Kathy Svitak specializes in Czech breads

The smell of freshly baked kolaches, rohlicky and houska might make visitors to Pilsen imagine they are somewhere in the Czech Republic.

But the aroma is actually coming from the Marion County kitchen of Kathy Svitak, a Pilsen baker who specializes in traditional Czech and German breads.

“I bake what belongs to this Pilsen area-that was what I got started in,” Svitak said. “I liked to make yeast breads anyway, so I just kind of fell into that with my German background.”

Svitak said her husband’s grandmother taught her to bake the Czech breads that have become her trademark.

“I didn’t know how to make the kolaches or the rohlicky until I came here,” she said.

She found the hands-on training invaluable.

“There’s no way to explain how to make them,” she said. “When you tell someone that’s how you do it, they just look at you like you’re speaking a foreign tongue. But after you’re shown, it’s just a matter of practice.”

Svitak said rohlicky looks like a crescent roll. Houska is braided bread that has poppy seed on top of it. A kolache is a pastry made with a fruit or cheese filling, something like a Danish.

“Almost all of the recipes I do have been handed down from generation to generation,” she said.

Svitak has updated the old recipes to reflect current baking techniques and ingredients.

“The instructions I was given were like ‘put this much in and when it starts feeling this way, you stop,'” she said. “So I learned how to modernize all of that, to give it some measurements, to learn what she was talking about.”

For example, Svitak said she uses powdered milk in place of the scalded milk called for in the original recipe.

“And they used to use potato water-I use instant potatoes,” she said. “You still get the same finished product, but you’re shortening your time.

“Scalding the milk used to take forever, not to mention the fact that you had to buy all the milk and have it on hand. The powdered is an easily storable product. All you do is use warm water, and you’re going.”

“I have taken the old recipes and modernized them as much as I can with the shortcuts without sacrificing the quality,” she said.

Since Svitak bakes in large quantities, she also adapted the recipes to be made with a mixer.

“When I’m marathon baking, I can cut an hour and a half off of my time by using a mixer,” she said. “I’ve got a Bosch mixer, and I can make 10 pounds of dough in one batch-which is seven loaves of bread or 13 dozen kolaches or eight dozen rohlicky. In 10 minutes start to finish, you’ve got dough ready to raise.”

Svitak cautions bakers not to put too much flour in these types of rolls and breads to avoid a tough product.

“At a certain point, you have to quit,” she said. “It’s not like bread dough-you knead that forever and the more you knead it the better it is.

“With a sweet bread dough like your rohlicky or cinnamon rolls, you don’t do that because then you have a very tough roll that’s only good while it’s hot that day. The next day you can use them for hockey pucks.”

Svitak has never had a problem finding people willing to take the baked goods off her hands.

“I used to sell to Lincolnville’s grocery store,” she said. “Then one year at Christmas time our church decided to run a country store. Everybody brought the stuff that they were good at making whether it was candies or cookies or pies, or arts and crafts.”

Her baked goods went over so well that she decided to participate in other fairs.

One annual event for Svitak is an arts and crafts fair held in the fall at the Natural Museum of History in Topeka.

“I got there because it was ‘Christmas Around the World,’ so they were trying to find people who were doing the different ethnic foods,” she said. “Now I have people calling up there to find out if I’m going to be there.”

She bakes houska, rohlicky and kolaches for the event, now in its 14th year.

“I also have a rye bread recipe that again came from my husband’s grandma, and that one is a very good seller,” she said. “I’ve been told by some people up there that they haven’t had that kind of bread since they were over in Europe, which I thought was very high praise.”

Svitak said preparing for the fair is a “marathon of baking.”

“For two days, I bake my brains out,” she said. “I’d take 50 dozen rohlicky up there and 80 dozen kolaches and about 20 houska, and I’d do this all Thursday and Friday because you had to have everything fresh.

“I started this because it provided for Christmas for my kids,” she said. “Three days worth of hard work paid for Christmas.”

Svitak said her two boys, now ages 22 and 25, were her “best and worst critics.”

“They look at the kolaches and the rohlicky just like people look at cupcakes and cakes, especially since they had it almost every day from the week before Thanksgiving to Christmas,” she said. “They used to come into the house and say, ‘Mom you’re baking again,’ while everybody else would come over and say, ‘You’re house smells so good.’

“They enjoy it, but it still does not have the same thrill as for other people who get it just twice a year.”

In addition to being a baker, Svitak also enjoys cooking.

“I’ve got a large house, and I’ve done family reunions here for my family,” she said. “I can handle 45 people here for a three-day weekend, and I can also do the cooking because that’s not a big deal.”

