This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please visit the disclosures and privacy policy page.
Dec 2, 2023

Czech Christmas Bread (Vánočka)

This Czech Christmas bread, or Vánočka, is a celebration bread made with a lightly sweetened dough filled with raisins and topped with almonds. 

Slices of Czech Christmas Bread (Vánočka).


I did not grow up with a celebration bread tradition. I had no idea there was a whole world out there of wonderful celebration breads, including Christmas.   

When I began my bread baking journey, I committed to making every recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. It's pretty much a course in every style of bread baking with the exception of Asian. I've since made challah, babka, Finnish pulla, panettone, stollen, and Greek celebration bread to name a few.

Celebration bread. What a wonderful tradition. 

Sliced array of Czech Christmas Bread.


This bread is soft and fluffy, and the sweet dried fruit and the toasted almonds form a nice contrast. It is a fairly small loaf, so the braiding and dough handling are pretty easy. 

While traditional Vánočka involves three layers of braids, the first being a four strand braid, the second being a three strand braid, and the third being a 2 strand twist, to keep things simple, I simply made a three-strand loaf. Hopefully, I won't be cited by the Czech bread police. 

Czech Christmas Bread crumb view.


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! But that's the rhythm of bread baking. Once you get used to it, you can practically bake a loaf of bread while carrying on with your day. 

Symbolism of this Czech Christmas Bread:

The origins of this Czech Christmas bread, or Vánočka, involves a lot of symbolism in the Czech Republic. 

First, it is symbolic of new life. It is supposed to resemble a baby in a in a swaddling blanket. 

In addition, the braiding of the bread is supposed to be symbolic of protecting families from strife and preserving peace. (Source: Cook Like Czechs.)

Czech Christmas Bread (Vánočka) on a Christmas napkin.


Superstitions surrounding Vánočka include the following:

The baker must wear a white apron while baking this bread. 

There is no talking allowed in the kitchen while the baker is preparing this loaf. 

The baker must think of everyone who they cherish while preparing this bread. 

The bread baker must jump as high as they can to encourage a high rise of the dough. No one else is allowed to jump or make noise. 

Close up of the crust of Czech Christmas Bread (Vánočka).


Ingredients in Czech Christmas Bread:

From your Fridge: Warm whole milk, egg yolks (save the whites for the egg wash), and nsalted softened butter. 

From your Pantry: Instant yeast, bread flour, granulated sugar, salt, raisins, and sliced or slivered almonds. I substituted some dried blueberries, dried cranberries, dried cherries, and golden raisins for some of the raisins. 

Rum: Use dark or spiced rum for soaking the raisins or dried fruit. 

Close up of the outside Czech Christmas Bread.


How to Make This Czech Christmas Bread:

First, soak the dried fruit in spiced or dark rum. You can heat the rum if you like. Traditionally, the fruit is just raisins, but I used dried raisins, golden raisins, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, and dried cherries. 

Drain the fruit and set it aside. 

Next, combine all of the dough ingredients and mix it onlow for about three minutes and then on medium for about three minutes. Once you've mixed the dough, mix in the dried fruit on low for a minute or two. 

After that, place the dough into an oiled dough rising bucket and let it rise until doubled. Once it's risen, divide it into three pieces and roll each out into 12 inch ropes. Add the ropes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and braid into a three-strand loaf. 

Czech Christmas Bread shaped into a braid before baking.


Next, let the shaped loaf rise until puffy and doubled. 

Finally, brush the loaf with an egg white and cream egg wash, sprinkle with some almond slices or slivers and bake the loaf. 

Czech Christmas Bread (Vánočka) sprinkled with slivered almonds.


Equipment You May Need:

KitchenAid 7-Quart Pro Stand Mixer

Half Sheet Pan

Parchment Paper

Recipe Variations:

Along with the layers of braids, you could dust the final baked loaf with powdered sugar. You could also add some almonds to the dough along with the fruit. 

You could also add some lemon or orange zest to the dough. For more flavor, lightly grate some nutmeg into the dough. 

Czech Christmas Bread (Vánočka) sliced in half to show the crumb.


Serve this bread for breakfast with butter and jam along with a cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. It's the perfect breakfast for Christmas morning. 

For another bread with a Czech heritage, be sure to try Kolaches. They're delicious.

More Christmas Baking Recipes:

A Lemon Kissed Gingerbread Bundt for An Icelandic Christmas Tradition by Culinary Cam   

Baked Nevri / Neouri / Nevreos / Sweet Puffs by Sneha's Recipe 

Chocolate Chip Pie by A Day in the Life on the Farm 

Holly Jolly Triple Chocolate Cookies by Amy's Cooking Adventures 

Iced Eggnog Chewy Spice Cookies by Faith, Hope, Love & Luck Survive Despite A Whiskered Accomplice 

Krestkransjes, Dutch Christmas Cookies by Mayuri's Jikoni 

Russian Tea Biscuits (not cookies) by Palatable Pastime



Czech Christmas Bread (Vánočka) loaf with a Christmas napkin nearby.



