Wednesday, October 21, 2009
A few years ago I was taking evening classes at a local college. One of my classmates lived downtown, and would commute by bus. Mostly this worked out fine, but every now and then class let out a bit early or late, and he'd be facing a long wait for the next bus. I gave him a ride a few times, as did another student who lived nearby. His apartment wasn't too far out of the way, and he was a nice guy, so we were glad to help.
On the last day of class, he presented me (and his other wheelman) a plate of handmade cookies, to say thanks for the rides. When I brought them home to my boyfriend (the few I managed to not eat right away), he remarked approvingly, through a mouthful of cookie, "That's what you're supposed to do." And he's right. We're happy to give and receive favors for friends, even when these favors involve a bit of expense or inconvenience. But in our post-Miss Manners age, we often forgo recognizing these favors. Which is a shame. It's understandable -- despite the best intentions of our mothers, the official Thank You Note can feel a bit too formal in most contexts. But the Thank You Baked Good is almost always appropriate.
This past weekend, I joined friends in another bulk canning throwdown. We turned 80 pounds of Honeycrisp apples into sauce, which took up much of the day. And while our kitchen is great for most projects, extraordinary amounts of apples call for extraordinary amounts of stovetop space. Our neighbors graciously volunteered to host in their large kitchen. They let us run four burners for five hours, and cover every available surface with sauce. The household welcomed our sticky invasion with good humor, but it seemed that an additional thanks was in order. Which brought me to Kolaches.
I'd been lusting after this recipe for a few months, and it did not disappoint. Rich, buttery and eggy yeasted dough is filled with sweet cheese and jam fillings, and topped with a sandy sugar-crumb topping. It's one of those baked goods that looks ridiculously pretty, like it should have sprung, fully formed, from the head of the brunch gods. But it turns out to be not much more difficult than scooping out a batch of cookies. The recipe also allows for plenty of time to clean up mixing bowls and kitchen counters while the dough rises and bakes, which makes it a great choice if you're hosting a brunch. Or if you need a sweet way to say thanks. We nibbled these all morning as we chopped, simmered, milled and boiled, and five hours later we were all trembling from an overdose of sugar (at the expense of actual food). Perhaps next time I'll think of a savory Thank You as well.
adapted by Lottie + Doof from a "crazypants" recipe in Saveur, further adapted by me
makes 15-16 kolache
This recipe yields enough cheese filling for half the batch (especially if you cram it into deep wells, as I did). You can double the cheese filling to make an all-cheese batch, or fill the remainder with jam (I used apricot and strawberry, and both were delicious).
1 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp coarse salt
3 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup cream cheese
3 Tbsp sugar
squeeze of lemon juice
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp melted butter
Also: jam of your choice, and 1 Tbsp melted butter
Make the dough: Sprinkle the yeast and 1 tsp of the sugar in a bowl, let sit 5 minutes until the yeast bubbles. While the yeast is proofing, beat the butter and remaining sugar in a bowl until well combined. Add the salt and egg yolk, beat until smooth. Add the yeast/water mixture, and then the flour and milk. Knead until it comes together in a smooth dough (it will be fairly soft and sticky). Give the dough a few turns on a floured countertop, adding additional flour if needed (try to add as little as needed), and form it into a ball. Return the dough to a bowl, cover, and set aside to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
In the meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the cottage cheese, cream cheese, sugar, lemon and egg yolk until smooth. Set aside.
Make the crumb topping: Mix together the sugar and flour, and drizzle in the melted butter. Rub together with your fingers until well distributed, yielding a sandy topping with occasional clumps.
Assemble the kolaches: Divide the dough into 16 pieces. Shape into slightly flattened balls, and place them 4x4 on a greased baking sheet about 1/2" apart (I had a particularly narrow baking dish, so I made 15 doughballs, and arranged them in rows 3x5). Brush the doughballs with the melted butter, cover tightly with plastic wrap or a plastic bag, and let rise another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
When the kolache balls have risen 30 minutes, remove the plastic and have your crumb topping and jam and cheese fillings ready. Using your fingers or a spoon, make a deep indentation in the top of each dough ball, enough to accommodate a heaping tablespoon of filling. Place the filling of your choice in each hole, and then sprinkle the crumb topping over everything (don't worry as the sandy crumbs cover your pretty jam -- the heat of the jam will melt the covering crumbs as they bake). Place the kolaches in the oven, and bake until browned and set, about 30-40 minutes.
These are best eaten the day they're made (in case you needed an excuse).