Wedding Kolaches Are Better Than Wedding Cake
It's 11:30 a.m. before the wedding of Ondřej and Martina on an unseasonably cold day in Miličín, Bohemia, and the groom and his friends have already tapped the keg. An unmarked bottle of homemade slivovice—plum brandy—is making its way around the guests, doing the heavy lifting where fleece blankets and coats have fallen short. But most welcome of all is a deep plastic box of tiny pastries: bite-size rounds of golden dough studded with poppyseed paste and plum jam, leaving the sheen of butter on the congregants' icy fingers. Svatební koláčky (KO-lach-kee), or little wedding kolaches, make an appearance at nearly every wedding reception in the Czech Republic. This batch didn’t even last until the ceremony.
In the U.S., Texans know and love their dense, doughy breakfast kolaches, along with the pastries' wacky brethren, the sausage-stuffed klobasnek. By comparison, Czech kolaches (koláče) are airier, more modest affairs, lightweight rounds of egg-washed and oven-tanned bread hem in shallow ponds of fruit jams, sweet cream, and poppyseed paste. Koláče's miniature relatives, koláčky, were traditionally baked by a bride's female relatives. These days, koláčky are most often store-bought and served as a prelude to lavish, western-style wedding cakes, but rarely will the betrothed forgo the tiny pastries altogether. "Today's fiancees either have a wedding for family, where traditional kolacky cannot be absent," says Lucie Dupalová, owner of catering outlet Svatební Koláčky Praha. "Or they have a wedding for friends, and there the traditions are dwindling—because everyone has koláčky and it's embarrassing."
"There aren't many weddings like that, though," she adds. Who would give them up? Marriages may last, or not, but the little wedding kolache is forever.
Which brings me back to Texas, which is a place I always seem to end up. Take a look around next time you're sitting in traffic in my hometown, Houston: Most likely you're in spitting distance from a Kolache Factory or a Kolache Shoppe, or from a particularly fine Mexican panadería that knows what’s up. Pick up some loot at Buc-ee’s on I-35 north from Austin on your way to Czech Stop in West, or take a detour en route to Galveston to visit Two Czech Chicks in Danbury. Your options are many. Texans are so smitten with their doorstop-heavy salted-butter bombs that they've erected churches to their objects of worship on every major highway from the Mexican border to the mountains of Big Bend. And as well they should! In these divided times, kolaches are just about all we can agree on. (Well, that and native daughter Beyoncé.) Whither the wedding kolache? This seems like a no-brainer.
Katie Simon, a private chef and culinary instructor, picked up the culinary lingua franca pretty quickly after moving from Florida to Texas six years ago. That's why, when she and her husband threw themselves a Sunday-brunch wedding in Austin in 2013, they rounded out the reception with breakfast tacos and a tiered tower of kolaches. "I did not know it was a wedding tradition," Simon admitted to me over the phone. “We aren’t Eastern European or anything.” She said the decision was a hat-tip to their adoptive culture: "All of our guests were coming from Florida pretty much, so we thought it would be something a little bit different."
Did the guests revolt once they realized they were in for kolaches rather than cake, I ask? The question feels weird coming out of my mouth. But Simon laughs it off kindly, and we pretend like it never crossed my lips. A better question is: Why aren’t we all eating wedding kolaches?