A friend of ours of Czech descent brought us a bag of extremely ripe plums from his backyard tree last week and said he had run out of ideas of what to do with this year’s bumper crop.
Plum sorbet? Plum jelly? Plum skillet cake? Plum compote? Broiled plums with Moscarpone? Plum Crostata?
The second we thought of it we knew that was what the doctor had ordered. We were transported to Central and East Texas where my mom’s family hails from and where Czech mothers and grandmothers of our friends (all whose names seemed to end in “ek”) once let us gorge ourselves on the fruit butter/sweetener/spread that they had tucked away in their cupboards with neat rows of other preserves in Ball and Kerr jars.
Never had it? Think of the apple butters or other fruit butters you are used to but made from sweet, sweet plums.
Sweet nectar of the old Slavic gods. We had forgotten about this everyday preserve that today we consider a delicacy (primarily because we have no idea where we can find any of it).
Slather it on biscuits, pancakes, toast. Bake it into cakes. Top kolaches with it.
Povidla is literally the original kolache topping.
And, unless you are going to travel to East or Central Texas, Czechoslovakia or Moravia, you are going to have to make it yourself.
After making ourselves a batch of Povidla one night last week, we got a hankering for the kolaches of our youth.
Instead of making a dough that we knew would require three separate rises, we set off to town to purchase one from a bakery.
Now, we didn’t expect to find a Povidla Kolache, but we figured apricot, poppy seed or cream cheese might be within spitting distance of where we live. After all, we know a lot of folks with Czech surnames in West Texas.
Trips to three donut shops – all of which claimed to have kolaches – left us “Novak – ing” (the Czech equivalent of the surname Jones) for the real deal.
And thus begins the rant and an open letter to the proprietors of local bakeries, pastry and donut shops.
A Kolache consists of a dollop of fruit filling (and only fruit filling – unless it is cheese or poppy seed based) rimmed by a pillow of enriched yeast dough. It is round – the word ‘kolache’ coming from the word ‘kola’ which is wheel in Czech.
What it isn’t:
A pig in a blanket. It is not croissant dough, biscuit dough or even yeast dough wrapped around a link sausage or ‘Lil Smokie.
The Czechs do make a baked good that consists of a link sausage surrounded by the same kind of dough used in making kolaches. It is a klobasnek. (Even Czech kolache shops do sometimes call these kolache because it easier to ask, “what kind do you want” than to teach ‘Muricans a knew language).
Please don’t advertise kolaches if you don’t have them. It hurts our hearts.
End of rant/open letter.
Long story short. We came home and made our own, which is what we should have done in the first place. And unless you are around Caldwell during its Kolache Festival or West during West Fest or any number of East Central Texas towns where there is a Czech bakery (Calvert, West and even Houston), you’re probably going to have to make them yourselves.
The Povidla we grew up eating was simple but time consuming.
- Remove the pits from as many ripe, ripe plumbs as you can get your hands on. If you don’t have at least five pounds (preferably 20 or so), it isn’t worth your time.
- Put the plums in a heavy bottom pot. Add half a cup of water. Bring to a soft boil (medium heat) and stir occasionally.
- Continue until your plums have broken down almost all the way to liquidy, pulp with skins (about 1-1.5 hours on a low simmer)
- Transfer the plums to a blender and blend until it is a smooth puree (this is my nontraditional take).
- Return to the pot and continue to cook and stir at a simmer until it is a thick batter/paste.
- Taste and add sugar to your liking (a half cup at a time), making sure to cook the Povidla until the sugar has melted off and become completely incorporated. (If you have extremely ripe plums, you don’t necessarily need sugar. It also depends on the plum’s variety and tartness)
- Can as you would a jelly. (I once ate Povidla from a jar without permission and my friend’s mother told me that it had been at least five years since she canned it/that she didn’t know there was any left in the cover. I never got sick/am still here).
Kolache recipe (makes 24)
1c warm milk
.5c unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs
6T granulated sugar
1.25t kosher salt
zest from two lemons
4c bread flour
1 large egg
- Dissolve yeast in warm milk with sugar.
- Add butter, beaten eggs, salt, lemon zest.
- Add two cups flour and turn it with a rubber spatula until it absorbs the liquid.
- Continue adding remaining flour in half cup additions until you have a workable dough.
- Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes or until it is smooth and when allowed to sit for a second contracts.
- Place the ball of dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel and allow it to rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
- Punch the dough down. Knead briefly. Return dough to oiled bowl and allow to rise for an hour or until it has doubled in bulk.
- Punch the dough down. Knead a couple of turns. Divide the dough in three equal pieces (about 390g in weight) and form three separate balls.
- Allow the dough to sit for 10 minutes (relaxing the gluten)
- Put parchment paper on a baking sheet.
- Cut each ball into eighths and roll the little triangles into balls before pressing them into half-inch tall circles on the baking sheet.
- Cover the dough with a moist towel or plastic wrap that has been oiled and allow to rise for an hour.
- Using a spoon, create a well in the center of each piece of dough, leaving a half-inch rim on the outside.
- Brush the rim with the egg wash.
- Fill the well with 1-1.5T of Povidla or fruit/cheese filling of your choice.
- Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.
- Cool on a rack and eat within a day or freeze for up to three months.
- Reheating instructions from room temperature product: place in a preheated 350-degree oven for 5 minutes.