How about an ethnic trip to the Czech Republic. Or the area formerly known as Bohemia, for some special holiday bread, a bit like challah, but this one is called hoska. None of my family is remotely Bohemian, but I was making a demonstration piece for something related to work. I found that many East European countries make these holiday breads around Christmas and Easter. It is very similar to the Jewish challah bread with eggs, yeast and braiding, so it is interesting how all these groups influenced each other.
This is from Cooks.com.
CHRISTMAS BRAID BREAD (Hoska)
2 pkgs. dry yeast
2 c. warm milk
1 c. sugar
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 c. butter
1 1/2 tsp. salt
7 to 8 c. flour
2 tsp. vanilla
1 lemon rind, grated
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. mace
1 c. white raisins
1 c. chopped almonds
1 c. candied mixed fruit
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water until bubbly. To the warm milk add soft butter, salt, sugar, vanilla, spices and lemon rind. Let cool to lukewarm.
Add yeast mixture and beaten eggs and mix well. Sift in 4 cups flour, stirring well, add floured fruit and nuts alternately. Then add remaining flour, beat until dough does not stick to bowl.
Turn out on floured board and knead until smooth and elastic about 8 or 10 minutes. Put in greased bowl, cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down dough and divide in half. This make 2 loaves.
Cut 4 large and 5 smaller portions, roll each into long rolls. Braid the 4 rolls forming a loaf. Put on pan lined with greased brown paper. Braid the 3 smaller rolls and place on top, then remaining 2 pieces on top. Place toothpicks to hold braids in place.
Brush with beaten egg whites in a little water. Let rise to double in bulk. For rich crust brush with melted butter during baking. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, lower temperature to 325 degrees for 45 minutes longer depending on how you like it.
I only made two separate braids with four strands each. Something about weaving four strands is really elegant.
Silly me forgot to take a picture of the end result. One was a little too dark on the bottom because I had both in the oven in the same time and the bottom one was too close to the bottom of the oven. Good thing I made two. Other than that, they looked beautiful.
Also, I tried quick raising yeast, which is a crock. It didn't really raise any faster.