The best Czech Easter Bread recipe. Perfect for the holiday season!
Delicious – Easy – Sustainable – Healthier
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CZECH EASTER BREAD
Easter is a time of celebration, and there is nothing quite as festive as baking traditional Czech Easter Bread. The bread is called Mazanec or velikonoční bochánek (Easter bun), depending on which part of the country you are in. Making it for Easter is a deep-rooted tradition in the Czech culture. It is a sweet bread that is traditionally made during the Easter holiday using raisins and nuts. This beloved tradition dates back to at least the 19th century and is enjoyed all over the country, from large cities to small villages. It can be found in bakeries for several weeks before Easter.
Czech Easter bread is usually round and decorated with a sliced almonds and traditionally marked with a cross cut on top. Mazanec is said to represent the renewal of life and the coming of Spring. The sweet bread is often served with butter, jam, honey, a sweet sauce made from fruits or nuts, or just sprinkled with sugar. This bread also symbolizes the importance of family gatherings. Baking this bread has been a holiday tradition for many Czechs as they celebrate Easter, with families passing on their recipes from one generation to another, and adapting to incorporate their unique cultural and regional influences.
My Grandmother’s family brought this tradition with them when they came here from Javorek, Bohemia in the late 1880’s. They called it Mazonec in her village. She taught me the recipe, which was not written down. Her measurements were often done by the pinch or the handful. I have written down the recipe and worked out the measurements in grams to make it easy to use a scale. Over the years I have adapted it to a more modern kitchen and current knowledge of baking. This made the bread better tasting but also easier to make. We make this bread as a family tradition and serve it as part of our Easter morning celebration breakfast.
This recipe is simple and uncomplicated, making it an ideal family tradition. The dough of the bread is infused with rum that gives it a distinct flavor profile. One of the key ingredients is the addition of raisins. They add a natural sweetness to the bread, while the almonds bring a subtle nuttiness that pairs perfectly with the lemon zest. There is just a touch of rum that adds a unique depth of flavor that elevates this bread recipe. The key ingredients used in the bread recipe, such as yeast, raisins, almonds, lemon zest, and rum, and how they are combined to create the distinct flavor and texture of mazanec make this Czech Easter bread recipe an all-time favorite. With its rich history and flavorful profile, this Czech Easter bread recipe is a must-try for anyone looking to expand their baking repertoire.
THE BEST CZECH EASTER BREAD RECIPE
While baking bread may seem daunting at first, it is surprisingly easy to make and requires only a few minutes of active time. Whether you are a seasoned baker or a novice in the kitchen, this Czech Easter bread recipe is sure to impress your family and friends. The recipe will guide you through the step-by-step process of making this delectable bread, so you can bring a touch of Czech tradition to your Easter table.
This is the best recipe for Czech Easter bread, but not just because it is an authentic, traditional recipe that came from my Bohemian Grandmother. It is the best because it uses the best ingredients, a method that produces a better tasting bread, and it is also an easier recipe. Additionally, we updated the recipe to be sustainable and climate friendly as well as healthier. What more could you ask for? You can take our word for it and jump straight to the recipe to make it, since everything you need to know to make it is in the written recipe. Or, you can read the detailed explanation that follows in “the science of making enriched bread” to learn exactly why this is the best recipe.
THE INGREDIENTS AND METHOD FOR MAKING THE BEST CZECH EASTER BREAD RECIPE
THE SCIENCE OF MAKING ENRICHED BREAD
The special breads baked for holidays and celebrations are often an enriched bread. They have additions like eggs, milk, sugar and butter, and sometimes fruit, nuts and other add-ins. These ingredients are an opportunity to add a lot of flavor, but they also make the dough harder to make. We created a recipe that adds lots of flavor, but is also quick and easy. The recipe also uses sunflower or safflower oil instead of butter. This keeps the bread from tasting dry and also makes it healthier. The recipe uses almond or oat milk instead of dairy, giving the bread a richer taste while also making it dairy free.
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INGREDIENTS FOR MAKING ENRICHED BREADS
Brands vary in quality, weight and consistency, so it is important to choose quality brands for the main ingredients and stick with them as you change other ingredients in the bread. These are the brands we use.
FLOUR – Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose Flour has a lower protein amount than bread flour and some all purpose flours – 10.5 percent protein. This is a good flour for baking enriched breads, since it makes the baked goods more tender. In addition, the company ensures that the protein content is carefully calibrated, so you get consistent results. Also, it is important to use the unbleached flour. Bleaching makes the flour whiter, but it interferes with the activity of the yeast. Occasionally, we will use King Arthur Bread Flour if we want a more hearty bread. Bread flour has more protein than all purpose flour, allowing more gluten to form and the bread to rise. Bleaching makes the flour whiter, but it interferes with the activity of the yeast. We use King Arthur because it is made from high quality wheat and they have a tight control over the amount of protein that is in the flour, so baking with it gives consistent results.
SUGAR – We use Wholesome organic sugar, because it is produced from sugar cane fields that are green cut and are not burned or treated with herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. Burning sugar cane fields contributes to air pollution and climate change, and is a major cause of the destruction of the rain forest. Buying sugar from fields that are green cut helps prevent this destruction. The sugar also has a better taste because of how it is produced, but mostly we use it because it is a sustainable choice. It is more expensive than buying the standard brands, but the difference is only a few cents per recipe, so it’s worth it. We also save money by buying this in bulk direct from the company and storing it in jars in the pantry. Instead of buying brown sugar, we add some sorghum syrup to the recipe, since brown sugar is just sugar with molasses added. Sorghum syrup tastes like molasses, but is not from sugar cane and is grown sustainably. This saves money, since brown sugar is more expensive than white sugar, and it saves storage.
