Hello Everyone! I’m so excited to share one of my favorite family recipes with you today, for a Czech sweet bread called Vanocka. Sometimes, especially on the weekends, I really crave a sweet, indulgent breakfast, and this is one of my favorites. A vanocka is a rich, buttery braid filled with raisins and almonds, that’s beautifully golden brown and glossy on the outside (sometimes dusted with confectioners’ sugar), and super soft and rich on the inside; utter heaven in a bite. What’s even better is that you spread it thick with some butter and (preferably homemade) jam… what could be better with a big cup of tea on a lazy weekend morning or cold wintery afternoon! Traditionally, this bread is made for Christmas, but it’s baked and sold in stores all year round, so it’s not necessarily just a holiday treat. This recipe is one that I’ve adapted from my grandmother’s recipe, which we’ve been baking for years. I love the consistency of this dough; it’s so soft and it rises beautifully, making this bread wonderfully rich and fluffy. The perfect slice of home when I’m craving one!
YOU WILL NEED
4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 package instant dry yeast
1 stick (8 tbs) unsalted butter, softened
2 egg yolks
250 ml lukewarm milk (approx. 1 cup + 2 tbs)
Handful of raisins
Handful of sliced almonds
Egg wash: 1 egg & 1 tbs water
Optional: confectioners’ sugar for dusting
1. In a small bowl add the dry yeast to the lukewarm water, cover and let sit for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is frothy on top. Then, pour it into the bowl of your electric mixer, and add in the flour, sugar, 2 egg yolks, softened butter and salt, and mix until a soft dough forms. (I usually add in the four cups of flour, and if the dough is still too wet and unworkable, I add in more flour by 1/4 cups, so you may need more than 4 1/2 cups of flour, or may not. The amount of flour I add in differs almost every time, so add in just enough to have a soft dough.) Towards the end, add in the raisins and almonds (reserve enough sliced almonds to sprinkle the top of your braid at the end), and form your dough into a ball. Place in a large, lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size (1 – 2 hours).
2. Once your dough has risen, take it out and divide it into 5 pieces (3 large, and two smaller. The three larger pieces will be for the large bottom braid, the two smaller pieces will be for the “twisted” braid that will go on top of the large braid.) Roll each of your 5 pieces of dough into a rope. The three larger pieces should be rolled into a rope about 22 inches long each, the smaller pieces should be rolled into a rope about 14 inches long each.
3. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. With the three longer ropes, make your braid directly on the parchment paper lined baking sheet (braid the ropes like you would your hair, and make sure you don’t braid it too tightly, the braid will expand as it rises again and bakes, so do it pretty loosely. Tuck in the ends underneath). Twist the two shorter braids together, then place them on top of your braid, tucking the ends under too. Cover with a kitchen towel, and let rise for another 30 minutes.
4. Preheat your oven to 350 deg F. Make your egg wash by whisking together an egg with a tbs of water, then brush your whole bread with it, and sprinkle it with your remaining sliced almonds. Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until nicely golden brown and well baked through (and an inserted toothpick must come out clean). If the bread starts getting too brown as it bakes, cover it with foil so it doesn’t burn (I usually cover mine after about 20 minutes of baking). Let cool (and dust with confectioners’ sugar if you want some extra sweetness) before slicing, then serve with a generous spread of butter and your favorite jam!
(*Recipe notes: To make sure the raisins are plump, soak them in some boiling water for a couple minutes and drain them before adding them to the dough. You can use regular or golden raisins, or you could also add in candied fruit, as well as the sliced almonds or other chopped nuts. As for the bread’s shape, you could do the braiding differently – – for example do the bottom braid out of 4 ropes instead of three and the top part out of three ropes instead of a twist of two ropes, or even do three levels of braiding instead of two. I just do this because I find it the easiest. Some people insert skewers into the braided bread so the top layer doesn’t slip as it bakes, I don’t do this but you can do it if you’re worried about it slipping. By braiding the bottom braid pretty loosely and nestling the top one into it, it ensures that the bread holds its shape and there isn’t any slipping. You can simply form the dough into a round loaf and bake it off like that too, if you want to avoid all the braiding business and save some time. I adapted this recipe from my grandmother’s, and I converted all the metric measurements into cups. Also, make sure your ingredients are at room temperature since you’re baking with yeast, and this will help the yeast to work better and your dough to rise nicely. Traditionally, the vanocka is baked with fresh yeast, not packaged dry yeast, which may alter the texture/taste just slightly. The vanocka is definitely best eaten the same day, but you can store it for a couple days. I always toast mine in the toaster the next day, and it’s just as delicious as when it’s fresh!)
For more of my beloved family recipes, check these out:
Happy Baking, Everyone!
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