Thursday, May 24, 2012

Czech Christmas Bread: Sváteční Vánočka

Czech Christmas Bread just out of the oven. It smelled so divine. 

"A very exciting bread has just come out of the oven! It is possibly the sexiest thing I have ever seen!" 

These are the words that came out of my mouth when I opened the oven door after baking this loaf for 25 wonderfully smelling minutes. I grew up eating challah; and not just any challah. My Grandma Shanie's Challah is quite possibly the best kind of challah. Although I do enjoy eating some challah, it is nowhere near one of my favorite breads. I am under the impression that most bread contains at most five to six ingredients. The first four ingredients are always flour, water, salt and yeast, in that order. In my mind, the fifth and sixth ingredients should be flavor components rather than textural components. These flavor components include, but are not limited to, nuts and seeds rather than egg yolks, and butter or milk. This Christmas loaf seems to be an exception to my rules. 

This bread is very similar to Challah in its make-up, except the water is replaced by milk, the eggs are replaced by egg yolks and the oil is replaced by sweet cream butter. I do not recommend using salted butter in bread baking because it is so difficult to account for the added salt. Also, I simply prefer the taste of sweet cream butter. One of the problems in using this bread in place of challah is that the meal would have too be non-meat according to traditional Jewish dietary constraints. You could replace the milk with soy milk and the butter with margarine, but when you think of it , that is basically going back to the original challah recipe which used vegetable oil (margarine=messed up oil).

I have been saving this bread for a few months because it does not require a preferment. It can be made from start to finish in only 3 and a half hours, which is simply awesome. (Especially when you are used to a five or six hour time commitment) Now that I have made this bread, I think that it would be a wonderful bread made with a liquid levain build. I will have to try that in the future and I have put it on my Bread Bucket List. 

This bread contains only white flour, even though it actually called for all purpose flour. With all of the fat in this bread (butter and egg yolks), I knew better. I knew that it would be tricky to form considerable gluten so I went ahead and used bread flour. I actually had to mix this bread on third speed, which is something that I rarely do. It was looking quite loose and wet, and I knew that I still had to add 90g of raisins which I soaked in the scaled out milk. I could have soaked them in water, but I figured that I would just use the milk that I had already weighed out a few minutes earlier. The formula also called for the milk to be warm so I microwaved the milk and raisin mixture on power level five for 30 seconds, to take the chill out. I then strained the raisins out. The milk and egg yolks are added to the spiral mixing bowl and are whisked until combined. 

The warm milk and egg yolk mixture
All of the dry ingredients, EXCEPT the raisins are then added to the mix. The dough is mixed for about 6-8 minutes. I started on first speed for the first minute or so and then bumped up to speed three once I saw how loose it was. After five minutes, I could tell that i needed to add a bit more flour so, 1 tablespoon at a time, I added 6 additional tablespoons of flour. When I was happy with the texture, I added the raisins and mixed on first speed until combined. Finally, I added two more tablespoons of flour and mixed for another minute or two, until all of the ingredients were fully incorporated into the dough. If I ever make this bread with a liquid levain, I think that it will help with gluten development.

The recipe for this bread calls for a 90 minute bulk fermentation with no folds. I folded after 45 minutes because I thought that it was necessary.

 After the bulk fermentation, the dough is divided into three pieces and shaped into 12" ropes. Leader recommends starting the braid from one end but I always start my braids in the middle. I feel that braiding from the center out, gives you a more even braid and does away with one side of the bread looking sloppy and Neanderthalesque. This bread is then carefully placed onto a sprayed baking sheet. NOTE: Take your stone out of the oven for this bread so that you avoid burning the bottom of your loaf. 

After 60-90 minutes of proofing, the bread is brushed with a mixture of one egg and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and then is dusted generously with sliced almonds. DO NOT USE toasted almonds, because they will burn in the oven. The finished product is simply gorgeous and the aroma is wonderful! I can not wait to turn this bread into French toast tomorrow morning. Most people use stale bread for French toast. Try using fresh bread…It is to die for! Trust ME.

Here is a close up of the top of the loaf after baking!

-Bake On

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