Czech Christmas Bread – Vánočka

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Czech Christmas Bread – Vánočka

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This is the one Czech food that makes me so incredibly proud once I’ve finished – Vánočka (Czech Christmas Bread).  My mom made it every year during the holidays and it just doesn’t feel like Christmas without it.  This recipe does involve some time, in particular waiting for the dough to rise and plaiting the bread layers, but the effort is definitely worth it.  My mother made this recipe by mixing and kneading by hand.  I cheat and use my wonderful, old Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook.  I still do some kneading by hand using her dough board made by my grandfather during his visit to the U.S. in the ’70′s.

Below is the recipe I’ve used over the last few years.  I leave out the raisins, other dried fruits, and the lemon rind found in the traditional recipe.  I also leave off the slivered almonds.  I’ve baked it with the extras and without, and our family prefers the bread plain.

Small Bowl


1 1/2 tablespoons (or 2 7 oz. pouches) of Active Dry Yeast
I use Red Star.  It’s less expensive and works perfectly!

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons warm milk (Warm – about 110-120oF)

1.  Combine the ingredients above in a small bowl.

2.  Cover with a clean dish towel and allow to sit in a warm location for 10 minutes.

Kitchen Aid Bowl w/Dough Hook

1 cup warm milk

2 eggs

1/2 cup melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

lemon rind (optional)

1.  Combine the ingredients above in the Kitchen Aid mixing bowl.

2.  Blend the yeast mixture from the small bowl into this bowl once 10 minutes have elapsed.

3.  Slowly add flour and mix with the Kitchen Aid dough hook.

Other Ingredients Needed


5-6 cups all purpose flour

1 egg – whisked

raisins (optional)

other dried fruits (i.e. citron) (optional)

slivered almonds (optional)

powdered sugar


  1. Place dough onto a floured surface and knead until it is no longer sticky.  Optional – knead in raisins and/or other dried fruits at this point.

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  2. Place dough in a bowl. Dust with flour, cover with a dish towel, and let rise in a warm location for 60 minutes.

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  3. Punch dough down, place onto floured surface, and briefly knead.
  4. Shape dough into a long loaf.  Divide this loaf into thirds.  Divide each third into thirds for a total of 9 dough pieces.  Roll dough pieces into 9 long tubes of about equal length.  Wetting hands lightly helps during this process.
  5. Layers of the Vánočka — Bottom Layer:  4 dough tubes braided together.  Below is a great YouTube video of how to braid this layer (do not roll it into a ball as shown at the end of the video).  Place this layer onto a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Indent this layer down the center with the side of your hand and brush the center lightly with water or a whisked egg.

    **Click to Enlarge**

    **Click to Enlarge**

  6. Layers of the Vánočka — Middle Layer:  3 dough tubes braided together.  Indent this layer down the center with the side of your hand then set this on top of bottom layer.  Brush the indentation lightly.

    **Click to Enlarge**

  7. Layers of the Vánočka — Top Layer:  2 dough tubes twisted together.  Set this on top of the middle layer and tuck the ends under the bottom layer.

    **Click to Enlarge**

  8. Place 1 long wooden skewer into each end and 1 in the middle (through the top and straight down to the cookie sheet – see the video of the entire assembly below).  This will keep the Vánočka from deforming during the baking process.  It’s a tall loaf of bread – the top layer may slide to one side during baking.
  9. Cover the Vánočka with a dish towel, place in a warm area, and allow to rise for 60 minutes.
  10. Brush the loaf with the whisked egg.  Sprinkle with slivered almonds if desired.
  11. Cook at 350oF for 35-40 minutes.  The loaf will brown quickly near the end of baking, so cover it with foil the last 5-10 minutes.  I cover the top layer as this is where it browns heavily.
  12. Allow the Vánočka to cool.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar when ready to display/serve.

YouTube Video of the Entire Vánočka Assembly :

You can also use this recipe to make Easter Bread.  Instead of braiding the loaf, you simply shape it into a circular loaf, allow it to rise, then cut a cross into the top of it before baking.  Bake as above and sprinkle with powdered sugar when ready to eat.

Enjoy your Vánočka and happy holidays!