recipe

Vánočka: the delicious recipe for braided Czech Christmas bread

Total time: 120 Min
Difficulty: Low
Serves: 10 people
By Cookist
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Ingredients
Unsalted butter
1/2 cup
Sugar
1 cup
Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp
milk, scalded
1 cup
Dry yeast
4 1/2 tsp
Warm water
1/4 cup
large eggs, room temperature and beaten
2
All-purpose flour
5 1/2 cups
raisins, golden or dark
1/2 cup
almonds, blanched and sliced
1/2 cup
candied citron, chopped
1/3 cup
for the topping
Large egg, beaten
1
sliced almonds
2 tbsp
Powdered sugar

If you're a fan of Jewish challah bread or Polish chalka, you'll love Czech Vánočka. This sweet braided Czech Christmas bread has a wonderfully sweet, buttery flavor with a fluffy inside and flaky outside.

Vanocka is a delightful sweet bread with delicious ingredients like candied citrus, raisins, and almonds. It's a delicious bread to make for your loved ones this holiday season, especially if you'd like to treat them to something a little different with a phenomenal flavor.

What is Vánočka?

Vanocka (pronounced van-otch-ka) is a plaited sweet bread that is traditionally enjoyed at Christmas Eve breakfast in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It's similar to Jewish challah bread but has additional ingredients like candied citrus, raisins, and almonds.

Vanocka dates back to the 1400s and is said to represent the Christ Child wrapped in a cloth. It's made from enriched dough, not unlike brioche bread.

There are many special customs and superstitions related to vanocka. It's said that when making it, the baker should think of all their loved ones. It is also common practice to avoid letting the dough come into contact with metal. The reason the bread is braided is that it is believed to promote peace.

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Vánočka Ingredients 

To make vanocka, you'll need staple breadmaking ingredients like flour, yeast, water, and salt.

Because Czech Christmas bread is enriched, you'll also need butter, milk, and eggs.

Sugar adds a touch of sweetness, while candied citron, raisins, and almonds add wonderful flavor.

Either all-purpose flour or bread flour will work well in this recipe. Traditionally, the Czech flours hladka and polohruba are used to make vanocka, however, these are hard to find abroad.

How to Make Vánočka

To make the perfect vanocka at home, start by combining butter, sugar, salt, and milk. Put the yeast and water in the bowl of your stand mixer and let it froth up. Pour in the milk mixture and eggs into the yeast mixture, then stir well. Put your stand mixer onto the low setting, then beat in three cups of flour.

Add in the raisins, almonds, candied citrus, and the rest of the flour. Beat for 3 to 5 minutes, until a smooth dough forms. It'll be sticky, but this is the right texture at this point. Put the dough in a greased bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Leave it to rise in a warm place until it doubles in size, about an hour or so depending on the temperature of your home.

Once doubled in size, cut the dough into 3 large pieces and 5 smaller pieces. Roll each piece out into a thin rope. Braid the three large ropes, pinch the ends, then tuck the ends under the loaf. Braid three of the smaller ropes, and place the smaller loaf onto the larger braided loaf. Twist the remaining two ropes together, then place them on top of the smaller braid. Tuck all the ends to help the bread keep its shape, then let the dough rise again.

Brush the loaf with egg and garnish it with almonds. Bake for 15 minutes at 400F, then lower the heat to 325F. Bake for 30 to 45 more minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely before cutting. Garnish with powdered sugar and serve, preferably with a cup of tea or coffee.

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Tips for Czech Christmas Bread

Make sure the dough is kneaded well. This will make sure the ingredients are well-incorporated and will give you the perfect fluffy, flaky loaf. A stand mixer makes this much easier, but you can knead the dough by hand as well. It'll just take a little longer.

You can stick the braids with toothpicks or wooden skewers to keep them in place and make sure the bread holds its shape.

Let your bread rise in a warm place that's free from drafts.

Vánočka Variations

For a tasty variation, try using different types of dried fruit like dried apricots, dates, or figs. Soak them in rum or brandy overnight for extra flavor.

Add anise seed to the dough for a delicious twist.

How to Store Vánočka Czech Christmas Bread

Wrap your vanocka and store it at room temperature for up to 2 days. It'll last longer in the fridge but may dry out slightly.

Instructions

Mix the butter, salt, and milk.

Mix in the sugar. Let the mixture cool slightly.

Add in the yeast and warm water to the bowl of a stand mixer.

Leave for several minutes, or until it becomes frothy.

Pour in the milk mixture.

Add in the eggs. Stir to combine.

Beat in three cups of flour. Fold in the raisins, almonds, candied citrus, and the rest of the flour. Beat for 3 to 5 minutes, until a smooth dough forms.

Transfer the dough to a greased bowl then cover with a damp cloth or cling film.

Leave in a warm place.

Wait until doubled in size.

Lightly flour a work surface. Turn out the dough. Cut the dough into 3 large pieces and 5 smaller pieces.

Roll each piece out into a thin rope.

Braid the three large ropes, pinch the ends, then tuck the ends under the loaf. Place on a baking tray. Braid three of the smaller ropes and place the smaller loaf onto the larger braided loaf.

Twist the remaining two ropes together, then place them on top of the smaller braid. Tuck the ends. Cover with a damp towel and leave to double in size.

Preheat your oven to 400F. Brush the loaf with egg.

Garnish with almonds.

Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 325F. Bake for 30 to 45 more minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely before cutting.

Garnish with powdered sugar and serve.

Notes

Use room temperature ingredients to make your vanocka.

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