2 loaves

This version of vanocka, a traditional braided Czech Christmas bread, is laced with golden saffron threads, but it's the apple and cheese filling that'll make you cut that second slice.

How to Make It

Step 1

Combine 3 cups all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl; stir well. Combine water, saffron, and shortening; heat in a saucepan until mixture reaches 120° (shortening does not need to melt completely).

Step 2

Add liquid mixture to flour mixture, beating well at medium speed with a heavy-duty mixer using the paddle attachment. Add 1 egg and 1 cup flour. Beat at low speed 1 minute; then beat at medium-high speed for 3 minutes. Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.

Step 3

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Shape dough into a ball; place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Step 4

Punch dough down, and divide in half. Set half of dough aside. (Cover to prevent drying.)

Step 5

Divide remaining half of dough into 4 equal portions. Combine 3 portions; knead 2 or 3 times on a lightly floured surface. Cover and set aside remaining portion of dough. Roll larger portion into a 13" x 10" rectangle; transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet.

Step 6

Spoon half of Cheddar-Apple filling in a 4" wide strip down the center of dough, leaving 3" on each side. With a sharp knife, slit dough at 1" intervals along each side of filling. Fold strips over filling, alternating from side to side, tucking ends in.

Step 7

Divide reserved smaller portion of dough into thirds. Shape each third into a 14" rope; pinch ends together at one end to seal. Braid ropes; pinch loose ends to seal.

Step 8

Brush top of apple-filled braid lightly with 1 beaten egg; place smaller braid across top of larger braid. Brush smaller braid with egg. Tuck ends of smaller braid under bottom edge of larger braid, pinching to seal. (Place a wooden pick through braids at both ends to prevent separation during rising and baking.)

Step 9

Repeat rolling, cutting, filling, and braiding procedures with remaining half of dough and filling. Cover and let loaves rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Step 10

Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to a wire rack; remove wooden picks, and cool. Brush with melted apple jelly; cool. Sift powdered sugar over loaves before serving.

Christmas with Southern Living 2001

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