Recipe: Apple Crumble Kolaches
December is for holiday breads, and that includes fancy pastries you can serve at a fancy brunch, like these apple-filled treats. There is a lot going on with this recipe, most of which I won’t go into detail right now, because I’ll have more time and space to do so down the line. For the time being, you’ll just get this one recipe.
First, it is a kolache, a Czech yeasted pastry that is popular in East Texas hill country, where many Czech people emigrated to. I plan to do a separate post on kolaches someday, hopefully with a guest appearance from my friend Nicola Miller, who is more of an expert on them than am I (and whose daughter Laura tested this recipe for me last weekend).
Secondly, it uses a tangzhong brioche formula that I just worked up as part of a larger attempt to corral the chaos of my formulas into some semblance of order. I’ve been mucking with my many recipes for so long that I have versions upon versions of each that only differ slightly from one another, and I’ve finally decided that I need to lock down “representative” examples of each. I began with a new-ish tangzhong shokupan (Japanese milk bread) and then created variations based upon that model, including the brioche (along with a pain de me, challah, and choreg). At some point soon I will share the entire set as a single mega post, as part of a series of posts about tangzhong baking, which will likely include a guest post from my new friend Gan Chin Lin, a tangzhong vegan wizard whom I mentioned last week in my holiday gift guide. (I’m hoping that Lin will be sharing her vegan bread baking secrets with us.)
Finally, it is filled with an iteration of my Cook’s Illustrated apple crumble recipe, one of my favorite personal CI recipes. I’m generally agnostic as to whether it should be a crumble, meaning its streusel only contains chopped nuts, or a crisp, which requires that it contain rolled oats. Sometimes I just call it a crimble, for simplicity.
Before I reveal the recipe, I just wanted to share some of the feedback I got from Nic and Laura:
The kolaches are incredible. Much better than my recipe. Here's Laura's feedback. I watched her bake them (and then we ate some; the rest have gone to work with her)…
"It's a lovely recipe. Really easy to follow; no ambiguity to the instructions at all. The dough is incredibly silky and buttery, (I was amazed at how light the dough is; almost weightless in the hand!) and yes while it is very sticky when doing the folds, wetting the hands with water was fine. (I'm a baker so I didn't panic at the stickiness but you might want to extra-reassure readers that this is normal and wetting the hands will solve it.). And shaping them was simple. It took a little longer to double the size as my house was really cold today, so they did need the maximum time to rise. Baked for around 30 mins in my oven. They didn't catch or singe, the baking time is spot on in my calibrated oven. I got exactly eight decent-sized kolaches."
Laura really enjoyed doing the testing and would be happy to do it again. She's a baker and patissiere at a National Trust Stately Home (Ickworth House in Suffolk)…She's very impressed and will abandon her old recipe immediately in favour of yours!
Music to my ears! Thank you Nic and Laura both!!
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
Apple Crumble Kolaches
Makes 8 hefty kolache (or 12 more modest ones)
You may use whatever starch you like in the tangzhong, including bread flour; my tangzhong starch of choice these days is glutinous rice flour, because it is known to keep breads softer longer.
As Laura mentioned above, be sure to wet your hands during the folds in step 5 to keep the dough from sticking to them.
This is a deliberately high-hydration dough, so be sure to use sufficient bench flour during dividing and shaping. Optionally refrigerating the dough as described in step 9 will make it far easier to work with once cold.
Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, or Braeburn apples all work well here.
For a crumble, use nuts in the topping; for a crisp, use oats or a combination of nuts and oats. To chop oats coarsely, pulse them in a spice mill or blender.
You can also make 12 smaller ones by dividing the dough into 60g pieces and laying the balls on the tray in a 4x3 pattern.
32g starch or flour
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, cold
5g (1-1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
290g bread flour
113g (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
7g (1-1/4 teaspoons) salt
680g crisp apples (about 3 large), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
50g (1/4 cup packed) light brown sugar
60g (1/4 cup) water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch, combined with 1 tablespoon water, stirred just before use
70g (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
50g (1/4 cup) sugar
30g (1/4 cup) finely-chopped almonds or other nut, coarsely-chopped oats, or a combination
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
42g (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon water
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt
For the tangzhong: Place the water and starch in a microwave-safe bowl and whisk to combine. Cover loosely and microwave in 15 second intervals until thickened and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes, whisking regularly. Uncover and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
For the dough: Add the eggs, yolks, sugar, and yeast to the bowl with the tangzhong and whisk until uniform. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the flour, and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together and no dry flour remains, 2 to 5 minutes. Cover loosely and let sit for 20 minutes.
Add the butter and salt to the bowl and mix on medium speed until the butter is incorporated and the dough is silky and starts to clear sides of bowl (it will remain webby and sticky), 8 to 12 minutes.
Desired Dough Temperature: 75-78˚F.
Transfer the dough to another bowl if necessary (or proof in mixer bowl if space allows). Cover and let sit at 75˚F until about doubled in volume, 90 to 120 minutes. Using lightly-moistened hands, fold the dough at 45 and 90 minutes.
For the filling: While the dough proofs, place the apple pieces, sugar, water, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a 12-inch skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until the apples are tender and the liquid is thickened, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until the glaze thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover loosely, and allow to cool to room temperature.
For the crimble topping: Whisk the flour, sugar, almonds (and/or oats), and salt in a medium bowl until combined. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and water and stir with a spatula until clumps form and no dry flour remains.
For the kolaches: (If desired, once the dough has about doubled in volume, it may be covered tightly and refrigerated for up to 24 hours. The kolaches will take about 90 to 120 minutes to proof in step 9 if shaped when the dough is cold.)
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the dough to a lightly-floured counter. Flour the top of the dough and divide into 8 equal pieces of about 85g each. Shape each into a tight smooth ball and transfer to the prepared sheet in an evenly spaced, 3-2-3 pattern. Cover the balls loosely and allow to proof until about doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes.
Thirty minutes before doughs are doubled in volume, set an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 325˚F.
Using the well-floured bottom of a 1/3-cup measure or 2-inch wide drinking glass, form a deep well in the center of each ball of dough. (You should press deep enough to feel the pan beneath the dough. And be sure to re-flour the tool after each use. For smaller kolaches, use the bottom of a 1/4-cup measure.) If necessary, finish forming the depression using floured fingertips. Brush the raised parts of the kolaches with the egg wash. Using a tablespoon measure, divide the apple filling evenly among the kolaches (3 to 4 tablespoons each; 2 to 3 for smaller ones). Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the kolache filling and the top surface of the dough.
Bake the kolaches until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pan after 15 minutes.
Allow the kolaches to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.