Driving east from my home in Austin to my birthplace of Houston along US Route 77 and Interstate 10, there are almost as many billboards advertising kolaches and klobásníky as there are Texas bluebonnets blooming in the spring.
However, in the stretches between those billboards and in the surrounding counties are small towns where Texas Czechs, including my family, are home baking a tastier, more traditional version of the pastry.
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Whether meat market barbecue, hoppy beer, smoked sausages, or kolaches, foods of Texas’s Czech community have been of particular interest in food media. But it is the misunderstood pastry known as a klobásník in Czech (usually misnamed a sausage kolache by commercial bakeries) that may be the current darling.
Certainly thousands of klobásníky (the plural of klobásník) are sold daily across Texas and increasingly across the United States at mom-and-pop shops and national (but Texas-based) chains such as The Kolache Factory and Shipley Do-Nuts.
Hungry commuters buy them to eat in the car or for office meetings, Saturday morning sports practice, or Sunday morning church gatherings. In Austin, there are at least two dozen bakeries serving them. Some are artisanal bakeries and some are chain establishments, but their offerings, with fillings such as barbecued brisket or sausage-egg-cheese, cannot be called traditional.
The History of Klobásníky
The now-closed Village Bakery, which opened in 1952 in the overwhelmingly Czech town of West, Texas, claimed to have invented the klobásník and even trademarked the name, but there are mentions in Czech-language newspapers of the pastry being made by home cooks that predate the bakery by decades.
My great-aunts will tell you they remember taking klobásníky out to the fields to eat on breaks from picking cotton on their family farms well before 1953.
What Is a Traditional Klobásník?
A traditional klobásník, like those portable lunches made by my great-grandmother 80 years ago, wraps soft, yeasty, milk- and butter-enriched double-risen dough around smoky, garlicky homemade or Texas Czech meat market–made sausage and is liberally brushed with butter during the baking process.
The dough absorbs the rich flavor of the butter from the outside and the smoky aroma and fatty juiciness of the sausage from the inside in a way that distinguishes the finished product from mass-produced, doughnut shop “sausage kolaches.”
KlobásníkyThese buttery, sausage-stuffed Texas Czech pastries are so worth the effort.
What Sausage Is Used to Make Klobásníky?
Smoked and fresh sausages are a hallmark of Czech cuisine. Immigrants to Texas brought recipes for a variety of sausages, and their descendants still make them, using every part of a pig in different combinations. Some versions include barley or rice; some use head meat or offal such as heart and liver.
But the sausage (“klobase” in Czech) inextricably associated with klobásníky is the most basic: generally a 1-pound, horseshoe-shaped link of coarsely ground pork meat (or pork and beef) flavored simply with salt, garlic, pepper, and sometimes paprika.
A meticulous cook “peels” the casing off the sausage before slicing it into pieces for klobásníky. And Texas cooks do not skimp on butter, buttering the pan, buttering the rising dough balls and also buttering the finished pastries when they come out of the oven.
When Are Klobásníky Traditionally Eaten?
Most often, Texas Czechs would eat klobásník at a family or community gathering, either baking the pastries themselves or picking up several dozen at a local bakery for an extended family Christmas party, funeral reception, or heritage group meeting. For such events, klobásníky might be one offering in a lunch spread served alongside foods such as chicken soup with homemade, fine-cut noodles; pimento cheese and chicken salad sandwiches; pickles; and sliced summer sausage.
Typical recipes in community cookbooks make a batch of no less than six dozen klobásníky, ensuring plenty for historically large Texas Czech families. As successive generations in the community have fewer children, smaller families might make one pan of klobásníky on the weekend, wrap each klobásník individually in freezer paper or plastic wrap, and store them in a zipper-lock bag in the freezer for their kids to grab and microwave for breakfast. This recipe makes one dozen but can easily be multiplied for parties or holidays.
Dawn Orsak is a fourth-generation Texas Czech. She is the author of the forthcoming cookbook, Kolach Culture: Cooking in Texas Czech Kitchens for University of Texas Press.