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Bohemian Christmas Twist

A classic holiday houska vanocka
Michael Tercha / Chicago Tribune

This yeasted holiday bread, known as houska to Bohemians and Czechs, is assembled in stacked layers of braids before baking.

This recipe by Peggy Wolff was originally published in the Chicago Tribune.

Ready in
2 h and 45 m
45 m
(prepare time)
2 h
(cook time)
35
Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 to 2 Tablespoon dry yeast
  • 1 3/4 Cup lukewarm milk, about 100 degrees, divided
  • 4 Cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 Cups unbleached white flour
  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • 5 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 Teaspoon salt, optional
  • 1/8 Teaspoon mace
  • grated zest of half a lemon
  • 1/2 Cup blanched almonds, finely chopped
  • 1/2 Cup golden raisins
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • vegetable or canola oil, for greasing

Directions

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup milk.

In a large bowl, combine flours. Using a wooden spoon or a pastry cutter, work pieces of butter into flour until fine, like cornmeal; set aside a third of this mixture. (This step will make it easier to work the large amount of dough.)

In a medium bowl, dissolve sugar in remaining 1 1/4 cups milk. Stir in the eggs, salt, mace, lemon zest and the yeast mixture.

Using a wooden spoon, mix well with the flour mixture until it's incorporated. Add the reserved third of flour mixture, and mix well until a firmer dough forms, about 15 minutes. You may need to work the dough on a countertop with your hands.

Cover dough with plastic wrap; let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Transfer dough to a floured surface. Divide in half. Work almonds and raisins into each half.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Divide one dough half into 4 pieces. Roll each piece out lengthwise to 16-18 inches; braid the 4 pieces together. Transfer the braid to a greased baking sheet, laying it lengthwise.

Divide the other dough half into 4 pieces, and set 1 piece aside. Roll the remaining 3 pieces out lengthwise to 16-18 inches, and braid them together. Place lengthwise on top of the first braid.

Roll the remaining piece out lengthwise to 16-18 inches. Twist it like a rope, fold it in half and place it lengthwise on top of the braided layers.

Brush loaf with egg. Bake for 50 minutes.