Due to popular demand...
It's a long recipe because I made it very detailed, but really it's not that complicated.
VANOCKA [vah-notch-ka], braided Czech Christmas bread
You will need:
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup lukewarm milk, plus a tiny bit for glaze
1 ½ package (not more) active dry yeast
½ lb raisins (or less or more, depending on your taste; I use a mixture of dark and golden raisins)
½ lb blanched slivered almonds
1 cup butter
½ cup granulated sugar
3 eggs plus 1 yolk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon grated lemon rind
Confectioners sugar for serving
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Dissolve the yeast in the milk and let stand for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup flour and 2 tablespoons of the sugar; cover and let rest until light and foamy.
Meanwhile, cover the raisins in dark rum and let stand (can be done a day ahead).
In a large bowl, beat the butter with all the remaining sugar until soft and fluffy; gradually beat in two eggs and one yolk. Add the salt and the lemon rind. To this add the sponge and enough flour to make an elastic dough (it will be a little sticky). Gather dough in a ball, cover the bowl and put in a warm place to rise, about 45 minutes. It should be soft and no longer very elastic when its ready.
Preheat oven to 350º. Strain the raisins and toss them in a shallow bowl of flour until coated. Take out the dough from its rising bowl (it will deflate some, dont worry about that), knead in the raisins and more flour to make it un-sticky; knead a few times. Divide into nine equal parts. Put some parchment paper on a baking sheet and place it with the short side in front of you. Roll out each chunk of dough into a snake about 12 inches long; start with just four. Now take the four snakes and lay them lengthwise on the sheet. Pinch their top ends together and start braiding. (If you know how to make a four-strand braid, great; if not, its really easy try it with some strings first if youre not sure. What you do is this: Take the leftmost snake and lay it over the one to the right, then under the next one and again over the one at the end. Repeat with the snake that is now the leftmost strand: over, under, and over the rightmost strand. Repeat until you are at the end.) Pinch the ends together and tuck under. Dont worry if its not perfectly even, and make sure to push back any raisins that might pop out.
With a French pastry pin or the side of your palm make a deep depression (a sort of ditch) along the middle of the finished braid thats where the next braid will go.
Take the next three snakes, pinch their ends together and tuck under the top of the four-strand braid. Now braid the three strands, pinch their bottom ends together again and tuck under. Again, make a ditch along the middle for the top braid. Make a two-strand braid of the final two snakes and place them on top of the other two braids, again tucking the ends under. You can secure the braids in place by a few toothpicks, which can be easily removed after baking. (The top braid sometimes likes to slide off to one side.)
Beat the remaining egg with a bit of milk to make a glaze. Brush the entire surface of the vanocka with the glaze and dot with the slivered almonds (personally I not so much dot as cover the vanocka with the almonds, they are delicious as they toast); make them stick by pressing on them a little bit.
Bake in the middle of the oven at 350º for about 50-60 minutes. Caution! The vanocka will rise in the oven and expand by roughly half of its original volume. When done, the surface should be golden-brown; if you are getting the feeling that the almonds are too toasted while the center isnt done yet (test with a skewer), cover the surface with aluminum foil towards the end of baking.
Cool on a wire rack. When cool, serve fairly thin slices (about half an inch) sprinkled with confectioners sugar. Its traditionally eaten for breakfast with tea or coffee, as well as with afternoon tea.
This vanocka is a BIG one, but braiding nine smaller pieces of dough can be tough. You could try a (wimpy) two-layered one made with just five strands (3+2) if this giant is too much for you. However, I find that it takes two people only about three days to eat the whole thing; my family used to make three for the six of us. But then again, we eat a lot.