Friday, October 18, 2013

Pure Comfort From Home: Sausage Rolls and Kolaches

For some reason I always get a little bit sentimental and homesick this time of year. Maybe it is because I long for the mild fall weather I grew up with.  Here in Colorado the fall colors, although vibrant and breathtaking, are fleeting and all too quickly give way to the gray, bitter cold of winter.  Back home there are still many warm days to enjoy before the big chill blows in permanently.  My heart aches for home sometimes.

I grew up in a part of Texas where the towns have names like Schulenburg, Shiner, Hallettsville and Gonzales.  Nestled among the prairies and wildflower covered meadows between Houston, Austin and San Antonio, you won't find any towns with more personality and good food than these.

The residents of this area have names that echo that of their towns. There is a strong Mexican presence from the south which somehow blends with the heavy German and Czech influences from the European immigrants who settled here years ago. As you can probably tell it is a pretty mixed bag of nationalities and traditions, but it mostly works pretty well.

Stop at any convenience store or gas station in this area and you will most likely find one of those counter top electric roasters full of breakfast tacos and tamales along side plastic bags of homemade noodles and beef jerky, right next to the cash register that sits on top of the kolache case. These residents give you no excuse not to eat well while you are here.

Hungry for seafood? Don't be afraid to stop and buy some at the pickup trucks with homemade signs advertising fresh shrimp and oysters for sale.  You will see these little roadside shops set up at almost every four way stop in this part of the state.

Years ago, news of a study done by Texas A & M swept the state proclaiming that these vendors had fresher (or just as fresh) products than you could find in most grocery stores and seafood markets. Since then my family and I have bought shrimp from them many times and I'm glad to report that I'm not dead yet.

When I am struck by a bout of homesickness like this, I do what people have been doing for hundreds of years, I cook familiar foods from home.  Next to barbecuing a brisket or a slab of ribs, nothing says home to me like kolaches and sausage rolls.

If you've never had either one or heard of them, my best description would be that kolaches are soft, sweet bread pillows with depressions in the center that are filled with a poppy seed, fruit or cream cheese mixture and most often are sprinkled with a crunchy streusel topping. I guess you could say that they are the Czech answer to the Danish.

Not a sweet eater? Well, there's something for you too. Sausage rolls (sometimes called sausage kolaches) are made from either small sausages or pieces of large link sausage that have been wrapped and baked in a soft, fluffy dough. You can also find these rolls filled with other savory ingredients like ham and cheese and even barbecue.

One of my favorite quick breakfasts in this world is a sausage roll for my main course and a cheese kolache for dessert. Those Texans, you gotta hand it to them.  Where else can you get a two course breakfast and enjoy it on the road straight out of a paper bag? Genius! 

Even though I posted a recipe for peach kolaches back in September of  2011, I have never posted a recipe for sausage rolls . . .  until today. The bread that I am wrapping it in can be used for either sweet kolaches or savory rolls, but since it is a bit on the dense side, I like it best for savories. It is soft, doughy and slightly sweet which compliments the salty sausage perfectly. Pure comfort food like this will certainly feed your stomach and soul, no matter where you're from.

Sausage Rolls

This recipe makes 24 sausage rolls. Even though this sounds like a lot, they'll go quicker than you think. Don't like your neighbors enough to share and don't want to make so many? You can easily cut the recipe in half, but you'll still probably need 4 cups of flour or so and two eggs for the dough. 

2 envelopes fast acting yeast
1 cup warm water
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/3 - 1/2 cup sugar (use the max amount if you like sweet Hawaiian rolls)
3/4 cup shortening
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 - 1 pound rings of fully cooked Polish sausage (or your favorite)*

Sprinkle yeast over the top of the water. Let sit for at least 5 minutes or until yeast is foamy.

Place flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Turn mixer on and mix ingredients for a few seconds to combine.  Add shortening, eggs and the yeast mixture. Mix on low until combined and smooth, approximately 3 minutes. You are going for a smooth, elastic dough that while still soft, doesn't stick to the bowl or your hands. If dough is too soft, add a little flour.  If dough is too stiff, add some warm water a little bit at a time.

Spray a large bowl with non-stick cooking spray. Transfer dough to the sprayed bowl and turn over to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, approximately 1 - 1-1/2 hours.**

Remove risen dough from the bowl and placing it on a clean, dry surface.  Cut into 24 equal pieces that weigh approximately 2 ounces each. Cover lightly with plastic wrap.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, flatten each to an oval that measures approximately 4" x 5". Place a piece of sausage in the center of the dough. Pull one side of the over one of the long sides of the sausage.

Roll the sausage towards you so the dough meets in the middle on the underside.  Roll back over and fold the ends of the dough towards the middle.  Press the seams to close.

Place the rolls, seam side down in 2 greased 9" x 13" baking dishes.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for 15 - 20 minutes.

Remove plastic wrap and bake uncovered in a preheated 400 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes or until they are a light golden brown.

Makes 2 dozen sausage rolls.

*Most, if not all, commercially produced sausage is fully cooked when you buy it.  If it is not stated on the label or when in doubt, place sausage in a large skillet in about 1" of water and bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer for 5 minutes on each side. Remove from pan, drain well and use as desired. 

**If you are new to making yeast doughs, don't panic if your dough takes more or less time to rise. Sometimes in a cold house, my dough takes up to 2 - 2-1/2 hours to rise.


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