Count down to Christmas has begun.
It is supposed to be a full moon on Christmas, this year.
Last time there was a full moon Christmas was in 1977, and the next one will be on 2034.So make sure you look high up in the sky and enjoy the view on Christmas.
I am sure it is going to be a mesmerizing view.
It is amazing that we can predict all these facts so well in advance.
It is science.
Do you know what else is science?
Baking is also a science.
It is almost surreal.
For me, before I started baking, baking was something that was kept on a pedestal not to be messed with, I had given it a revered status.
I still give baking the same status, but, now I know it is not unattainable.
I can do it and so can you.
We baked a bread at Framed Recipes called Vánočka (pronounced Va-noch-ka).
It is a bread typically made in Czech Republic for Christmas.
My only other connection with Czech Republic is that my little sister went to Prague a few years back and I got to see all the sights (through her photographs) and hear stories from her.
She was really sweet (in spite of her hectic days as a new mom) to spend time looking for the pics and sending us a few. We picked a few that we really liked to show them to you.
Baking Vánočka was part of our Baking Partners initiative and Swathi picked a seasonal recipe, which is traditionally made for Christmas.
Since it was a traditional recipe (which is adapted from here), we were asked to be respectful of the recipe and the process thereof.
When I try a new recipe from a cuisine/culture I am not familiar with, I try to learn about the dish, the culture etc. This bread has some very interesting customs associated with it.
Quoting Swathi here:
Vanocka has a reputation for being difficult to prepare, so in many households, superstitions and special customs are attached to the baking process. When making vánočka, it is said that one must think of everyone dear to you. Another custom is baker should wear white apron and kerchief while baking vánočka. Finally, the person who is making the vánočka should jump up and down while the dough rises. Also make sure it should be burnt while baking. Another tradition is to bake it with a coin which insert into a dough prior to baking and whoever finds it in their slice supposed to prosperous following year.”
Ha, I did wear a white apron while baking the bread. And when I saw the dough rise the way I wanted it, I did jump up high 🙂 .
Vánočka is built from three progressively smaller braids, stacked on top of each other and is a symbolic representation of the baby Jesus wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger. And when I was lifting the braids from the counter top to place them on top of each other, the braids were so delicate, that I had to use both hands to hold them, and it did feel like holding a baby. How cute is that!
I do bake braided bread often, so I figured that the recipe for vánočka was going to be easy. It is easy to braid a three braided one, but I was not familiar with braiding a four braided one. I followed a tutorial on Youtube and then it was a breeze.
It is crucial that when you place the braids on top of each other, be careful about the placement.
Things I would do different, next time:
- Be careful while placing the braids on top of each other. (This was my first attempt and it ended in a slightly lopsided end result).
- Use longer skewers instead of tooth picks to hold the bread in place (so that it is easier to remove after baking).
Vánočka is best served on the day it is baked, fresh from the oven. Like any home made bread (which I can proudly say has no preservatives, which according to me is a BIG yes) it hardens a little when you keep it for a couple of days. This huge bread lasted us for 3 days (3 people or rather two adults and Sonshine). The next day, we grilled the bread and added a pat of salted butter and had it for breakfast. We even made a french toast with Vánočka and it was tasty.
2 hr, 45 Prep Time
40 minCook Time
3 hr, 25 Total Time
- 500 grams all purpose flour /maida (plus a little extra flour for dusting the counter top)
- 4 teaspoon instant yeast (see recipe notes)
- 80 grams sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Zest of one lime /lemon
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (see recipe notes)
- 25 grams raisins
- 50 grams fruit-cake fruit mix (see recipe notes)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 200 ml lukewarm milk
- 100 grams butter, melted and lukewarm
- 2 large egg yolks (reserve the egg whites)
- 50 gram or 1/3 cup peeled almonds
- In a large bowl, add the flour, instant yeast, sugar, ground cinnamon, lemon zest and mix well.
- To this mix, add the vanilla essence and egg yolks.
- Slowly pour the milk and start mixing together to form a soft and pliable dough.
- Sprinkle a little flour on the counter and knead the dough for about 8-10 minutes. This builds the gluten.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl and keep it covered. Let the dough rise for about 2 hours or till it doubles in volume. Blanch and peel almonds (see recipe notes).
- Soak the raisins in water till it plums up and is ready to use.
- Once the dough doubles in size, transfer to a lightly floured surface and add the drained raisins and the fruit mix and knead it to incorporate the dry fruits into the dough.
- Divide the dough into 9 equal parts of same weight (use a weighing scale, if needed) and then roll each portion into a long rope of about 30 cm length.
- Make a four-braided bread, followed by three-braided bread and then a two-braided bread. (See recipe notes).
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper (optional step), and place the four-braided bread on it. Make a small length depression in the center of the four-braided bread.
- Place the three-braided bread on top the four-braided one careful that you place it along the depression you made.
- Follow the same procedure for three-breaded one - make a depression and then place the two-braided bread on top of the three-braided one.
- Place tooth picks or skewers (recommended) to hold the braids in place while baking.
- Garnish with almonds.
- Let the dough rise for a second time for about 30 minutes (not more than that).
- Preheat the oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit (about 180 degree Celsius).
- Just before baking, apply egg white using a pastry brush.
- Bake for about 35-40 minutes. Cover with an Aluminum foil tent if the bread starts to brown quickly towards the end of the baking cycle.
- Sprinkle some powdered sugar on top (optional, but this gives the bread a snowy, festive feel).
- Serve warm.
1. If you are using active dry yeast, it is recommended that you proof it first.
2. The original recipe called for nutmeg as the spice used, I substituted it with cinnamon.
3. The original recipe called only for raisins, but to give it a more celebratory feeling, I used some store-bought fruit-cake fruit mix.
4. I used the reserved egg whites to give it an egg wash just before baking.
5. Bread is ready when the crust is browned, and is firm. Once the bread is baked, it will sound hollow.
6. Blanching almonds - place the almonds in a bowl and pour some boiling water on top of the almonds. Let it rest for a couple of minutes. Peel off the skin.
7. Follow the youtube tutorial shared in the post to learn how to make a four braided bread. Follow the pictorial for the Zucchini bread (yeast based) to learn the three braid technique. The easiest one is the two braided one, where you just twist the two rolls against each other.
8. Do not tighten the braids, so that there is enough room for them to rise and expand.
More breads from framed Recipes:
A simple cumin flavored white bread. I have tried to explain the science and techniques behind simple bread making in this post.
A yeast bread that uses Zucchini and is a (three) braided bread. Learn how to make a three braided bread here.
Zucchini Beet Bread
A simple quick bread that is sweet and uses Zucchini (of course) and is embellished with some beets and orange zest.
I am always on the lookout for new backdrops for food photography. I found this marble-like vinyl squares at Home Depot during my last visit and I just stuck them to a foam board to make the backdrop used in these photos. Looking at the fake marble backdrop, I was immediately reminded of the food photos at Local Milk Blog. I always wanted to recreate a food styling setup that Beth at Local Milk does and that is what I tried here in the first photo.
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Wishing you all a truly magical Christmas.