Snapshots From The Kolache Festival in Burleson County, TX

[Photographs: Julie Riley]

The lines started at 8 a.m. and Jody Powers was ready. Armed with 5,000 pastries, Powers was prepared to give the masses what they wanted. And what they wanted was kolaches. For the next few hours, Powers and her team from Zamykal Gourmet Kolaches sold the traditional Czech pastries, individually and by the dozen, to a line that seemed to never end.

By 1 p.m. the scene had drastically changed: the kolaches, and the lines, were gone. Powers sold out of kolaches in just 5 hours. That's 1,000 kolaches an hour.

Zamykal's kolaches weren't the only ones that had disappeared by the afternoon. An impressive total of 2,116 dozen kolaches were baked between all of the vendors at the annual Kolache Festival in Burleson County, Texas which was held on Saturday, September 8th. By 1 p.m. there wasn't a single kolache left for the taking.

Line Up!

If you're unfamiliar with a kolache, the pastry can be described as a Danish's breadier cousin. Instead of the flaky Danish crust, a kolache has a soft dough that surrounds a filling traditionally made from fruit, cheese, or a combination of the two. Many people, including Texans who count kolaches as a typical breakfast food, incorrectly believe that a kolache is the savory, sausage-filled bread reminiscent of a pig in a blanket. Those are actually a klobasniky—a variation on the kolache that was created in the United States. At the Kolache Festival, both sweet and savory options were sold, but the sweet options far outnumbered the savory.

The Kolache Festival has been held in Burleson County every year since the late 1980s as a celebration of the town's Czech roots. Czech immigrants brought kolaches with them when they came to Texas in late 19th century; the pastries were a staple of the traditional Czech diet and were eaten either as part of a meal or as a snack. As access to other foods grew, kolaches became less popular, but the Kolache Festival is the one day every year where everyone in Caldwell, Czech or not, indulges in the sweet treat.

Indeed, bakeries from around the state cook for months in preparation for the festival. On the big day, booths are set up in the town square of Caldwell, Texas. Kolaches are sold individually ($1 for fruit or cheese, $1.50 for meat) and by the dozen ($10). This year, kolache vendors offered everything from traditional flavors like fresh apricot, gooey cream cheese, and hand-ground poppy seed to more creative flavors like spiced pumpkin cream cheese, tart key lime, and coconut cream topped with shredded coconut.

Mystery Kolaches

Lines wrapped around the kolache booths, with the wait for the more popular vendors averaging at about 30 minutes. While standing in line, it was common to hear people on the phone with friends and family who were putting in requests for kolaches. Most attendees bought kolaches by the dozen to take home and distribute to lucky recipients.

Since the early days of the kolache festival, there has been a bake-off to honor top-notch kolaches made by both professional and amateur bakers from around the state. To determine which kolaches are the best, Bake Show judges consider three main qualities: appearance, filling, and most importantly, dough.

Kolache Bake Off

Everyone has an opinion about whose kolaches are the best, but pretty much any kolache aficionado agrees that a good kolache should have a proportionate filling to dough ratio and that the dough should be soft and evenly browned. Quality kolache dough is made with love—it needs time to rest and rise before being put in the oven. Fresh ingredients greatly improve the taste of kolache. Real butter and whole milk keep the dough soft, while fresh fillings make a kolache taste more like it was baked by Grandma than bought at a store.

Click through the slideshow to see snapshots from the Kolache Festival, including traditional kolache, seasonal flavors, bake-off winners, and more.