Drivers traveling between Dallas and Austin on Interstate 35 don't have to rely on fast food. Instead they can conveniently stop in West, Texas to gorge themselves on the best kolaches in the state. The small town, located in Central Texas just outside Waco, still exhibits a heavy Czech influence due to immigration there in the 1890's.
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Many Austinites are shocked by a question—"What's a kolache?"—that would be reasonable just about anywhere else. That's because these baked goods of Central European origin are a staple in local doughnut shops, bakeries, and dedicated kolache shops. They're a remnant of Czech immigration to Texas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. You'll also find various kolache interpretations in the Midwest. Here are seven of our favorites.
Kolaches, those sweet little stuffed pastries of Czech origin are one of those regionally unique treats that's not too easy to find outside of a certain area of Texas. To satisfy her craving for these little yeasted buns, Lisa Fain, author of The Homesick Texan Cookbook, took it upon herself to recreate them in her tiny New York. She equates the challenge to tackling bagel-baking in Texas—ambitious with a touch of foolhardiness.
The fist-sized baked goodies immigrated here along with the throngs of Eastern Europeans that struck out west during the Oklahoma territory's land run. The small town of Prague, Oklahoma, even has an annual kolache festival in May to celebrate the Czech confection.
I'd never heard of a boudin kolache until my dad (cookbook author and food historian Robb Walsh) wrote about them for Houston Press's Eating Our Words blog, but they seemed like a perfect second course after Texas kolaches at Rao's. These things are a testament to fusion food in America. Boudin is a French word for "blood sausage," but in Louisiana it means rice dressing with pork and spices inside of a sausage casing. So here we have boudin, a French-Cajun hybrid, stuffed inside a Texan spin on an Eastern European pastry.
Our first stop on the Texas-to-Mississippi trail was Rao's Bakery (pronounced ray-ohs) in Beaumont, Texas. Rao's is famous for Mardi Gras king cake, but we were after their sausage-stuffed Texas kolaches. We ordered one Zummo brand Italian with jalapeño, one Zummo with cheese, and one plain Jimmy Dean and ate them on the road with our coffee. Kolaches are a Texas roadtripper's best friend. They're good hot or cold, sweet or savory, and they're mighty easy to eat with one hand.
[Photograph: Robb Walsh] This is new to me on a couple different levels. First, I grew up eating sweet kolaches made by my Slovakian grandmother, and the concept of savory ones, as done in Texas—well, I'm still wrapping my head around that. Second, wow. Boudin kolache. That sounds kind of awesome. Glad to see that Robb Walsh, who brought this thing to light, is out and about and back on top of his game after his swine-flu-induced quarantine. Available at Shipley Do-nuts, 5200 North Main Street, Houston TX 77009 (map); 713-869-4636; shipleydonuts.ws...