This recipe for Czech Christmas bread or vanocka (vah-NAWTCH-kah) is similar to Polish chałka, Jewish challah, Hungarian fonott kalacs and other Eastern European egg-twist breads. Traditionally, this loaf is made of three braids of decreasing size placed one on top of the other, but a simple three-strand braid will work just fine.
Some variations of vanocka call for dried apricots and raisins to be soaked overnight in brandy or rum, and additions of citron and anise seed. The vanocka dough is the same one used for Easter -- bochanek velikonocni -- just round with a cross cut into it.
- 1 cup milk (scalded)
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
- 1 cup sugar (or less, to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup water (warm)
- 2 large eggs (room-temperature, beaten)
- 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup raisins (golden or dark)
- 1/2 cup almonds (blanched, sliced)
- 1/3 cup citron (chopped)
- For the Topping:
- 1 large egg (room-temperature, beaten)
- 2 tablespoons almonds (blanched, sliced)
Add butter, sugar, and salt to scalded milk. Stir to combine and let cool to lukewarm.
Place yeast and warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer and, with the paddle attachment, stir until dissolved. Add lukewarm milk mixture and 2 eggs and combine.
Add 3 cups flour and beat with the paddle until smooth. Add the raisins, almonds, citron, and remaining flour and mix, 3 to 5 minutes until smooth. The dough will be sticky.
Place dough in greased bowl. Turn over and cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double, about 1 hour. See this quick tip for faster rising.
Punch down dough and turn out onto a lightly floured board. Divide dough into 3 large pieces and 5 smaller ones. Roll each piece into a rope, about 14 inches long. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, braid the 3 larger pieces loosely and pinch ends together.
Braid 3 of the smaller rolls, pinch ends together and place on top of the large braid. Twist the last 2 rolls together and place on top of the second braid, tucking ends under large braid. Cover with a cloth or greased plastic wrap and let rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours in a warm place.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush vanocka with 1 beaten egg and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons almonds. Bake 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake 30-45 minutes or until instant-read temperature registers 190 degrees. Let cool completely before slicing. Dust with confectioners' sugar before cutting, if desired.