Kolaches of the titans: Czech baked tradition comes to Utah

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Debra Parant rushed into the new Johnny Kolache bakery unable to hide the joy.

After years of searching, the Texas native finally had found a place in Salt Lake City that served the meat-and-cheese-filled buns she loved as a child.

"I grew up eating these for breakfast," said the giddy Salt Laker. "I bring back a bag of them whenever I go to Texas."

No need for a carry-on bag now.

Owner Johnny Boots hears similar stories almost every day since mid-September when he opened Salt Lake City's first stand-alone kolache shop at 248 W. 900 South.

Unless you've been to Texas, or Czechoslovakia, you've probably never heard of this traditional treat that starts with a sweet, yeasty egg dough, he said. It is baked with a slight indentation on top, which is then filled with fruit, cream cheese or poppy seeds. It's a precursor to the American sweet roll.

When the Czechs immigrated to the United States --- large groups settled in Oklahoma and Texas -- the kolachky tradition followed. But over time, kolaches have evolved, incorporating local American flavors. In meat-loving Texas, kolaches have become buns filled with all sorts of savory items including ham, sausage, cheese and even jalapeño peppers.

Each year there are kolache festivals in various communities around the Lone Star state. And, in Texas, it's not uncommon to bring a dozen kolaches to the office meeting instead of doughnuts.

At Johnny Kolache, traditional and modern kolaches are available. There are apple, cream cheese, blueberry and raspberry kolaches. Savory flavors include ham and cheese, sausage and cheese (both come with or without jalapeños), pulled pork, Philly cheese steak (with or without jalapeños), pepperoni and vegetarian.

Despite being labor intensive -- each bun is filled by hand -- a kolache is a rather affordable fast food. Savory kolaches are $1.89 each, fruit varieties are $1.69. A dozen sells for $17.

Johnny Kolache's is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and also sells "sugar pie" cinnamon rolls in honor of Boots' Southern grandmother, soups, Frito pie (another Texas favorite) and gourmet coffee.

Most customers get their kolaches to go, but there are a few high tables with bar stools for those who want to stay.

Salt Lake City Police Officer Kim Plouzek visited on a recent morning after learning about the store from his sister.

"I remember going on a vacation to Nebraska where my [Czech] grandmother and aunts would make kolaches," he said. "I love that clean, fresh-tasting pastry."

Boots isn't Czech. But he did grow up in Houston, where there are hundreds of kolache shops.

"It's a way of life in Houston, definitely a regional food," said the 52-year-old, who came to Utah 16 years ago to work at a country radio station. After retiring, he worked at an auto dealership. It was a nephew, who came to Utah to snowboard, who first suggested the kolache shop.

Like most businesses, Boots started out small, selling to his friends, neighbors and co-workers. When the orders kept coming, he decided to turn it into a business.

Boots and his three partners, Chris Ladd, Tim Burum and Dave Lacoarce -- none of whom had ever tasted a kolache until they met Boots -- have spent the past year renovating the former brick church on 900 South.

David Ludwig has been a customer since it opened. He said the kolaches remind him of the sweet buns available in Asian bakeries.

"It has that simple, old-world artisan taste."

E-mail Kathy Stephenson at kathys@sltrib.com.

Dorothy Bohac's kolache recipe


3 packages dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1 teaspoon plus 3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 egg yolks

2 3/4 cups milk (scald and cool to lukewarm)

About 7 1/4 cups flour

3 teaspoons salt

In a tall glass, dissolve yeast in warm water; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar and set aside to proof. In a large bowl, cream butter and remaining 3/4 cup sugar, add egg yolks and salt and mix well. Add the dissolved yeast, 1 cup of the flour and mix slowly with an electric mixer. Add the milk and continue adding as much of the remaining flour as you can mix in with a wooden spoon. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough. Continue kneading until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place dough in a greased bowl; turn once to grease surface. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1?1/2 hours.

Punch dough down and turn out onto lightly floured surface. Pinch off egg-size portions and roll into a ball using the palm of your hands in a circular motion. Place about 1 inch apart on greased pans. Brush kolaches with melted butter, cover with a cloth and let rise until light, about 1 hour.

Use your fingers to make an indentation in each ball and fill each opening with about 1 tablespoon of filling. Sprinkle with posypka topping (optional) and let rise again for 20 minutes. Bake in a preheated 425-degree oven for about 10-15 minutes. Brush kolaches with melted butter as they come out of the oven.

Source: Dorothy Bohac

Poppyseed filling

1 1/2 cup poppyseeds

1 cup sugar

2 cups milk

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon flour, dissolved in a bit of water

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine poppyseeds, sugar and milk, and cook until mixture begins to thicken. Add butter, then flour. Cook, stirring constantly, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool before use. Leftover filling can be frozen.

Source: Texas Monthly

Posypka topping

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons melted butter

In a small bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and melted butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.