Prep 30 mins
Cook 1 hr
Makes 1 beautiful twisted and stacked golden bread, about 9 inches across and 5 to 6 inches tall. Traditional feast on Christmas Eve January 6 consists of twelve courses, all meatless, a form of fasting while celebrating. Starts of first with ritual gruel, a cross between soup and gruel called kutia, made of simmered wheat berries flavored with honey and black poppy seeds, meatless borshch, varenyky filled with potato or cheese and served with mushroom sauce, and fish served several ways. On the table along with wineglasses and candles, is a Christmas bread called kolach, elaborately twisted and braided. It’s traditionally presented as three breads stacked one on top of the other and topped by a candle. The bread is moist and rich with butter and eggs and has a slightly denser-than-brioche texture. This recipes makes one very beautiful bread. To make the traditional three breads, see the NOTE below. This bread keeps well.
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1⁄3 cup sugar
- 1 cup milk, heated to lukewarm
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (1 stick) or 8 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon salt (1/2 teaspoon if using salted butter)
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 6 -7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
- In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water, then add 1 teaspoon of the sugar and stir well. Set aside. Note: Make sure your yeast is fresh. If it does not break the surface with little bubbles the yeast is old, start over with fresh yeast.
- In a large bowl, dissolve the remaining sugar in the warm milk. Stir in the melted butter, salt, and eggs, then add 2 cups of the flour and stir until smooth. Add the yeast mixture and stir it well, always stirring in the same direction. Add 4 to 5 cups more flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring and turning to incorporate it; when the dough becomes too difficult to mix, turn it out onto a well floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or more, adding flour if necessary, until firm (not soft), smooth, and elastic.
- Place the dough in a large clean bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a fairly warm place (about 70 F.) until doubled in volume, about 3 hours.
- Pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl and deflate it, then cover and let rise again until doubled, about 1 hour.
- Butter or grease a 9-inch round cake pan or cast iron frying pan (or a 9- or 10-inch flan ring set on a baking sheet).
- Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut into 6 equal pieces (first cut the dough in half, then cut each piece into 3).
- Set 4 pieces aside, lightly covered.
- Roll the remaining 2 pieces out under your palms into ropes about 33 to 36 inches long. Lay 1 piece diagonally across the other at the center of each, then, working from that center point, twine the ropes around each other, toward each end, to make a long coiled rope. Make a circle of the rope, pressing the ends together, and place it in the buttered pan or ring.
- Roll out the remaining 4 pieces of dough into 24-inch lengths and, following the instructions above, use them to make 2 coiled ropes. Then use the same technique to twist the 2 coils around each other to make a DOUBLE coil. Lay the coil inside the dough in the pan to form a circle, and pinch the ends together, trimming them at an angle as necessary to make a neat joint. There will be a small circular gap in the center of the bread. Cover and let rise until almost doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place a rack in the lower third of the oven. If you have a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, place them on the rack. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Brush the top of the risen dough generously with egg wash. Transfer to the stone, tiles, or a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour. The bread should have a rich golden crusts and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. (The bread starts to turn golden very early in the baking because of the egg wash. This does not mean the bread has baked, but it may tempt you to take it out too early. Be sure to use the “hollow tap” test to make sure it has baked through.) Let the bread stand for at least 1 hour on a wire rack to firm up before slicing.
- NOTE: To make the traditional three breads, triple the recipe as follows: Increase the yeast to 4 teaspoons and the milk to 5 cups; triple the quantities of sugar, butter, eggs, and flour. Divide the risen dough into three, then shape each loaf separately. You will probably have to bake them in two batches unless your oven is very large, since only two breads will fit on a regular rack. The breads must be completely cool and firm before being stacked—make them a day ahead if possible.
- TO TEST IF BREAD HAS RISEN ENOUGH, use the “poke test” Press a moistened finger briefly into the dough. If the dent stays dented it’s ready. This tests especially useful when you’re trying to determine if shaped breads or rolls are ready to be put in the oven.
- TO TEST IF A LOAF HAS BAKED ENOUGH, tap on the bottom of the loaf to see if it sounds hollow, and then use the “pinch test”” Pinch the loaf at the corners or at the bottom edge. It should feel firm, not soft. If it stills feels soft, place it back in the oven for another five or ten minutes. When baking pan loaves, take them out of the pans to test them. If you need to bake them a little longer and you have a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles in your oven, bake them straight on the hot surface, rather than putting them back in the pans.