Here’s another project I’ve been fearing, but can hold out no longer. My twin sister called me up this morning to ask when I’m finally going to bite the bullet and make some good ol’ Chicago kolache. If you don’t know what kolache are, you may recognize them from some of their other spellings: kolaczki, kolacky, kolá?e or kolace. Still nothing? Then you don’t live among many Central Europeans (i.e. Poles, Czechs and Slovaks).
Where I grew up, in the Western suburbs of Chicago, they were all over the place, especially in the near-city suburbs of Berwyn and Cicero. Though these days those Bohemian redoubts have given way to the next great wave of immigrants to the city: Latinos (mainly Mexicans), when I was a kid they were solidly Czech and Slovak. If you fell asleep at the wheel driving down Cermak Road after a big, starchy dinner of knedliky at Klas Restaurant, your car would plow into one of two things: a savings and loan or a bakery. If the coin toss went the right way you’d still be on the hook for serious damages, but your front seat would be filled with the best jam-filled pastries you ever had.
The reason I get nervous about making kolache is because there are so many different kinds of them: cookie-like, Danish-like, jelly roll-like, even pizza-like. Whatever I put up I’m gonna get an earful from somebody, which may mean I’ll need to do at least a couple of different kinds. Chicago may be just one spot on the map, but they make kolache there about ten different ways. Somebody is gonna bust my chops no matter what I do.