Bohemian Houska Braid

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Most Eastern European countries sport a rich, eggy Easter bread, laden with nuts, fruits, or spices. This one, from the Czech Republic, is known for its fragrant flavorings of lemon and nutmeg.

Difficulty: Medium

Hands-on: 35 minutesTotal: 4 hours 15 minutes

Serves: 24

Ingredients

  • 2 cups warm milk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3½ tsp. active dry yeast (2 packages)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp. plus ⅛ tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 3 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
  • 7 cups bread flour
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp. water

Directions

  • In a large bowl combine milk, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and yeast. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in remaining sugar, eggs, butter, cream, 1 tablespoon salt, nutmeg, almonds, lemon zest, and raisins (drained). Add enough bread flour to create a firm dough. Add flour only to reduce stickiness. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 8–10 minutes. Return to bowl, dust the top with flour, and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 2½ hours.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment. Turn risen dough onto a floured surface and divide into 3 portions, one large, one medium, and one small. Divide each into 3 equal sections and roll into tight ropes, about 18" long.
  • Starting with the largest ropes, make a 3-strand braid. Place onto prepared pan, press a slight indentation down the center of the braid, and brush with melted butter. Repeat with the medium braid, and place it in on top of the large braid. Brush with melted butter. Finish by braiding the small section, and place it on top of the medium braid. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and proof for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Whisk the egg yolk with a tablespoon of water and remaining salt, and brush onto the top of the risen loaf. Bake 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 250°F and continue baking until golden brown and hollow sounding, about 30–40 minutes. Cool completely on a rack.