Rolling in the [Kolache] Dough

Katherine Wilber, right, explained her kolache techniques at a recent program at the Belleville Public Library, while her assistant and grandson, Andrew Wilber, looks on. Wilber produced a kolache baking video some years ago with the assistance of her grandchildren. Above, her hands are blur as she rolls dough into balls that will become kolaches.

Secret to Czech pastry is practice, says local baker

By Deb Hadachek Telescope editor

It’s just an experiment, Katherine Wilber insists.

Two egg yolks or one egg? Whatever you like.

No mashed potatoes or potato flakes? Throw in a little cake mix. Expensive flour?

“I think it all comes out of the same spout,” she laughs. “I use the cheap brand.’

The real secret of the perfect Czech kolache? “It’s really about the practice,” she says.

More than 50 women–and a few men– packed into the Belleville Public Library on a recent Saturday afternoon in hopes that some of Wilber’s practice would rub off on them.

A three-time Republic County Kolache champion, Best of Fair winner at the NCK Free Fair, and kolache contributor to countless events through the year, Wilber has a few decades of practice — and many miles on her mixers.

Even experienced kolache bakers were surprised at a few of Wilber’s techniques.

The flour may be cheap, but she sifts it before she puts it in the canister. And again as she measures it into dough.

And her dough resembles thick cake batter more than it resembles bread dough.

“I go by looks when I add flour,” she says. “Not quite sticky — but a little sticky.”

Wilber didn’t begin her own practice in kolache baking until she was married.

“I baked cookies and pie growing up, but my Mom baked the kolaches and the bread.”

The weather, each individual baker’s oven, whether you let the dough rise overnight or if you have a warm kitchen or a cold kitchen — all those factors play into the final product, she says.

“A person learns,” she says. “You have to be willing to adapt.”

And encouragement that even the best bakers have days when the kolache experiment flogs: “If they’re going to turn out they’ll turn out, and if not, they won’t,” says her voice of experience.