CZECH BRAIDED CHRISTMAS BREAD

Czech name: Vánočka

Written by Jana Lukesova

One of The Czech traditions for Christmas is braided sweet bread. The first mention of this dish was in the 16th century. Its shape reminds us of The Christ Child in swaddling clothes. The bread is sweet and it tastes good with butter or jam and with coffee. Many people in America call it Vanocka, Houska by mistake thinking that they are the same. Vanocka is a sweet braided bread usually make with slivered almonds, raisins and candied fruit made at Christmas time, but is made other times of the year as most Czech people like it for breakfast. Houska is much smaller a salty roll or braided bread (rohlik or pletynka) usually topped with salt, caraway seed or poppy seed and it is available in all bakeries any time of the year.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
5 Tbs granulated sugar
4 Tbs melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup warm milk
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
grated lemon peel (optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup almonds blanched/peeled/slivered
1 egg for brush the bread

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Add 2 tsp of sugar to 2 Tbs warm milk to dissolve the sugar and add the yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 10 min.
In a large bowl add flour, salt, sugar and the rest of the warm milk and egg yolks, then the yeast mixture. Add lemon zest (optional) Beat the dough until it is smooth, shiny and isn’t sticky. Add raisins (optional) and knead the dough again. Dust with some flour, cover and let stand in a warm place until it doubles in size.
Divide the dough into thirds, then cut each into 3 pieces roll into long stripes. Braid four long strips, then three and last two. On the braided 4 sprinkle part of the almonds on top of it, add the braided three then the braided two Whisk one egg and brush the bread with it. Sprinkle with remaining almonds. Bake at 350F for 45 to 55 min.