République tchèque

Vánocka (Czech Christmas Bread)


This recipe is NOT as difficult as it might seem. There are not many ingredients, and no special tricks involved, and the result is always very impressive.

Step 1: The Sponge
1 cup scalded and cooled milk
2 teaspoons yeast
1 cup flour (high-gluten bread flour is best)
In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast on the milk and let it dissolve for a couple of minutes. Then whip it with a wire whisk and whip in the flour. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let the sponge rise for about an hour.

Step 2: The Dough
1 cup butter (unsalted, at room temperature)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 eggs
Mix these ingredients together in the order given with an electric mixer. Then switch to a wooden spoon and add:
1/3 pound raisins
1/3 pound slivered almonds
the sponge
3-4 cups flour
Add the flour gradually -- put in just enough so that you can work the dough, but not more. When the stirring gets tough, mix it by hand and then knead well. Dust your bowl with flour and put the dough in there to rise for about an hour with a cloth for cover.

Step 3: Decoration and Baking
Toss the dough onto a floured board and roll out to a thickness of about 3/4 inch. Cut into nine strips and rub these between your hands to create smooth ropes. Take four ropes and braid them together, pinching the ends. Take three more ropes and braid them together on top of the first braid. Make a twist from the remaining two ropes and put it on the very top. Take some wooden skewers (4-6 will do) and use them like giant toothpicks to hold the whole structure in place. Cover with a cloth and let rest for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a ceramic baking stone (if you do not have a stone, a baking sheet should work, but I recommend the stone, and you can bake all kinds of bread, cookies, pizzas, etc. on it). Scramble one egg and brush it on the bread while the oven is heating. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Take out the skewers before serving.

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