Vanocka Czech Christmas Bread
Vanocka is a braided sweet bread from the Czech Republic and served at Christmastime in many eastern European countries. This Christmas bread is full of plump raisins and topped with a generous dusting of confectioners sugar. This post is sponsored by America’s egg farming families, who are proud to provide safe, healthy eggs for holiday celebrations worldwide.I’m partnering with America’s egg farming families this holiday season to share favorite global holiday food traditions featuring eggs! Whether you’re celebrating the holidays at home or across the globe, gather around the table and start a new holiday recipe tradition this season.
Eggs are a staple ingredient in many holiday dishes. From spectacular brunches, showstopping desserts, cookie exchanges, cocktails, and appetizers – there are dozens of ways to cook and bake with eggs this holiday season.
Vanocka Czech Christmas Bread
This Christmas bread is made of three braided strands of dough stacked on top of one another. Tradition states that the finished loaf looks like a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Vanocka (sometimes known as “houska”) has many variations due to the availability of ingredients through the years.
My grandmother’s recipe includes slivered almonds, but she never actually included the almonds in her loaf. She also soaked golden and dark raisins in rum and used the zest of one lemon and one orange for prosperity in the New Year. You could add dried cranberries, apricots, citron, or currants as well.
Eggs Add Color, Flavor, and Moisture
Czech Christmas Bread gets its rich golden color from two eggs plus an additional egg yolk. The outside of the loaf is coated in an egg wash before baking, giving it a deep, glossy crust. The result is a tender yet sturdy loaf of sweet bread. Serve it for breakfast or brunch, or enjoy it after dinner with a mug of hot cocoa!
Did you know that eggs are a holiday staple? Eggs are one of the most essential ingredients in holiday cooking and baking, and all year long! They add moisture, color, flavor, and nutritional value to recipes. More eggs are consumed during the winter holiday season than at any other time of the year.
Holiday Baking Tips from Egg Farmers
Use large eggs in holiday baking. Using a different size egg, without making an adjustment, will affect texture, flavor, and consistency. If you don’t have large eggs, use this conversion chart to see how to substitute different sizes.
If your recipe calls for multiple eggs, add one egg at a time. This will help prevent a lumpy batter and will allow it to mix evenly.
Use an inexpensive egg separator or a funnel to separate eggs, rather than passing the egg yolk back and forth from the shells or your hands, to avoid contamination when a recipe calls for only egg whites or yolks.
Set eggs out about 30 minutes ahead to safely bring them to room temperature for easy mixing into batter or dough.
How to Stack Vanocka
This Christmas Bread will taste delicious no matter how you braid and stack it, so don’t worry yourself over getting it perfect the first time.
You will need nine strands of dough to create the stacked Vanocka. The bottom layer is made of 4 strands. It is okay if you don’t want to learn how to plait four strands. Just make sure the bottom is the largest, thickest layer.
Follow that with a three-strand braid. The final layer is made of 2 strands of dough twisted together and placed on top. Make that final layer a bit longer than all of the rest so that you can tuck the ends under the loaf before baking.
Finally, you can place 3 or 4 wooden skewers into the loaf for the final rise to encourage your bread to rise upward instead of separating while rising.
Use any raisins that you have on hand or a combination of dark and golden raisins. It is suggested to soak the raisins in water or rum for a few hours (or overnight) before baking. You can also cover them in water and add one teaspoon of rum extract. This step is not crucial but will result in more plump raisins.
This recipe calls for milk and cream. You can use all milk if you do not have cream.
Recipe instructions are for using dry, active yeast. If you are using “rapid rise” yeast, your first rise may not take the entire hour.
Czech Christmas Bread is a yeasted sweet bread that has two rise times of up to an hour and a half each in addition to the hour needed to bake the loaf. Plan accordingly!
The final rise can be in the refrigerator overnight if you wish to serve Vanocka for breakfast. Cover lightly with plastic wrap. Remove from the refrigerator while preheating the oven, then add the egg wash and bake as directed.
There’s a good chance the eggs you’ll use for holiday baking came from an egg farm in your state! America’s egg farmers are proud to work hard 365 days a year to ensure that grocery store shelves remain stocked with affordable, nutritious eggs. Nationwide, the United States produces over 75 billion eggs per year.
Vanocka Czech Christmas Bread
- 4 1/2 teaspoons active, dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 5 1/2 cups flour, (660 grams)
- 1 cup raisins, golden and/or dark, soaked in rum
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 Tablespoons slivered almonds, optional
- 1 Tablespoon confectioners sugar, for dusting
- Add yeast and water to the mixer bowl with a pinch of sugar until frothy (about 5 mintues).
- In a separate bowl, combine melted butter, milk, cream, sugar, and salt.
- Ensure that the butter mixture is not too hot. It should be warm to the touch, not burning (about 110 - 115 degrees F). Add butter mixture into yeast mixture.
- Turn mixer on low speed with a paddle attachment. Add eggs and egg yolk one at a time, followed by about 3 cups of flour.
- Switch to a dough hook. Add in raisins and zests, followed by the rest of the flour. Knead with the dough hook for 5 minutes. If you are mixing by hand, knead for 10 minutes while incorporating the flour.
- Turn out the dough into a large greased bowl. The dough will be sticky. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
- Punch dough down and turn onto a floured surface. Divide dough into 9 sections. Roll each section into a 12-inch rope.
- Braid 4 ropes to make the base. Stack with a braid of 3 ropes. Twist the final 2 ropes and place them on top. Tuck the ends in underneath the loaf. Secure with wooden skewers if you wish. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Brush loaf with egg wash. Add slivered almonds if using. Bake for 15 minutes.
- Reduce heat to 375 degrees F. Bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown. You can check to be sure the internal loaf temperature reaches 190 degrees F.
- Cool completely. Dust with confectioners sugar before serving.
This recipe is sponsored by The American Egg Board.
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Items Used in this Recipe