The Suitcase Lady


December 22, 2009, 9:50 pm

It’s ironic. My grandfather was from Bohemia, but his German wife, my grandmother, never baked kolaches, the “national” pastry of Czechoslovakia.

My husband’s Scotch-German mother, on the other hand, was a stellar kolache baker, learning the art from her Czech neighbors. She would bake batches of these delectable treats whenever we visited and would double the recipe for Christmas. None of the Xmas kolaches ever saw the New Year.

Last summer my great nieces asked if I had any family recipes. I did, but, not being a yeast baker, I never got a copy of the famous kolache recipe. “I’ll see what I can do,” I promised.

My daughter is a pro in the kitchen – literally. She was the former manager of the Ford Foundation Executive dining rooms in New York. I inquired about the kolache recipe. She did have a copy, and I asked her if we could attempt to duplicate her Grandma Vera’s famous kolaches.

“We can do it,” she replied. She was not deterred when I told her that my first attempt at yeast baking many years ago greatly resembled an “I Love Lucy” episode.

We did the great kolache experiment in my daughter’s beautiful and well equipped kitchen. We carefully followed the original dough spattered recipe.

I am happy to report that all went well. The dough rose (3 times), the prune filling set and the final product was luscious, although naturally not as good as the original.

We only had to rely on our baking knowledge twice. The original recipe called for a streusel topping which none of us remembered. When we mixed together the 3 tablespoons melted butter, 3 tablespoons flour and 3 tablespoons sugar we did not get streusel – we got a sweet roux. We knew that was a mistake. Since we couldn’t call Grandma and ask, “What’s this all about?”, we simply dumped it. My daughter mixed up a powdered sugar and milk glaze which worked perfectly.

The other challenge was the baking time… the instructions simply said “bake”. We guessed well at about fifteen minutes. The kolache tradition lives on.

11 Comments for this entry

  • JIm Tooley

    Yummy. I always loved eating them when visiting Grandma.

  • Mary

    You still have time to try a batch before Christmas morning!!

  • Anne Smith

    Mary – I LOVED this piece. I enlarged all the photos so that I could see everything really well – it was so much fun to see Jenny again! And what a wonderful looking kitchen!!!


  • Nancy Einhorn

    I wonder how you pronounce kolache

    When I make streusel I use cold butter, sugar and flour, and I usually add some cinnamon.

  • Nancy Einhorn

    I left a comment. I am good on streusel but bad on computer response.

  • Jean Martin

    How could anything made in a kitchen that color not be good? Love it!

  • Sandra Hays

    One of my great joys in life is sharing the kitchen with my daughter either as chef or sous chef, which is more often than not the case these days. We’re not so much into re-creating traditions from grandparents as we are in establishing our own–you know the scrumptious, low-fat kind. Yes, in my family, scrumptious and low-fat are not oxymorons. We have found it possible to prepare delectable French dishes without over-dosing on butter.

  • marilyn verick

    I 2nd Nancy Einhorn’s streusel recipe. Your mistake was to use melted butter. The butter should be crumbled into the flour and sugar using your fingers.

    Don’t feel bad however. My friend raised in China was following a recipe for oatmeal cookies and cooked the oatmeal!

  • Donna Hammond

    Having lived in Cedar Rapids IA for nearly 30 years I was exposed to a wonderful bakery in the “Czech Village” area of that fair city. Your recipes for Kolaches bring back many fond memories…but what about POPPYSEED filling for those delectable treats? My personal favorite!

  • Mary

    Donna, you are absolutely right, the traditional filling is poppyseed. It is Russ’ favorite filling, but since Russ’ mother was not Czech, she preferred the prune filling. Learning to make a decent poppyseed filling will be next on our agenda.

  • Ann Piehl

    My personal favorite is apricot. On Christmas Eve that was dinner when I was a kid. My German mother learned to make kolaches for my Czech father, and we all benefited. Mmmmmm.