Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Cuba, Kansas

 The Location: Cuba, Kansas
2013 population: 149; 96.8% white, 1.9% two or more races; per capita income: $19,062

Cuba was founded in 1868 by Southerners after the Civil War. It was named after the country in which one of the travelers had spent time and grown to love. In the 1870's, Czech immigrants settled there. In 1884, the town moved from its original location to a location closer to the newly-built railroad. It has since moved one more time to its present day location. The Czechs left a rich cultural heritage behind and today, the city proudly boasts this cultural contribution to America.

Cuba doesn't appear to have a terribly thrilling past, but what I find interesting about it is, it seems to be the perfect example of small-town America. Kansas is in the center of our country, and was once a hub of farming communities. Today, though, big agriculture business has wiped out most of these small towns, making them truly a dying breed. As young people leave in search of more interesting activities or to increase their chances of financial success, and as the older folks who stayed behind begin to die off, these towns are dwindling. Some might think that we should be allowed to die out and move on with the future, but I think it's really quite sad. Some of these towns at least, should be preserved. For so long, states like Kansas were responsible for feeding this nation, and it was the toil and sweat of hardworking people who fed us. I'd say it's time we gave back to them. Perhaps, like the Czech immigrants who came to Cuba so long ago and infused the town with their culture, it's time for a new group of people to come and help Cuba to thrive again. New blood, as it were. I can think of one particular group of people in desperate need of a place to live right now, but that's a topic for my other blog...

The Food: Klobasnek and Kolache
Kolache is a Czech food, and Klobasnek is an American invention that is a savory take on the Kolache. Though the Klobasnek hails from Texas, I am using it for the state of Kansas because I wanted to focus on Czech food and wanted a savory item to balance out the sweetness of the Kolache. Kolache are a cross between a cookie and a bread. Its bread dough that is rolled thin and filled with some type of sweet filling and then baked. They come out of the oven looking a bit like a cookie, but still have a bread-like texture. Klobasnek are sausage and cheese rolls made with a savory Kolache dough. The recipes I used came from the internet and are so long that I won't put them here. I will include the links in the sources section and write up my experience in making them.

I made both recipes concurrently, so I will write up the experience all in one section, rather than one recipe at a time. First up was the Kolache-or, the trouble-maker dough.

So, this was a trouble maker from start to finish. First off was the adventure of buying poppy seeds for one of the fillings. I made three fillings for these: a poppy seed, an apricot, and a blueberry filling. I have never cooked with poppy seeds before, but have seen them used in a lot of Eastern European baking that I knew I wanted to try it out. I went to Fred Meyer and luckily they had poppy seeds in their bulk spice section, so I got a small bag, about one cup worth. Now, these run a little expensive, about $13 a pound, which makes sense because poppy seeds are so light. I bought a few other items at the store and when the checker told me the amount right as I ran my credit card through, I knew $41 was way too much for the poppy seeds, the lemon, the orange, and the croissant I had purchased. It was too late though, the transaction had gone through. I thought maybe they were more expensive than I had though, maybe I'd misread the label. I looked at the receipt though, and noticed they'd come in as nearly three pounds of poppy seeds! There was no way that small bag was three pounds. Luckily the customer service area was empty and the woman there was very nice. She reweighed the bag, which actually came in at a third of a pound, and discounted me the $32 overcharge! Easy peasy, and then I was on my way.

Fast forward to the afternoon when I'm finally going to start these blog items, to about 3:30pm. You know, there's a reason people make bread earlier in the day, but I thought, how bad can it be? This is plenty of time! Wrong! I did not pull the last set of Kolache out of the oven till about 9:30pm last night...The moral of that story is, you don't have to get up at 2 in the morning maybe, but do start a bit earlier in the day than I did. You'll thank yourself later.

So, first off, the yeast wouldn't dissolve in the milk. I think I let the milk that I heated cool off too much because I was afraid it was too hot. So, I pour most of the milk, minus the chunks of yeast, back in the pan and heat it up again. Then I put it in the bowl with the yeast and it still won't melt! I have never had this happen before. It wasn't expired yeast, I checked the date. I finally used my fingers(with gloves on) to sort of mash the yeast into the milk and force it to dissolve. Fun, fun, fun!

After that time, I went about the recipe exactly as it was written. I had set the stick of butter on the stove to soften. It was perfectly soft and ready to use. The only problem? I forgot to put it in the dough! So, I am kneading this dough that is stiff as heck and would only let about half the flour absorb into it. I finally gave up trying, greased the bowl, covered it, and moved it to the stove to let it get warm for the first rise, and see the stick of butter sitting there! What do I do to fix this? I was pretty sure that leaving it out with be an absolute disaster, so I had to figure out a way to get that butter into an already-formed dough. I was not about to start over, so I took the bowl back to the counter, unwrapped the butter and smashed it into the dough. Literally. And then I kneaded it as best I could, while sort of tearing the dough from the inside and letting the butter incorporate all the way into the center. I didn't want it to turn out like a croissant dough, where the butter layers remain distinct from the dough. I just worked and reworked it, while adding more flour to absorb the extra fat. Finally, it looked halfway decent, but I'm afraid it never quite recovered. That plus the earlier yeast issue meant that I could never get it to rise quite as much as I had hoped it would.

