Before Autumn Stanford, owner of the Brooklyn Kolache Co., can even ask me what kind of kolache I want, I’m already eyeing the round, puffy buns topped with slices of jalapeno. The dense, sweet dough yields to my fingertips as I bring the weighty creation to my mouth and take a bite. Kolaches, with roots in Eastern Europe, taste more like Texas to me than any bite of barbecue or spoonful of grits ever could. Stanford describes a kolache to the uninitiated Brooklynites who visit her bakery as a “stuffed, slightly sweet yeast bun.”
Kolaches originate in Eastern Czechoslovakia and the pastries were brought to the Lone Star State by Czech immigrants who came to Texas through the port of Galveston in the early 20th century. The sweet fruit and cream-cheese pastries are more traditional, but Texans have put their own stamp on them with savory offerings like jalapeno-sausage (think super-size pigs in a blanket) or ham and cheese.
Stanford, who was raised in Austin, Texas, grew-up eating the handheld meals on road trips to Houston. When she had the idea to bring kolaches to New York, she began “looking up recipes in Texas Monthly and making kolaches every weekend.” Everything came together when she found the perfect space, a cozy spot in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Since opening earlier this year, Stanford has found that kolaches can serve different purposes for different people. “On the weekdays it’s commuters taking them to work, but on the weekends everybody talks about where they went to get kolaches while growing up or going to school in Texas.” There are even regional preferences within the state, with Houstonians opting for the savory buns and Dallasites favoring the sweet varieties; both types are made with the slightly sweet, yeasty dough, which Stanford leaves to proof in the front room.
Having grown up eating kolaches for breakfast (and often for lunch in my high school cafeteria), it didn’t take any convincing to get my on board. But for many of Stanford’s regular customers, their journey toward kolache fandom began when they came in looking for something else — a bagel or a muffin, traditional bakery fare. All Stanford has to do to sway them is insist, to the point of demanding, that they sit down and try one. Bite by bite she shares a Texas tradition and a warm, filling taste of home.