Back in the first years of the 2000’s, I lived in Slovakia teaching English. I learned a lot about Slovak cuisine and tried my share of baking traditional breads. Since I married a Slovak and we have two Slovak-American children, I prepare Slovak foods that we enjoy here in California. Vianočka is a sweet bread, similar to brioche. It looks also like challah bread, but challah bread is kosher and doesn’t contain any dairy. Vianočka on the other hand, does contain milk.
Vianočka is a common braided bread, slightly sweet, and eaten often at breakfast time. Vianočka is available in just about any grocery store in Slovakia. It is so common in fact, that I’ve never seen or heard of any Slovak baking it at home. Why would you bake a basic bread if you could just pick one up at the local market?
Vianočka is also a good bread to bake for Easter. In Vienna I’ve seen this bread sold at bakeries with a few colored hard-boiled eggs set between the weave of the braids. It’s very festive.
I consulted several recipes and came up with my tried and tested version for authentic vianočka. To me it tastes almost identical to what you can buy in Slovakia. Below is the recipe and my directions:
1 1/2 cup (.4 liter) milk
2 rounded tablespoons sugar
2 packets (1/4 oz each) of dry yeast or 30 grams cake yeast
4 1/2 cups (600 grams) flour
1/2 cup (120 grams) butter
1 cup (225 grams) sugar
3 egg yolks (keep the whites to brush the dough later)
1/2 cup (120 grams) raisins
1/2 teaspoon salt
grated lemon peel
Directions: Mix the two tablespoons of sugar into lukewarm milk and add the yeast. Let the yeast rise and become active — this takes about 5 to 8 minutes. If you don’t get a good foam, put your cup, with everything in it, in the microwave for 20 seconds to make it warm again.
In a bowl combine the flour, butter, sugar, salt, egg yolks, raisins, and grated lemon peel. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and transfer everything to a floured surface to kneed the dough thoroughly. Gather the dough into a ball and place it back into the mixing bowl, making sure to sprinkle the base so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Cover the bowl and set it in a warm dry place for an hour or so, until the dough doubles in size.
Kneed the dough a second time thoroughly until all the air pockets are removed. Separate the dough into eight equal sized parts and let them “rest” for another 15 minutes.
Make a braid with the first four pieces. From three more pieces make another braid that will be set on top of the four-piece braid. Cut the last roll in half, roll them thin, braid them, and place it on top of the three-piece braid (pictures above).
Tuck the sides under and brush the top with egg whites. Bake the bread at 350°F (180°C) for the first half hour and 325°F (160°C) for an additional half hour.
Note 1) To make the crust darker, start baking at 375°F.
Note 2) The recipe yields one large loaf. To make two smaller loaves, separate the dough into 16 pieces.