We haven’t had many Christmases to establish traditions yet, but having vanocka for Christmas breakfast is going to stay on the list forever. Johnny has just enough Czech in him that he feels justified in adopting their Christmas bread, and I’m happy to oblige. Despite the braids on top of braids on top of braids, it’s really not too difficult to put together, and the multiple rise times lends itself well to a Christmas Eve day full of wrapping gifts and last-minute errands.
There are as many vanocka recipes as their are Czech grandmothers, but I use a slightly adapted version of this one. The biggest change is that I make a half batch of dough; last year, we were braiding massive ropes of dough for an hour. The half-sized loaf is still large enough that we’ve been eating for breakfast all week. Given that it makes the best toast you’ll ever taste, this is no sacrifice. If you’re feeding a crowd, just double the amounts below and bake for 75 minutes. I also adapted it for my stand mixer; follow the directions in the original recipe if you don’t have one. One of these years, I may also avoid over-browning the top, but I have to say, vanocka is really forgiving and still tastes fantastic.
- 1/2 cup butter, cold
- 4 cups + 2 tablespoons flour (divided)
- 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar (divided)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoons grated lemon rind
- 1 package dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons + 1/2 cup warm milk (divided)
- 2 egg yolks (save the whites for varnishing)
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 2 tablespoons citron
- 2 egg whites
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
In bowl of mixer, cut butter into flour until the butter is in pea-sized lumps. Add 1/2 cup sugar, salt and lemon rind, and mix with paddle attachment. In smaller bowl or measuring cup, dissolve yeast in 3 tablespoons milk with 1 tablespoons sugar and two tablespoons flour. Add to flour mixture. Beat in eggs and milk. Switch to dough hook and knead until smooth, adding flour if necessary. Add fruit. Cover and let rise for two hours.
Divide dough into nine equal balls, and roll into ropes (mine were about 18″ long, and 1 1/2″ diameter). Braid four of the strands and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. On this wide braid, place another regular three piece braid. Finally, place a simple twist of two ropes on top of the other braids. Tuck the ends of each level underneath to make neat ends (and also to keep the thickness of the loaf consistent and avoid burnt edges). Secure with toothpicks if it seems unsteady. Brush cake with beaten egg white. Let it rise again for 1 1/2 hours, or until nearly doubled. Brush again with beaten egg whites and sprinkle with almonds. Bake in moderate oven (350°) for 50-60 minutes. Check it after 40 minutes and cover loosely with foil if it seems to be browning too quickly.