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23-4-2014, 17:32 UTC
Czech Christmas
 

Vanocka Recipe

Vanocka The Vanocka (a special bread made for Christmas) has a long history and is still popular today. The first reference to a vanocka was in the 16th century, and over the long years it has gone through many small transformations. In the past, it went under such names as huska or calta, and in some places in the Czech Republic today it can be found under a wide variety of names: pletenice, pletanka, stedrovice, stedrovecernice, stricka, strucla, zemle, and ceplik. At one time, a vánočka could only be made by a baker who was a guild craftsman.

In the 18th century, people began to bake them at home by themselves. The first of the home-baked vanocka had to be given to the master of the house, so that the grain would prosper in the following year. At the end of Christmas Eve dinner, a large vanocka was sliced up. In some areas, a slice was given to the livestock, so they'd be healthy and safe from evil spirits.

Preparing a vanocka wasn't, and isn't, simple and therefore a variety of customs are followed in preparing the dough, braiding and baking it to ensure success. The woman of the house had to mix the dough while wearing a white apron and kerchief, she shouldn't talk, and she was supposed to jump up and down while the dough was rising. Another old custom was to bake in a coin. The person who found it in their slice was assured of health and wealth for all of the following year. A burnt or ripped vanocka was a bad omen.

Today, the vanocka is an indispensable and necessary part of the Christmas holidays, whether made at home or bought in a store. Even today there are handy people capable of making the lower braid out of seven strands (it's most often made from four), or else they braid the whole vánočka together at once from six strands.

Now you can try to bake one with the help of our recipe!

6 cups of medium flour
9 teaspoons of sugar
4 ounces of butter
1 tablespoon of yeast
1 cup of milk
1 yolk
a pinch of salt
vanilla sugar
a lemon rind
a nutmeg nut
star anise
3 tablespoons of raisins
3 tablespoons of almonds
an egg for the icing

Crumble the yeast into the room-temperature milk, add in 1 tablespoon of sugar, sprinkle evenly with flour, and then leave it in a warm place to rise. Put the rest of the flour, 8 tablespoons of sugar, the vanilla sugar, a pinch of salt, the lemon rind, the grated nut of nutmeg, one egg yolk, and the grated star anise into a bowl with the previous mixture when well-risen and mix well. After this, add in the softened butter and continue to mix well. When the dough no longer sticks to the side of the bowl, stir in the washed raisins and the cleaned, sliced almonds. Shape the dough in the bowl into a smooth loaf, dust it with flour, and leave it covered in a warm place to rise (with a larger amount of dough even all night.)

Vanocka When the dough has risen completely, divide it on a pastryboard into 9 parts to make the vanocka. The first layer is weaved from four strands, the second from three, and the third layer from two strands. Lay greased parchment paper on a baking sheet and gradually layer the strands of the vánočka on it. Leave it for a while on the sheet to finish rising, and then, before putting it in the oven, baste it with the whipped egg and sprinkle it with chopped almonds. Finally, puncture the vánočka at both ends and in the middle with skewers to prevent warping of the dough during baking. Bake slowly for about 45 minutes.

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