Vánočka / Vianočka (Czech Christmas Bread), Trial 2
Second attempt, second fail…
Thankfully, misery did not grasp my heart or mind. As optimistic as I was, I had also anticipated a major mishap.
This time around, the vánočka I prepared was basically a brioche—a French bread that’s highly enriched with butter and eggs. However, unlike the brioche, vánočka is braided and may contain lemon zest, nutmeg, raisins and/or almonds.
Now, there’s a good reason why many bread bakers use a mixer when preparing fat-infused dough—I’m talking twenty percent or greater in terms of baker’s percentage. Of course, I couldn’t do such a thing. I don’t own a mixer. Yet, I was overly reckless and incorporated more butter into my dough than necessary.
The primary objectives for the vánočka were the following:
Adapted from the book Baking Artisan Bread, the following adjustments were made to the original recipe:
Additionally, if available, I’ve listed brand names of the food products I used in the tables below. Disclaimer: This isn’t an endorsement. I’m simply indicating the names of branded products used in my baking experiment.
Yield: 1 vánočka (loaf)
Total Prep Time: N/A
Total Bake Time: 50 minutes
|Pre-Ferment: Final Dough|
|Whole milk / Full cream milk, Chilled||> 194 g||Dutch Mill|
|Chicken Egg, Whole, Room temp.||51 g||CP|
|Chicken Egg, Yolk, Room temp.||19 g||CP|
|All-purpose flour / Plain flour, Unbleached, Enriched, Chilled||462 g||Gold Medal|
|Palm sugar||47 g||Palma|
|Instant yeast||12 g||DSL|
|Roasted sea salt||7 g||Hakata Noshio|
|Ground nutmeg||5 g||N/A|
|Unsalted butter, Cubed, Room temp.,||169 g||Westgold|
|Golden raisins / Sultanas, Chopped||14 g||Origins|
|Glaze: Egg wash|
|Chicken egg, Yolk, Room temp.||N/A||CP|
|Sliced blanched almonds||N/A||N/A|
|All-purpose flour / Plain flour, Unbleached, Enriched||N/A||Gold Medal|
|Countertop convection oven, Refrigerator, Digital scale, Plastic bin, Sheet pan, Bowls, Mixing bowls, Strainer, Paring knife, Chinese chef’s knife, Scissor, Box grater, Spatulas, Spoons, Fork, Ruler, Pastry brush, Oven mitten, Wire rack, Cutting boards, Parchment paper, Plastic wrap|
Warning: Do not attempt my “recipe” (i.e., experiment) without considering the following; variations in room temperature, humidity, altitude, food products, kitchen utensils and equipment, techniques and methods, amongst other factors, will influence the outcome of your baked goods.
Before I began, I measured, prepared, and organized my ingredients and kitchen equipment. This includes:
- chopping the golden raisins
- zesting the peel of the lemon with a box grater
- cutting a sheet of parchment paper
Step 1: Let’s round up the wet ingredients—yee-haw!
Whole milk, eggs (whole and yolk), and lemon zest.
Step 2: After pouring the said wet ingredients into the mixing bowl, they were whisked until well blended.
Step 3: Next, I assembled the following dry ingredients: all-purpose flour, instant yeast, sea salt, palm sugar, and ground nutmeg, along with a separate mixing bowl and fine mesh strainer.
Step 4: Sifting the said dry ingredients into the mixing bowl, I then…
*Glares at used whisk.*
I then whisked the dry ingredients with my fingers until well blended.
Step 5: Wet and dry ingredients, thou shalt be combined.
Step 6: Pouring the wet ingredients onto the dry ingredients, I churned the mixture with my hands and a plastic spatula until a stiff ball of dough was formed. Thereafter, the mixing bowl was inserted into a large plastic bag and rested for approx. thirty minutes.
Note: Contradicting my intuition, I chose not to further hydrate the dough despite its stiffness. I had reasoned that butter would soften it into a pliable consistency—I was sorely wrong.
Step 7: After thirty minutes had elapsed, I transferred the dough onto a cutting board and implemented the French kneading method.