While that dough was rising, I started on the Klobasnek dough, or, the well-behaved dough. This dough was a dream, and everything the Kolache dough was not. It rose easily and fully and was soft and easy to handle.

While both doughs were rising, I worked on the three fillings for the Kolache. I made half batches of what the recipe calls for and ended up with extras for the poppy seed and the apricot fillings. The blueberry filling was just enough. I recommend making quarter batches for the apricot and poppy seed fillings, unless you plan on using it for all the Kolache. For all of the fillings, I replaced the sugar with an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce and I think all of them turned out just fine. You would never know unless I told you. The blueberry filling was very straight forward and cooked up very nicely. The poppy seed filling was interesting because I had to grind the seeds up first, using my spice grinder. Did you know that poppy seeds are filled with oil? I did not, and found this out when I ground them up and they started clumping together. The oil has a very distinct smell and scent, one that I am sure most of us are unfamiliar with, since most of us only eat them on our everything bagels or mixed into muffins. The apricot filling was boiled for a while and then I used my hand-held blender to puree it into a sauce.

In this picture, you can see all the fillings, and the doughs while they rise. The blueberry is on the left, and the poppy seed filling is on the right. The Kolache dough is in the metal bowl, and the Klobasnek dough is in the blue bowl. You can clearly see the difference in how they are rising.

For the Klobasnek dough, you mix a few of the dough ingredients first and let it sit for a half hour before adding the next set of ingredients and letting it sit for it's first rise. After that first rise, I punched it down and divided it up into 8 equal pieces. You roll them or stretch them out into small rounds, like little pizza doughs, then place a Tablespoon or two of shredded cheddar cheese in the center. Top that with a piece of sausage. I had Polish sausages that are basically in the shape of hotdogs, so I thawed two of them and cut them up into quarters, once lengthwise, and once widthwise so there would be a good amount of sausage in each one. Then you roll them up, pinch the edges to seal them, and set them on a greased sheet pan to rise the second time.

I managed to stick all of them on one sheet pan. The sides on some of them did end up touching some of the others, but it all baked up just fine.

For the Kolache dough, after its first rise, I punched it down and kneaded it some more, while adding more flour, because of all the mishaps it had had, it was still a little greasy. It looked much better after adding more flour. This dough is divided in half and each half is rolled out as thinly as you can get. Then you use a cookie cutter, or I used a glass, and cut out rounds. It's supposed to make 24, and mine might have if it had cooperated better, but mine only made 21, and the last few times of rerolling it were really difficult. The dough did not want to stretch out anymore, so some of them were pretty sad-looking. Those rounds were placed on greased baking sheets and set aside for their second rise. I did seven on each pan and did not want to dirty yet a fourth pan, so I only put two sets on the pans first and let the last set sit on the counter to rise.

After their second rise, I used my hands to press down the center of each Kolache and make a space for the filling to go. I made 7 of each flavor, putting the filling in before you bake, so that it all bakes together.

I didn't follow the egg glaze or the posipka recipes for these exactly, but made it work for what I had on hand. The Klobasnek dough called for two egg yolks, so I had two egg whites left over, so I threw some milk into them and mixed them and used that as the glaze and I think it worked just fine. And my sister had some sugar and cinnamon mixed for toast, so I just sprinkled some of that on over the glaze and it was perfect.

After the Klobasnek had finished their second rise, I finally was able to bake them, while working on the Kolache. Before you put the Klobasnek in the oven, you brush them in melted butter. When they're done and you've taken them out of the oven, you brush them in more melted butter while they're still hot.

OMG, these things were fantastic! The bread dough was the softest I think I've ever had in my life and the cheese and sausage were ridiculous. I ate two of them last night! I ate them while I was baking the Kolache, which I did one batch at a time, rather than trying to use two racks and hoping the bottom one didn't burn. They each took 12 minutes to bake and turned out amazing! I liked the blueberry and apricot ones the best. I didn't care for the flavor of the poppy seed filling. It was just too strong of a floral flavor for me. Since I don't have any experience with this filling, I have no basis of comparison, so I don't know if it's supposed to be that way, or if I did something wrong. Maybe if I had been raised with that flavor, I would like it more. But I am very excited that I tried it out and got to see just how that filling is made! I had no idea they grind up the seeds.

So that's all of it, in its glory, about six hours after I started...My feet and back were so sore and then I still had to deal with packaging it all up for people! Many of the Kolache were placed on a plate and I froze them to take to my family's Thanksgiving dinner this week, so they will get a chance to taste them all! Some are being shared with my parents today and some will go to work tomorrow for a few people to try them out, but the rest of the Klobasnek are mine!! I froze them so I can have them whenever I want!

During the last part of this, I of course had to watch The Wizard of Oz. I mean, Toto and Dorothy might not have been in Kansas anymore, but that's where I was visiting, and so it was a must.

This was quite an adventure, trying to make two completely different bread-dough based items at the same time. I have never tried that before, and I have never started it so late in the day before, either. I would highly recommend starting a bit earlier in the day for these, especially if you are making both. They were both fantastic, though, so if you feel confident in your bread-making skills, and have never made these before, you really ought to try them out. You'll come away from it asking yourself where these have been your whole life!

Klobasnek Recipe

Kolache Recipe

Cuba City Website

City Map

City Pic

City Info1

City Info2

City Stats

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