I did not grow up with a Christmas celebration bread tradition. The only Christmas bread I was aware of was the dreaded fruitcake. I think we would occasionally receive them as gifts, but I don't remember actually eating them. In fact, because of the aforementioned fruitcake, I had an aversion to any bread with fruit in it (except maybe cinnamon rolls).
Who knew there was a whole world out there of wonderful celebration breads, some even with fruit! Because I committed to making every recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I have had the opportunity to try many, many of these breads. So much for preconceived notions.
I've made challah, babka, Finnish pulla, panettone, stollen, and Greek celebration bread to name a few.
Celebration bread. What a wonderful tradition.
This bread is soft and fluffy, and the sweet fruit and the toasted almonds form a nice contrast. It is a fairly small loaf, so the braiding and dough handling are pretty easy. You can whip this bread up in about four and a half hours with very little hands on time. I know, I know, "whip up" and "four and a half hours" don't really go together!
Note: The original recipe calls for sliced almond, but because I have an abundance of these slivered almonds, I used them.
This recipe was contributed to the Artisan Bread Baker's Facebook group as the Bread of the Month by David of Hearth Baked Tunes. Definitely hop on over to his blog to see great step-by-step photographs of the baking of this bread.
Czech Christmas Bread
7.4 oz warm whole milk (90 to 105 degrees F)
2 yolks from large eggs
1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
12 1/4 ounces bread flour
1.8 ounces unsalted softened butter
1.6 ounces sugar
1 tsp salt
3.2 ounces of raisins (I used a combination of brown & golden raisins, plus dried cranberries, cherries, and blueberries). For a boozy effect, soak the fruit in 1/2 C Cognac, brandy, or rum.
1 large egg and 1/2 tsp of sugar for the egg wash
1/4 C sliced almonds
- Pour the milk into the bowl of a stand mixer, add the eggs, and whisk by hand until combined.
- Add the yeast, flour, butter, sugar, and salt and mix on low for three minutes.
- Mix on medium low for three more minutes.
- Add the fruit and mix on low until all of the fruit has been thoroughly combined into the dough.
- Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for about 90 minutes, or until doubled.
- Gently deflate the dough and divide it into three even pieces. Shape the pieces into three 12 inch ropes. Braid the ropes as you would a challah. It will not be as large as your typical challah.
- Place the loaf onto a greased sheet pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until puffy.
- Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees F.
- When the bread is ready, brush it gently with the egg wash, and sprinkle it with the almonds.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Tent the loaf with foil if it browns to quickly.
- Cool on a rack completely.