Shout-out here, too, to Cutty’s. They’ve got a creative menu that goes beyond your standard breakfast sandwiches with mouth-waterers like the “eggs-benedict-wich” and the lunchtime rabe t.j. (filled with broccoli rabe, mozzarella, sharp provolone, tomato jam, sesame seed roll). They also get props for their creativity. Once a month they host “Super Cluckin’ Sundays, where they serve only fried chicken sandwiches and hand pies. And it’s no wonder it's so good—the bakery is owned by America’s Test Kitchen alums Rachel and Charles Kelsey.
When I decided to embark on my pastry pursuits in late 2017, one of the first things I did (after endlessly agonizing over what to name my still-imaginary blog) was to repeatedly Google things like “Best Boston bakeries.”
I had been in Boston over six years, and I had plenty of favorite bakeries I knew I wanted to show some love, but I also wanted to know what else was out there and what I might have been missing in all my previous, more haphazard pastry pursuits. I found plenty of exciting prospects through that research, but the one I was most excited about was Breadboard Bakery.
Breadboard doesn’t yet have its own brick & mortar store. For now it exists as a weekly pop-up at Cutty’s in Brookline, MA. The bakery is the handy work of expert “baker-in-residence” Daisy Chow, a local pastry chef who’s honed her craft over 14 years at Clear Flour Bakery (another phenomenal Boston Bakery in Allston).
Breadboard Bakery stuck out to me for one reason: Chow’s specialty pastries—the “kolache.”
Unless you're a native Texan or Iowan, most people stateside aren’t familiar with this pastry. However for me, a Montana transplant to Boston by way of Bratislava, Slovakia, this little pastry is something I became very familiar with over my five years living in Central Europe.
What’s the Heck Is a Kolache?
A kolache—or koláče as I know them (pronounced “koh-law-chey”)—are a traditional Slovak/Czech pastry made with a sweet, soft dough and topped with a sweet filling. The traditional fillings include tvaroh (a sweet, soft cheese with a hint of tart, mildly reminiscent of cream cheese but far superior—it’s often labeled as “farmer cheese” or the German "quark" Stateside), marhuľa/apricot, slivka/plum, čerešňa/cherry and mak/poppy seed.
When I lived in Slovakia, these weren’t my favorite treat, since often my koláče encounters involved dry, store-bought pastries. However, when done right, these are some of the most delicious treats you’ll find. Since moving back to the States, I've developed an affinity for them, as they are a reminder of my beloved Slovakia, and most of the time they are specially handmade.
Chow, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, got to know kolache while growing up in Plano, Texas. Apparently kolache are as commonplace as donuts in the Lone Star State.
When in Texas
If you find yourself driving from Dallas to Austin, you can get a small taste of the Texan love for kolache at the 24-hour Czech Stop in West, TX. I've been there and it's kind of a trip. I don't know that I've ever seen so many koláče in one place.
The pastry was originally brought to central Texas and the Midwest (chiefly Iowa) by Czech families who immigrated to the United States in the late 19th century. The area between Dallas and Austin where many Czech immigrants settled is sometimes still referred to as the “Czech Belt,” with West, Texas, touting itself as the “Czech Heritage Capital of Texas” and the “…home of the official Kolache of the Texas Legislature.” According to Wikipedia, as of the 2000 U.S. Census, Texas had more Czech-American citizens than any other states (at 187,729). In contrast to larger cities, like Chicago and Milwaukee, where immigrants often assimilated more to the local culture, Czechs in these rural areas retained more of their language and food culture, so kolache became a part of the modern Texan food cannon.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, koláče are prepared exclusively as a sweet treat. However, the "traditional" Texas kolache evolved overtime and amalgamated with the local culture. Apparently these days you can find kolache in Texas filled with everything from traditional preserved fruits to chorizo (a prospect that would likely seem to be blasphemy to those familiar with traditional koláče).
Despite the pastry’s mass appeal and universal goodness, by and large kolache aren’t well-known outside of the more rural states where Czech immigrants settled, despite the concentration of Czechs (and Slovaks) across the Midwest. Austin-based Tex-Czech food blogger Dawn Orsak notes this surprising anomaly: “They’re a regional state food, so it seems unfair to expect them to go viral nationwide,” she says. “Still the fact that some place like NYC has Czech restaurants but no kolache bakeries, while Texas has kolache bakeries but no Czech restaurants, is interesting.”
Kolache in Boston
Once I learned about the kolache at Breadboard Bakery, I couldn't wait to get my hands on one of them. I took a Saturday morning excursion over to Brookline Village, and unsurprisingly found a line curving out the door of Cutty's. After (im)patiently waiting my turn to order, I finally got my hands on a blueberry and a raspberry kolache.
I will cut to the chase here and just tell you that they were good, really good. The moist dough was soft and chewy. The combination of the slightly sharp taste of the tvaroh with the sweet, seedy jam was perfection.
The pastries were perfectly baked and dusted with what seemed to be a combination of flour and sugar. I'm 100% a raspberry jam girl, but I have to give it to the blueberry, too, in this case. The jam had whole blueberries, and it was quite good (for a non-raspberry jam).
These are a perfect treat with coffee or as a dessert to go with your breakfast sandwich.
What’s in a Name?
I didn’t think too much of the Breadboard Bakery’s name at first glance, but it turns out there's an interesting story to it.
“The name Breadboard Bakery is a play on my two careers, former electrical engineer and current (haha) bread baker,” says Chow (who originally trained as an electrical engineer and moved to Boston for a job at an MIT start up).
Basically, a breadboard is a base for prototyping electronics and combining components. Though most modern breadboards are made of plastic, the name retains a connection to the origins of the device, when amateur radio enthusiasts would nail copper wires or terminal strips to a wooden board (which was often an actual board used for slicing bread), then soldered electronic components on them.
How to Get Your Own Breadboard Kolache!
Breadboard Bakery's delicious baked goods are available every Friday and Saturday at Cutty's in Brookline from "8 am-ish" till they're gone. In addition to recommending the kolache, I can also vouch for the cinnamon rolls. In a stroke of genius, Daisy makes them using croissant dough, so they are flaky, icy, sugary perfection.
Behind the Scenes: Caught in Action