Her “playroom,” as she refers to her kitchen, is 27 feet by 14 feet. It provides space not only for her baking, but also for fellowship with family and friends.

“When people come over, we sit at the table and visit,” she said. “When you’re at the kitchen table, the conversation is totally different. Everybody still to this day gathers around the kitchen table rather than anywhere else.”

Recipes from

the Svitak Kitchen

Whole Wheat Bread

4 cup warm water

1 cup instant powdered milk

1/2 cup honey

I tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons yeast( or two packets)

1/2 cup instant potato flakes

1 cup lard or butter

6 or 7 cups whole wheat flour

7 cups bread flour

By hand: Mix all ingredients except flour. With wire whip add the whole wheat flour, mix until smooth. Then add 1/2 of rest of flour, and stir with a spoon until stiff. Pour out onto floured board and knead with remaining flour (at least 5 minutes). Let raise.

By mixer: Put all ingredients except flour together in mixing bowl. Mix all ingredients and the whole wheat flour with mixer for 4 minutes. Add second half of the flour and mix 5 more minutes. Dough should be slightly tacky to touch. Put in greased bowl and let raise until double.

Make into four loaves. Let raise until double. Bake 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then 50 minutes at 350. You may need to cover with aluminum foil to keep it from browning too much.

Gooey Cinnamon Rolls

4 cups warm water

1 cup instant powdered milk

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 cup instant potato flakes

3/4 cup lard or butter

2 tablespoons yeast( or two packets)

5 pounds bread flour

By hand: Mix all ingredients except flour. With wire whip, add about 1/2 of the flour, mix until smooth. Then add half of the rest of flour and stir with a spoon until stiff. Pour out onto floured board and knead with remaining flour until it forms a ball. Let raise.

By mixer: Mix all ingredients except flour. Put in mixing bowl. Mix all ingredients and half of the flour and knead with mixer 3 minutes. Add second half of the flour and mix 3 more minutes. Put in greased bowl and let raise until double.

Roll out into 1/2-inch-thick dough. Melt 1 cup margarine and spread over dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Roll up, starting with long edge. Cut into 1-inch slices with knife or dental floss. Place in 9×13 pan. Let raise until double.

Gooey topping

For each 9×13 pan of cinnamon rolls. Mix:

1-1/2 cups sugar

1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Dash of salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

1-1/2 cups cream or half-and-half

Bake gooey cinnamon rolls 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then 30 minutes at 350 degrees. When they are done, put a jelly roll pan on top and turn upside-down. Let cool (if you can).

Hint: I have been sitting the 9×13 pan in a jelly roll pan, so if it runs over it will do it in that instead of the oven.

If you want to just frost the cinnamon rolls, bake a jelly-roll pan or 9×13 pan for 15 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees.


2 cups milk (also can use 2 cups warm water and 1/2 cup powdered milk)

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup lard or margarine

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup instant potato flakes

2 packages yeast

5 to 6 cups flour

Scald milk, let cool to lukewarm. Stir in honey, salt, instant potatoes and yeast. Let stand until bubbly. Stir in lard and enough flour to make consistency of gravy. Let stand until double, 45 minutes. Add more flour until stiff dough. Knead about 5 minutes.

Note: If you have dough hooks on your mixer you can combine all the ingredients and 1/2 the flour and mix for 3 minutes, then add the remaining flour, and mix 3 more minutes.

Put back into greased bowl, let raise until doubled. Shape into large walnut-sized balls. Place on greased baking sheet 2 inches apart, brush with melted margarine. Let rise until almost double in size. Press center down and fill with filling. Bake at 400 degrees for 9 to 11 minutes.

Crumbly topping:

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1 stick margarine

Cut flour and sugar into margarine like you would in making pie dough.

Fruit toppings

n Cherry: cherry pie filling

n Apricot: Put 1 can of apricots in a blender and puree. Add 3 or 4 tablespoons cornstarch Microwave 5 minutes, stir, microwave again until boiling.

n Prune: 1 box prunes. Put in a pan on the stove or microwave container. Pour water over top to 1/2 inch above prunes. Cook until boiling. Let set and absorb water. Pour into blender and add two shakes of cloves and four shakes of allspice.

n Pineapple: Put 1 can pineapple in microwave bowl, add 1/2 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons cornstarch. microwave 5 minutes, stir, microwave again till boiling.

n Poppy seed: I just buy the Solo brand of poppy seed filling and add a little cream or half-and-half to make it thinner.

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