There’s nothing like the smell and taste of fresh-baked bread–especially during the holidays! Check out this tasty recipe for a traditional Eastern European favorite. This exceptionally tender, slightly sweet, eggy, yeast bread exists in almost every eastern European culture. Typically, it’s braided and can be made with or without raisins. Czechs and Bohemians call it Hoska. The Poles, who call it Chalka, adopted it from their Jewish countrymen who refer to it as Challah. While the Czechs originally reserved Hoska for the holidays, it is so beloved that it is now baked daily and is one of the three principle breads of the country. I love it for breakfast or for a light desert. The recipe below is for a single loaf. You can double it to make 2 loaves. Enjoy. Tom~
3/4 cup whole milk, warm / 2 egg yolks / 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast / 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour / 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened / 1/4 cup sugar / 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract / pinch of cinnamon / 1 teaspoon salt / 2/3 cup raisins / For the egg wash: 1 large egg / teaspoon sugar / Topping: ¼ cup sliced almonds
Pour the milk into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the egg yolks until blended. Add the yeast, vanilla, cinnamon, flour, butter, sugar, and salt and stir with a wooden spoon just until a rough dough forms. Lightly dust the counter with flour. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and knead it with smooth, steady strokes. At first the dough will be sticky. Keep your hands floured but resist adding more flour than you need to. Continue to knead until the dough is smooth, satiny, and very elastic. Add the raisins and knead them until evenly distributed, a few minutes more.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature till doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Place baking parchment paper on a baking sheet. Lightly dust the counter with flour. Turn the dough out on the counter and divide into 3 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a 12 inch long, 2 inch wide rope. Place the 3 pieces side by side on the baking sheet. Join the ropes together at one end and weave them into a tight braid. Gently press the ends together and tuck them under the loaf.
Lightly cover the braid with plastic wrap and allow to rise until plump and springy~1 to 1 1/2 hours. About 15 minutes before baking, place an oven rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Whisk together the egg and sugar in a small bowl. Remove the plastic wrap and brush the braid thoroughly with the egg wash using a pastry brush. Sprinkle the almonds over the loaf, gently pressing them into the top and sides. Bake the braid in the middle of the oven until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes.
When done, place the baking sheet on a wire rack and let the bread cool completely on the sheet, about 1 hour. The bread is best eaten on the day it is baked.