the same time, which is rather handy, unless you fancy jigging around your oven opening and closing the doors and taking out individual kolaches as they finish baking all at different times.
Once you have your individual pieces of dough, roll the dough first into a round dinner roll shape. Then make out a dough stamp by taking a smaller jam jar or a glass and dipping it in to plain flour or oil it. Place in the middle of the dough roll, flatten and push out the sides of the dough until you get something resembling a pneumatic.
The dough might fight you, but once you add your filling the kolache will hold their shape. The trick is to find a glass that’s big (or small) enough, so that you end up with about 1cm or less rim around the filling.
Ingredients for the kolache filling
You can use any sweet type of filling that’s firm enough to stay on the cake and don’t spill out from the dough, when you bake it. Traditionally the sweet fillings would be thickened before you bake the cake. When I was making the apple cake filling I started with recipe for applesauce and carried on simmering the sauce until the thickened like a jam.
The fancy version of the traditional kolache would also have a crumble topping. This is made up from the equal amount of plain flour, unsalted butter and caster sugar, which is crumbled together and sprinkled on top of your choice of topping (before you put the kolache into the oven).
You can also add chopped up walnuts, raisins or thin slices of almonds.
Baking the kolache
You only need 180 Celsius hot oven (like for cake baking). To prepare your kolaches for baking, brush the sides of each cake with egg white (or milk) and for about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your kolaches. You want to end up with a light golden brown dough.
The filling is cooked mostly anyway, so it’s really just the dough you need to make sure it’s baked. If you want to you can check with a wooden skewer whether the kolache are done (you need to pierce the dough, not the filling), but visual check is usually enough to gauge when they are done.
Cool your kolache on a wired rack and eat the same day or freeze them and keep them for later.
Hope you enjoy baking these traditional Czech kolaches as much as I do!
More sweet treats for you to try
Traditional Czech Kolace Recipe
Ingredients for the dough
- 500 g plain flour
- 50 g caster sugar
- 50 g butter or other baking fat – margarine, goose fat, lard
- 1 egg
- 10 g fast action dried yeast
- ½ tsp. salt
- 250 ml warm milk
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
Ingredients for the filling (Apple Filling)
- 500 g apples sharp type works well, but don’t use cooking apples, as they lose their shape quickly
- 150 g caster sugar
- Juice from 1 lemon
- Lemon zest from 1 lemon
- ½ tsp. of cinnamon
- 50 g plain flour
- 50 g unsalted butter
- 50 g caster sugar
- Mix all the dry ingredients first, then add warmed milk with melted butter and vanilla extract.
- Knead for 10-15 minutes until smooth.
- Leave in a plastic bowl (covered) to double in size.
- Whilst the dough is rising, prepare your apple filling.
- Peel the apples and cut up to smaller pieces, making sure that you cut out the apple core.
- Put into a large pan, add a dash of water and put on a medium heat until the apples soften a bit.
- Add the sugar, lemon zest and juice and cinnamon.
- Simmer until it’s all combined and you are happy with the consistency of the filling – not too runny and not too thick. Set aside to cool down.
- You can add chopped up walnuts, raisins or anything else that goes with apples.
- If you want to add extra flavour or your filling is too runny you can also mix in crumbled gingerbread (the hard type) digestive biscuits or bread crumbs.
- When your bread dough has doubled in size, tip it out on slightly oiled work surface and divide to about 12-15 equal portions.
- Roll out and shape each piece of dough as if it was a bread roll and place on baking tray leaving space around them to allow for the dough to rise again.
- When you have all the dough balls spaced out on the tray, wrap a clean tea towel around a small jam jar (glass or anything that is the right size).
- Dab the jam jars with the tea towel in plain flour and press firmly in to the middle of your bread ball. (you can also do this with the glass dipped into a vegetable oil)
- This will create space for the filling, leaving sides to keep the filling in.
- The dough is likely to fight you back (it’s the gluten in the flour that shrinks the dough back), so you might need to go over them twice.
- Divide the apple filling evenly between all cakes, topped with crumble topping (if using)
- Loosely cover with plastic bag or cling film and leave to prove for the second time. This will take less time than before.
- Brush the sides of each cake with egg white (or milk) and bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180 C
- You can check with a wooden skewer whether the cakes are done.
- Cool on wired rack and eat the same day or freeze if you like.