“Well, that ain’t right.”
Promptly, I fetched a bottle of chilled milk from my refrigerator and dosed the dough with milk until it was more manageable (i.e., wet and slightly sticky).
Step 8: Subsequently, I kneaded the dough (using the aforementioned method), while incorporating small amounts of butter into the dough at a single time.
After two hours of kneading—yes, two friggin’ hours—all of the butter was absorbed by the dough. However, the gluten development was tremendously poor.
Nonetheless, I retrieved the chopped raisins, enclosed the raisins with the dough, then kneaded the dough for an additional thirty minutes.
Step 9: Exhausted and irked, I ceased kneading, flexed and stretched out my aching muscles, divided the underdeveloped dough into halves, sealed the dough in plastic wrap, froze the dough for approx. twenty-two hours, then chilled the dough for about twelve hours at 10°C / 50°F.
Note: The dough was frozen rather than chilled for one major reason: to quickly halt yeast activity.
Step 10: *Furrowed brows.*
This, I tell you, only compounded my frustration.
Step 11: Chilled for approx. twelve hours, the dough were removed from the refrigerator, unwrapped, and de-chilled for thirty minutes at above room temperature.
Note: The dough grossly expanded in the freezer compartment, nearly bursting out of its plastic seal.
Step 12: Once thirty minutes had passed, the dough were divided into:
Following that, the portioned dough were rounded into balls.
*Glances at palms.*
Uh-oh, my palms were excessively oily. In other words, the butter was leaking out of the dough.
Step 13: Racing against time, I elongated each ball of dough by rolling them back and forth between my palms and the cutting board. (I know, I did a very poor job.)
Step 14: With the 110 gram dough strands, I braided them into a three-plaited loaf, whereas the 115 gram dough strands were braided into a five-plaited loaf. While doing so, the strands snapped and tore at several points.
*Shakes head in disappointment.*
Note: Refer to this index for videos on braiding dough.
Step 15: Soon afterwards, the following were executed:
- lifted the five-plaited loaf and placed it onto a sheet of parchment paper
- sprinkled all-purpose flour along the central axis of the five-plaited loaf and compressed it with a ruler
- removed the excess flour from the five-plaited loaf with a pastry brush
- placed the three-plaited loaf into the crevice of the five-plaited loaf
- applied an egg wash of yolk onto the braided dough
- proofed (i.e., rested) the braided dough for one hour
- preheated the oven to 220°C / 428°F (convection on)
Step 16: Fifteen minutes prior to baking, I applied a second coating of egg wash onto the braided dough, then decorated the dough with sliced almonds.
Step 17: Once proofed for one hour, the braided dough was inserted onto the baking tray (central slot) of the oven, then baked for a total of fifty minutes at 180°C / 356°F (convection on).
Further, the baking tray was rotated every five minutes for even baking.
Step 18: Between intervals of rotating the baking tray, I rinsed and washed the used kitchen equipment. As you can imagine, that did not take long.
Step 19: Baked for a total of fifty minutes, the loaf was removed from the oven and cooled on a wire rack for over an hour.
And yes, I wanted to rip the loaf apart, slice it open, and peer into its crumby guts.
After an hour of being baked, the crust of the loaf was rather firm, whereas the crumb was fairly dry, loose, and crumbly. Accompanied by a very dry mouthfeel, the taste was nearly bland, punctuated only with a mild sweet-sour taste (likely derived by the chopped raisins). In contrast, the aroma of the crust was pleasantly savoury and nutty.
Note: The vánočka was stored at above room temperature.
What was supposed to be a buttery braided brioche was a loaf of dud. But hey, at least I had homemade gingerbread cookies to delight and comfort me—warm, soft, chewy biscuits, wafting the fragrance of Christmas.
Strange, isn’t it? How holiday sweets can soothe the mind? Perhaps my days would be less drab or more uplifting if each evening I arrived home to freshly baked Christmas cookies. Aww yeah, that’s bliss right there.
Have a merry Christmas, folks, and a happy New Baking Year! :D