This year marked my second year judging the Kolache Factory's annual Kolache Olympics, and it's possibly my favorite thing to sit in on each year -- not just because of the wealth of different and amazing kolache recipes that the judges get to taste, but because of the spirit of the competition itself.
The type of kolaches that the Kolache Factory makes are -- as we all know -- not the traditional Czech-style pastries. They're a wholly Texas invention, and that's what I love about them. And with a typical Texas attitude, the Kolache Olympics are a way to encourage healthy competition between Kolache Factory stores as well as a way to bring other culinary influences to the table. What would Texas food be without German, Mexican, African or even Vietnamese influences? Possibly quite boring, that's what.
This year's round of recipes included eight kolaches dreamt up by various store employees, as well as two customer entries. And, like last year, they were all endlessly inventive.
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Take, for example, the Spicy South of the Border entry: a mish-mash of Polish and Mexican influences -- spicy Polish sausage and diced jalapenos -- with a healthy dose of down-home hashbrowns for good measure. Or that perennial ballgame favorite, Frito Pie, reinvisioned as a kolache bursting with chili, corn and tomatoes. (And, unfortunately, soggy Fritos, which knocked several points off this entry.)
In the end, the judges unanimously agreed that the Italian-inspired Sausage and Peppers al San Gennaro was the hands-down winner. The kolache contained a simple yet eye-rollingly good mixture of sweet Italian sausage with a hint of fennel and bell peppers sauteed in olve oil until soft. The bottom of the kolache was slightly crusty where the olive oil had seeped through while cooking, adding a textural element missing in the other entries -- one that pushed it over the top and easily making it the No. 1 choice. Not only was it delicious, it withstood the important "stability" test, too, ensuring that you won't spill the mixture down your shirt as you eat the kolache on your way into work. (Yes, we all know -- Kolache Factory included -- that you're going to scarf your breakfast down as you drive.)
On the sweeter side, I fell in love with a spicy and sweet concoction of rapsberry-chipotle sauce and cream cheese that was placed in the center of the kolache dough like a traditional fruit koláč. It reminded me visually of the poppyseed koláče I used to buy in West, Texas, on late-night runs to the Czech Stop. Alas, it proved less popular with the other judges -- I think the slightly sickly mauve color that the raspberry-chipotle sauce turned the cream cheese was the culprit -- and won't be hitting the Kolache Store's menu any time soon.
I take heart in the fact that the delicious Sausage and Peppers al San Gennaro will, however, albeit only for a limited time. Stay tuned to the Kolache Factory's Twitter stream to see when exactly it will be popping up as Kolache of the Month, and go try it out for yourself when it does. You won't be disappointed.