If you visit Central Europe, you are almost certain to come across one of the few symbols from the socialist era that remains beloved today: the Little Mole, known variously as Krtek, Krtko, Kisvakond, Krecik or die Maulwurf. Our kids love to watch Little Mole cartoons on YouTube, and since the vast majority of them are short, sweet, and dialogue-free, they’re OK with me too. (There are a few peculiar exceptions that I generally don’t show the children.) The mole and his friends have fully embraced capitalism and now are emblazoned on t-shirts, toys, games and books, and are part of the wave of fashionable nostalgia that hit this region a few years ago.
While he is popular all around the Central Europe, the Little Mole shows his Czech origins from time to time. For his friend the frog’s birthday, he bakes koláče, a typically Czech pastry that can be filled with jam (as seen here), poppyseed filling, sweetened cheese or nuts.
Koláče aren’t reserved for festive occasions, they’re a substantial snack with tea or coffee, or an indulgent breakfast. They are also called frgale, which certainly sounds fancy; they can be dressed up by making patterns with different types of filling, which looks especially elegant if you make one big koláče.
Here’s a recipe and a couple of different filling variations, to be mixed and matched as you like.
I’ve listed the fillings separately, since they’re useful for other types of pastry.
Makes 8 koláče
- 1 cup/20 ml milk
- 2 oz/50 grams butter
- 3½ cups/500 grams flour
- 1/3 cup + 1 Tbs/80 grams sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 packet instant yeast
- 1 egg + 1 yolk
1 or more filling, in next recipe
- Heat the milk and butter in a small pan until almost boiling. Remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt and yeast.
- Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir together. Add one egg and mix until a sticky dough forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl until it is fairly clean, cover it with plastic and leave the dough to rise for 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.
- When the dough has doubled in bulk, divide it into 8 equal portions (each should weigh about 4 oz or 100 grams) and roll into balls. Cover them with a cloth and leave them to rest while you make the filling, see recipes below.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/190 C. Whisk the egg yolk with about a tsp of water to make an egg wash
- Gently flatten each ball to make a circle about 3½” across (9 cm)and form a well in the center. Spoon about 2 Tbs of filling into the well.
- Brush the exposed dough with the egg wash, and bake on a greased (or even better, parchment-paper lined) baking sheet for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.
Sweet fillings for pastry
Each of these recipes will fill at least 8 koláče. If you have filling left over, you could use it to make turnovers with frozen puff pastry dough, or fill any other type of pastry that suits your fancy.
Ingredients for poppyseed filling
- 1 cup + 2 Tbs/150 grams poppy seeds
- ¼ cup/ 60 ml milk
- ¼ cup/ 25 grams sugar
- Grind the poppyseeds in a spice or coffee grinder until they form a paste.
- Mix with the milk and sugar in a small pan and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes.
Ingredients for sweet cheese filling
- 9 oz/250 grams soft cheese, such as turó/tvaroh or ricotta
- ½ cup/ 50 grams sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- zest of one lemon
- 1 Tbs butter, softened
- 1 egg
- Cream the butter and cheese together with the sugar. Beat in the egg, lemon zest, and vanilla.
Ingredients for walnut filling
- 7 oz/200 grams ground walnuts
- 1 cup + 2 Tbs/120 grams sugar
- 2/3 cup/150 ml milk
- zest of one lemon
- Mix all ingredients together in a small pan and cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.