Leaven Blog

The spiritual side of kolache baking

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

Every July, on my husband’s birthday, I make traditional Czechoslovakian bread pastries called kolache.

My husband grew up in a community of Czech immigrants, and so kolache were a part of his daily life.

He has never found a commercially made kolach that satisfies his standards — and he will tell you, like any true Bohemian, that it’s all about the bread dough.

Making the perfect sweet yeast dough for a batch of kolache is no simple task. It requires a day of leavening and kneading and waiting; and waiting some more.

That’s why I only make his beloved treat once a year.

And every year when I spend a day in the throes of this arduous task, it becomes a spiritual journey for me.

Bread was such an important part of the diet of Jesus and his contemporaries that it was often referred to as food in general — “Give us this day our daily bread.”

While waiting for the magic of my dough rising, I think of how often bread is talked about in the Gospels and the common use of leaven as a metaphor.

One of Jesus’ shortest and most popular parables is about this very subject. It states: “The Kingdom of God is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour till it was all leavened” (Lk 13:20-21).

Whether it comes in the form of the commercial yeast I use, or the bit of sough dough Jesus’ mother probably used, leaven has an amazing property. Just a small amount mixed into dough can cause that dough to grow and change into something wonderful.

What would have been dull matzo becomes light, airy, delicious bread.

That can be the nature of the human heart as well. Mixed with God’s grace, our love can grow and change the hearts of all those around us — spreading his kingdom.

And like leaven, our faith must be active or it loses its capacity to effect that change. 

Each day, we only need a little love blessed with God’s grace and expressed in a smile or a kind word — or a perfectly made kolach.

Such an offering can change one person’s day and, as a result, impact so many.

Saint John XXIII said it best when he wrote, “Every believer, in this, our world, must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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  • Would you share this recipe my husbands grandfather came over from Czechoslovakia and he, too talks about kolache’s