My mom was born in West. My grandfather and his brother had a lumber yard there. While my grandparents moved up I-35 about 10 minutes to Hillsboro, my great uncle and aunt’s family have stayed in West until this day. He was actually in the nursing home that was evacuated and sent to a hospital in Waco. Their house was flattened. All she has left are the clothes she had on. It is believed that a piece of sheetrock that fell on her actually saved her life when the entire roof then caved in.
So as my heart is heavy today for them, and the others in West who have experienced great loss, I want to share something about their community that most people in Texas already know…
It’s famous for their kolaches!
Seriously; it is what puts them on the map! And I would also add the Nemecek Brothers meat.
Every time I went to visit my grandparents as a girl, I could count on my “Nanny” serving us Nemecek baloney for dinner and kolaches for breakfast. And every Christmas morning we would aslo get the gingerbread boys from the bakery in West!
A kolache, for those unfamiliar with this yumminess, is a sweet bun filled with fruit or jam. It originates from the Czech people, who came in droves in the mid-1800s with thousands of other immigrants from Europe and parts of the U.S. to Texas because of the rich land for cotton and ranching. West, Texas was one of the main settlements for the Czechs and their history is preserved and celebrated still at the annual Westfest Czech and Polka Festival.
The Czech Stop bakery is right off the interstate and is a must-stop for many travelers going north to Dallas, south down to Austin or beyond. I’ve known many Baylor students who craved a kolache fix after graduating and moving away from nearby Waco. In fact, one used to stop on the way to DFW airport to take them back with her to North Carolina. And when George W. Bush was in the White House and visited his Crawford ranch also in the area, many D.C politicos and media mavens discovered this place, too!
I mentioned in my post a few days ago that I will be “running to remember” in next week’s Memorial Marathon. It is probably a good thing I’ll be going that distance because now I’m feeling inclined to make a batch of kolaches in honor of those suffering in West.
In case you would like to try them too, I am including my favorite recipe. This comes from Dan Rather’s daughter, Rebecca Rather, who had a bakery in Fredericksburg, Texas and shared many of her recipes in her delicious cookbook, The Pastry Queen.
The recipe looks long, but don’t let it overwhelm you! They are not hard. It just takes a little time, but well-worth the effort! Or, check out the Czech Stop website and order your own to support the town: http://www.czechstop.net
Yields 18 large buns (or 27 smaller buns)
2 cups milk
1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (110°F to 115°F)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted & cooled
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
8 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 batch of filling (see recipes below)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
For the Dough: Warm the milk in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Heat just until it starts to steam and a skin is formed – do not simmer or boil. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly – to about 110°F – 115°F. Meanwhile, dissolve the yeast in the water. Let it sit until it is foamy. If yeast doesn’t foam, discard and start over.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, salt and melted butter. Add in milk and the yeast mixture. Add in the flour, 2 cups at a time, making sure not to overwork the dough. Keep adding flour until it is fully incorporated. The dough should be sticky, moist and light.
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a draft-free place and allow to rise until doubled, 1 to 2 hours. Punch down the dough, recover, and refrigerate the dough for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Grease a 12×17 inch baking sheet. With lightly oiled fingers, shape dough into balls – about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, about the size of small limes. Arrange the balls on the baking sheet – 3 across and 6 down. (I actually make mine 4 across and 5 down and use an extra cookie sheet for the remaining kolaches). Gently flatten balls of dough.
For the Filling: Make filling of choice (see recipes below). Use your thumb to make a generious indentation in each dough round. Fill each indentation with filling mixture, a heaping Tablespoon or two depending upon the size of your kolaches. Cover the tray with a clean tea towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
For the Streusel: Meanwhile, to make the topping, use your hands, a food processor or a pastry cutter to mix the topping ingredients until crumbly. Scatter the topping over the kolaches right before they go into the oven. (Yes it seems like a lot of streusel, but don’t be shy!)
Bake the kolaches until lightly browned – about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm (or at room temperature).
Peach Kolache Filling
2 cups pitted, chopped peaches
1 cup good quality peach jam
Mix together the peaches and peach jam. Follow recipe above as directed.
Sausage & Cheese Kolaches
~ 1 1/4 lb Smoked Sausage (highly recommend using a Jalapeno sausage)
~ 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Follow directions for dough. Press dough into 5 inch circles. In center of rounds, add 1 Tbsp shredded cheese and medium-sized smoked sausage. Enclose sausage and cheese, pigs-in-a-blanket style. Place seam-side down on baking sheets. Allow to rise in a warm place ~1 hour. Bake as directed above. Enjoy!
Source: Adapted from The Pastry Queen
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