Continuing with recipes for Christmas, today I have Vánočka which is a Czech Christmas Bread. The Czechs, in common with many people in Central and Eastern Europe, celebrate Christmas on 24th December and this bread is served for breakfast in many homes. It is a traditional bread made with an enriched dough and flavoured with a little lemon zest and some raisins. The loaf is braided, usually in three layers and shaved, sliced or slivered almonds are sprinkled on the top.
I must say, having eaten it many times when I was in Prague, it is very tasty indeed. It is actually quite a simple recipe, apart from needing to braid 9 rolls of dough into three layers, but it does take a little time to make.
When braiding the layers there are 4 strands of dough on the bottom, then 3 in the middle and 2 on the top. A trough/dent is made in the bottom layer, along its’ length, to accommodate the 2nd layer. Likewise one is made in the 2nd layer to accommodate the top layer. I didn’t make the dent deep enough of even wide enough on mine so the loaf spread and didn’t hold its’ shape quite right. However it still turned out good enough and it tasted fantastic.
Just a word about the flour. Although I used bread flour plain/all purpose flour would work fine too. Although I work in grams I used a 250ml measuring cup and scooped 4 cups, levelling off each time and that weight came to exactly 580 grams. If you use a smaller measuring cup you may get a different result and need more than 4 cups full to meet the requirement. The inconsistency of cup measures is one reason I work in grams, with a scale. I have three sets of measuring cups, 2 say 240ml is a cup and one says 250ml is a cup, but I have also seen a set that measures 235ml.
- 580g(4 cups) bread flour
- 150g(3/4 cup) caster or granulated sugar
- 11g(3 tsp or 1 1/2 packets) active dried yeast
- 290ml (1 1/4 cup – 2 tsp) whole milk
- 2 medium egg yolks(large in USA)
- 113g(1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- zest from one lemon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 60g (1/2cup) raisins
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 30g(1/3 cup) shaved almonds
- Heat the milk until lukewarm(38C-42C/102F-110F)
- Add 3 teaspoons of the sugar to the milk and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Then stir and leave to activate for 10 minutes, until the yeast is frothy.
- Place the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and stir to combine.
- Add the lemon zest, egg yolks and butter.
- Pour in the yeast and milk mixture and also add the raisins.
- With the dough hook attached knead on a low speed until the mixture is combined.
- Increase the speed to medium to high and knead for about 8 minutes until the mixture comes always from the bowl and feels slightly tacky to the touch. If the mixture remains too sticky you can add a little extra flour.
- Tip the dough out onto the counter and knead a little to make sure the raisins are fairly evenly spread.
- Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly floured bowl.
- Sprinkle a little more flour onto the top and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise for about 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.
- Divide the dough into 2 parts, one of 60% and one of 40%.
- Divide the smaller part into 4 even pieces.
- Dived the larger part into 5 even pieces.
- With the 4 pieces roll out each to form a braid that is about 18 inches long.
- Take three of the other pieces and roll to form braids that are slightly shorter than that.
- Take the remaining two pieces and form braids that are about 21 inches long.
- To create the bottom layer join the 4 pieces together at one end, and then you have 4 lengths, numbered 1 ,2 3 and 4 from left to right.
- Spread them apart a little and place 2 over 3. (note that the braid that was 2 is now three and vice-versa).
- Place 1 over 2 and then 4 over 3.
- Repeat 2 over 3, 1 over 2 and 4 over 3 a number of time until the dough is all used and you have a neatly braided layer. Tuck the ends in on themselves to neaten.
- Using the edge of one hand press a trough into the dough along the length in the middle.
- Brush the top with egg wash and place on a piece of parchment paper on the baking tray.
- Take the 3 shorter pieces and braid them together, 1 over 2, 3 over 2, repeatedly until all used. Then tuck in the end.
- Again from trough in the middle, along the length.
- Place this layer on top of the first layer, centring as well as you can.
- Brush the top with egg wash.
- Take the two long strands and braid them together and place on the top of the other two, to create the third layer. As this is longer you can then tuck the ends under the two layers below.
- Cover with a clean, damp, towel and allow to proof for one hour.
- Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/350F.
- Uncover the braided dough and brush all over with egg wash. Sprinkle all over with shaved almonds.
- To hold the layers in place poke some wooden skewers(long ones broken in half is best) into the dough near both end and in a couple of other places, in a line along the length.
- Bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes until a skewer in the centre comes our clean.
- If the top or ends begin to brown too quickly cover with aluminium foil towards the end.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack before serving.