Sweet Braided Czech Bread with Almonds & Raisins
- 4 1/2 teaspoons (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 8 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature for 2 hours
- 1 lemon, zested
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks, plus extra for garnish
- 2 cups whole or 2% milk, warmed
- 1 cup chopped blanched almonds, plus extra to garnish
- 1 cup golden raisins, plumped in warm water and drained well
Adapted from thekitchn.com
Mix the yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar, and cream together in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl). Let stand for about 5 minutes or until the yeast begins to bubble.
In a separate bowl, work the flour together with the softened butter. Rub the soft butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers until well-mixed. Add the lemon zest and also work into the flour and butter with your fingers. Stir in the salt and nutmeg.
Add the the eggs, egg yolks, remaining sugar, and milk to the yeast-cream mixture. Use the mixer paddle or a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly.
Mix in the flour-butter mixture, switching to the dough hook near the end (or continue stirring by hand). Add the almonds and raisins. The dough will be smooth but still a little sticky.
Knead in the mixer for 5 minutes, or by hand for 7 to 8 minutes — just until the dough is taut and smooth on the surface. Clean out the bowl, then transfer the dough back into the bowl to rise. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Turn the dough out onto the counter and pat into a thick rectangle that measures about 9 inches by 18 inches. Cut into 9 strips.
Prepare a baking sheet by lining with a Silpat or parchment paper. Braid four strips together on the sheet to make the base of the loaf (It's OK to freestyle it here! No one will really see the bottom layer!). Braid three more strips and lay them on top of the base. Twist the last two strips together and lay on the very top.
Cover loosely with a towel and let rise for 1 hour until puffed. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Just before baking, brush the loaf with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle chopped almonds on top.
Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 250°F and bake for an additional 30 to 45 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the loaf reads 195°F to 200°F.
Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Leftovers can be stored at room temperature, wrapped airtight, for up to 5 days.