There are a few things that Czechs can‘t live without when they go abroad : good beer, Czech bread and koláče – pies or tarts made of thinly rolled dough, beautifully decorated with sweet farmers cheese, poppy-seed filling, thick plum preserves and raisins and blanched almonds.
Nostalgia for this “taste of home” makes Czech communities abroad brew their own beer, bake their own bread and organize koláč festivities where women use traditional family recipes handed down from one generation to the next, vying whose koláče taste better and look more beautiful.
In the Czech Republic almost every family has its traditional recipe for koláče and bakes them on a Sunday, for weddings or the annual feast day. Many pastries and bakeries from areas famed for their koláče – such as the Chodsko region – now produce koláče that come close to the home-made delicacy working overtime to meet demand on special occasions.
Marie Vondrovicová is the owner of a bakery in the town of Bořice which specializes in koláče from the Chodsko region. She says that the days leading up to the annual Chodsko festivities are traditionally hectic.
“We bake around 11,000 koláče in the course of three days. I employ 60 people and they bake in eight hour shifts until we are done. I have girls who decorate the koláče and that is an art in itself. Each one has her specific “handwriting”. If you show me one of our koláče I can easily tell you who decorated it. In one hundred koláče you will not find two that are the same.”
Most of these girls who are so proficient at the art of decorating a koláč started baking at home with their mothers and grandmothers around the age of nine or ten. Practice makes perfect and a steady hand helps them create amazing, ornamental pies that are a feast for the eyes and stomach.
While some families like making their own personalized koláče – the typical Chodsko koláč reflects the local traditions and the region’s good-natured inhabitants. Marie Vondrovicová explains:
“The Chodsko koláč is like the Chodsko folk costume – covered with flowers and hearts. It reflects the character of the region and its people. They are merry and open-hearted, they like to sing, they enjoy life to the full – and that is exactly what a Chodsko koláč looks like.”
The local delicacy is also a must for weddings –not only are they served as dessert but wedding guests receive a sample of the various kinds to take home. In some areas people set store by the filling – chocolate cream signals wealth, peach preserves happiness, strawberries love, farmers’ cheese filling supports wellbeing, poppy-seed filling promises fertility. Also kolace for weddings are covered with a special paste made of cream, rum and vanilla sugar.
Koláče from Chodsko usually don’t last very long –they sell like the proverbial hot cakes and disappear before you have had a chance to properly admire them. But some travel afar – to warm the hearts and stomachs of Czechs far from home. Marie Vondrovicová again:
“We have a German clientele, and often parents who travel abroad to visit their children will come in to buy Chodsko koláče for them. Our koláče have travelled far and wide - to Australia, Sweden, the United States, Spain or Japan. People take them all over the world.“