SUNFLOWER OR SAFFLOWER OIL – Instead of butter, we use a healthy, sustainable oil. This also keeps the bread from tasting dry.
WATER – Using more water allows the gluten to form naturally without kneading the dough.
YEAST – The yeast must be good quality and not past its expiration date. We use saf-instant. Instant yeast is easier to work with and is more reliable because of how it’s processed. If it’s in date, it doesn’t need to be proofed (soaked in water to prove it is active) before using it. It can just be added to the mix, but soaking it will hydrate it and give it a head start. The water temperature should be between 95 and 115 degrees F, ideally 110 degrees F (over 120 will harm the yeast). Store the yeast in an air tight container in the freezer.
SALT – We like the quality of Diamond Kosher salt and don’t want the iodine taste. The weight and structure of salt varies between brands so it is important to chose a salt and stick with it to be consistent. Salt will interfere with the activity of the yeast. This might be a problem, or it might be something that is desired in order to slow down the yeast. Mixing the salt with the flour before adding the yeast will help limit the effect. Don’t use salt with iodine, because the taste can be disagreeable.
BARLEY MALT SYRUP or MAPLE SYRUP – Many of the same flavors of baked bread are found in barley malt syrup, so we often add some to the dough to increase the flavor. Maple syrup can also add a rich flavor to sweet enriched breads.
SPICES – Ordering spices in bulk from a spice dealer will give you a great price and the best quality. This will make a huge difference in your baking. We order most spices from World Spice Merchants, because they carry a huge variety of top quality spices.
TIME – Time can also be considered an ingredient, and it makes a huge impact on the finished product. Over time, the starch in the flour converts to sugars and other flavors are released. This process requires about twelve hours. At the same time, the yeast is increasing and causing the dough to rise. Most recipes allow the bread to raise for only a few hours at room temperature. Slowing this process down, by putting the dough in a cold place, will allow the flavors to develop before the yeast has caused the dough to rise. This is easy to do at home just by putting the dough in the refrigerator. It can be much harder for a bakery to do because of the limited space in the refrigerator, so bakery bread is often made with a portion of refrigerated dough (a poolish or a biga) and a portion of fresh flour and water making the recipes more complicated. This explanation is an over simplification of a much more complicated process, but it does give a clearer picture of why this works. Another method of slowing down the fermentation is by using less yeast and allowing the dough to ferment at room temperature, but enriched doughs contain eggs and dairy products, so it is not safe to allow the dough to remain at room temperature for that long.
METHOD FOR MAKING BREAD
WEIGH THE INGREDIENTS – It is very difficult to accurately measure dry ingredients, like flour, in a volume container, like a measuring cup. The ingredients for baking bread need to be measured by weight, using a scale. And it is easier and more accurate to use grams instead of having to do the math on ounces and pounds. Using weight to measure the ingredients is also easier – just place the bowl on the scale and zero the scale after each measurement.
KITCHEN THERMOMETER – The milk needs to be at a certain temperature range to activate the yeast and not kill it, so a thermometer is very important.
HYDRATING THE YEAST – Sprinkling the yeast on warm milk or water before mixing it with the other ingredients allows the yeast to warm up and become active before the dough is refrigerated, so it can be put into the refrigerator immediately after mixing.
WETTER DOUGH -The method for making this bread is to use more water. Using more water allows the gluten to form naturally without much kneading.
LONGER FERMENTATION – During the first rise, The dough develops flavors as the carbohydrates are broken down and sugars and other compounds form. This takes 12 to 18 hours. Any longer and the dough will start to develop a sourdough taste. In most recipes, the dough is only allowed to rise for a couple of hours, and the flavors have not developed. Refrigerating the dough will slow down the fermentation and allow the dough to rise for twelve hours while the flavors develop. The slow rise improves the taste, but also makes it much easier to make. The bread dough can be made in the evening and baked the following day at a convenient time. A batch of dough comes together in minutes with very little work, and next morning it is ready to shape and bake. Folding the dough a couple of times about an hour after refrigerating it will help it cool down evenly and improves the shape. These folds also help the dough develop elasticity and will improve the rise. Dough that has been refrigerated will have more flavor but will be a little lower in height.
ALLOW THE DOUGH TO WARM UP – when the dough has completed the fermentation, it is removed from the refrigerator and allowed to warm up for 30-60 minutes.This will result in a better crumb.
PROOFING THE DOUGH – The dough is shaped while it’s still fairly cool, and then left to proof at room temperature. Proofing will take longer than if it was left at room temperature during the fermentation stage, usually about an extra hour.
DIVIDE THE DOUGH – Cut the dough with a scissors or sharp knife instead of pulling and tearing it, which can deflate it.
SHAPE THE DOUGH – Place the dough smooth side down on a lightly floured counter. Push on it slightly while making circular motions. This causes the dough to connect to the surface enough to develop a skin, which will improve the rise.
ALLOW BREAD TO COOL COMPLETELY – The bread will continue to bake with residual heat after removed from the oven. Do not cut into it until it is completely cooled.
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Photos by Tony Fitzgerald Photography