There’s a good chance that you’ve eaten traditional Czech Christmas bread and never knew the story behind it or even the name of it. The vánoèka is part of the Christmas holidays in The Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia or now known as Czechia).
At one time in history, vánoèka could only be made by a baker who was a guild craftsman. Over time things have changed and today you can make it at home or buy it in a store. Preparing a vánoèka isn’t a simple task and takes a lot of time, work and patience. You could say that it’s pretty much a work of art requiring detailed steps and procedures.
In earlier days, a variety of customs were followed in preparing, braiding and baking the dough to ensure success. The woman of the house had to mix the dough while wearing a white apron and a white kerchief on her head. During the preparation, she shouldn’t talk and while the dough was rising she was supposed to jump up and down.
Another old custom was to add a coin to the finished dough and bake it into the bread like you would do in a King cake. The person who found the lucky coin in their slice was assured health and wealth for all of the following year.
Women carefully kept an eye on the oven during the baking process because it was a bad omen to have a burnt or ripped vánoèka.
Maybe during this holiday season, you can try your skills at making this traditional Czech Christmas bread and enjoy it with a cup of coffee and maybe even start of traditions of your own.
by: Monica Stojaník
Vánoèka – Czech Christmas Bread Recipe
1 compressed yeast cakes or 1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup water, warm
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup margarine
2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2-6 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk, warm
1 teaspoon lemon peel, finely shredded
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1 cup light raisins
1/2 cup nuts, chopped
1 egg yolk, beaten
1. Soften yeast in warm water.
2. In a mixer bowl, beat together sugar, margarine, and salt.
3. Add eggs and beat well.
4. Beat in 1 cup of flour.
5. Beat in milk, lemon peel, mace, and yeast mixture.
6. Stir in as much remaining flour as you can with a spoon.
7. Stir in raisins and nuts.
8. Turn out onto floured surface.
9. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (3-5 minutes total).
10. Place in a lightly greased bowl; turn once to grease surface.
11. Cover, let rise in warm place till double; divide in half.
12. Divide one portion of the dough into fourths for the bottom braid.
13. Cover and let rest 10 minutes.
14. Meanwhile, divide the remaining dough into 5 portions for the other two layers of the dough.
15. Cover those portions and set aside.
16. On a lightly floured surface, form each of the first 4 portions into 16-inch long ropes.
17. On a greased baking sheet, arrange the 4 ropes, 1 inch apart.
18. Beginning in the middle of the ropes, braid together toward each end.
19. To braid 4 ropes, overlap the center 2 ropes to form an X.
20. Take the outside left rope and cross over the closest middle rope.
21. Then, take the outside right rope and cross under the closest middle rope.
22. Repeat braiding until you reach the end.
23. Pinch ends together; tuck under.
24. Turn baking sheet and braid on opposite end.
25. Gently pull width of braid out slightly.
26. Form remaining 5 portions into 16-inch long ropes.
27. Braid 3 of the ropes together.
28. Brush the 4-strand braid with water and center the second braid on top; gently pull width of top braid out.
29. Twist the remaining two ropes of dough together.
30. Brush the top braid with water; place the twist on top of the second braid.
31. Cover the shaped dough and let rise till nearly double.
32. While loaves are rising, preheat oven to 350°F.
33. Brush surface of the shaped dough with egg yolk.
34. Bake in oven for 35-40 minutes The Taylor Czech Chorus