Czech Christmas Bread

Czech Christmas Bread
Yield: 20 slices
Author: Karen's Kitchen Stories
Prep time: 30 MinCook time: 30 MinInactive time: 3 HourTotal time: 4 Hour
This Czech Christmas bread, or Vánočka, is a celebration bread made with a lightly sweetened dough filled with raisins and topped with almonds.

Ingredients

  • 90 grams (3.2 ounces/packed heaping 1/2 cup) raisins (or dried blueberries or cranberries, or a combination)
  • 1/2 cup dark or spiced rum (or brandy or cognac)
  • 210 grams (7.4 ounces/3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) warm whole milk (90 to 105 degrees F)
  • 2 yolks from large eggs (save whites for egg wash)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 347 grams (12 1/4 ounces/2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons) bread flour
  • 56 grams (2 ounces/4 tablespoons) unsalted softened butter
  • 45 grams (1.6 ounces/scant 1/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Remaining egg whites, pinch of salt, and 1 tablespoon cream or milk for the egg wash
  • 1/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds

Instructions

  1. Soak the raisins or dried fruit in the rum for 15 to 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Pour the milk into the bowl of a stand mixer, add the eggs, and whisk by hand until combined.
  3. Add the yeast, flour, butter, sugar, and salt and mix on low for three minutes.
  4. Mix on medium low for three more minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  5. Add the fruit and mix on low until all of the fruit has been thoroughly combined into the dough.
  6. Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for about 90 minutes, or until doubled.
  7. 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.
  8. Place the loaf onto a parchment lined sheet pan, cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until puffy.
  9. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees F.
  10. When the bread is ready, brush it gently with the egg wash, and sprinkle it with the almonds.
  11. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes. Tent the loaf with foil if it browns to quickly. The interior should reach 190 degrees F.
  12. Cool on a rack completely.

Nutrition Facts

Calories

141

Fat (grams)

4 g

Sat. Fat (grams)

2 g

Carbs (grams)

20 g

Fiber (grams)

1 g

Net carbs

18 g

Sugar (grams)

3 g

Protein (grams)

3 g

Cholesterol (grams)

26 mg
Christmas bread
bread
Czech
Did you make this recipe?
Tag @karenskitchenstories.com on instagram and hashtag it #karenskitchenstories


Originally published December, 2012. Fully updated December, 2023. 



Would you like to comment?

  1. Beautiful loaf, Karen. I love that it's fluffy inside. It's on my to-bake list but I'm not sure I'll get to it before the end of the year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Hanaâ. I know what you mean. My to-bake list is getting longer and longer!

      Delete
  2. It's beautiful. I don't do fruit in my bread either ... or in pancakes. The almonds look exquisite.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! The almonds toast up so nicely while the bread is baking.

      Delete
  3. I guess I'm lucky that I grew up with that tradition of holiday celebration breads. We always had the Vanocka (Czech Christmas Bread) for Christmas and Hoska (Bread) for Easter. We also had Poppyseed Cake, Poppyseed Roll, Apple Strudel, and Knedlicky (fruit dumplings). Sadly, I never got any of the recipes from my grandmother, but I have been able to recreate them over the years. The recipe I use for Vanocka is from Bernard Clayton's "The New Complete Book of Breads". It tastes great! I always remember it being studded with candied cherries and whole almonds as I grew up. We ate it sliced with sweet butter slathered over it. I just had a piece, and although the candied cherries look lovely decorating the bread, they don't taste as good as they look and are now decorating my plate... Happy Holidays!

    Garden Goddess

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so fortunate! I'm not a big fan of candied cherries either.

      Delete
  4. From reading that comment above, I now want to check out Bernard Clayton's bread book. Your Czech Christmas bread is stunning, Karen! I always enjoy your breads. This is a bread I will have to bake for next Christmas. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Lora. And thank you for hosting Twelve Loaves. Baking along has been such a great experience.

      Delete
  5. What a lovely bake Karen, soft and with the crunch from the generous topping of almonds. I love fruit and nut breads. I remember my dad's German friend would always gift us with a sweet bread for Christmas. So grown up enjoying it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This makes me want to go bake a loaf of bread. It's absolutely gorgeous...that golden crust...mmmmmm...you've got me practically drooling!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Love those fun traditional rules for baking this bread. I would think of my Grandma who came to the USA from Czechoslovakia as a teenager.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I love this beautifully baked bread, what a beautiful tradition of baking a Christmas bread!

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a gorgeous loaf. I loved reading about the superstitions around making it!

    ReplyDelete

I would love to hear from you! If you comment anonymously, be sure to leave your name in your comment.