Mazanec: Czech Easter Bread

In contrast to the elaborate painted eggs and gingerbread you usually see around Prague at Easter, the relatively simple Easter sweet bread, Mazanec, is one of my favorite things. Starting from the same dough used for Vánočka, Czech Christmas bread, mazanec is a light, eggy sweet bread studded with raisins, almonds, and lemon zest. It’s always reminded me of panettone, a staple in my family at Christmastime, which is maybe why I like it so much.

It’s easy to make, and it’s great toastedalthough, given how J. yelped, “What is this country’s obsession with toasting things?!” when I suggested toasting it for breakfast, this might be solely an American preference. (I’m not going to tell him that I think you could make really great biscotti-ish slices from it.)

The recipe (inside) makes one large loaf, but you could also do small buns, instead—this recipe would yield at least six or seven popover-sized buns, I think. Enjoy!

Mazanec

This recipe is adapted (and halved) from the one in the trusty Kuchařka naší vesnice.

  • 1 c. milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 egg yolks
  • zest of one lemon
  • vanilla
  • 4 c. flour (plus more, for kneading and sprinkling on top)
  • 1/2 cup raisins, divided into two bowls
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, divided into two bowls
  • 1 egg (for brushing onto the bread before baking)

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Scald the milk and set it aside until cooled to about 95°F-110°F (no higher, or it will kill the yeast). Divide the scalded milk into two bowls, and stir a pinch of salt into one bowl.

Add the yeast to the other bowl of cooled scalded milk, and stir in 1/8 cup sugar. Set this bowl aside for 5-7 minutes, or until the yeast foams.

In another bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the remaining sugar, egg yolks, lemon zest, and vanilla, and beat again.

Sift the flour over the butter. Stir the dough with a wooden spoon for a minute, just to mix in the bulk of the flour. Add the yeast mixture and the salted milk, and stir for a minute until you have a more or less uniform (albeit shaggy) dough. Add half the raisins and almonds, and stir some more. Once the dough comes together, turn it out onto a floured work space and knead until no longer tacky. (Or, if you’re averse to washing dishes, like me, you can keep kneading in the bowl and sprinkling in flour.)

Return the dough to the bowl if you took it out, and sprinkle flour on top of it. Set the bowl in a warm place, and let it rise for about two hours. (You should also be able to let it rise in the refrigerator overnight, but I’ve only tried that for pizza dough, not Mazanec.) When it has doubled in size, turn it out onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper, and pat it into a boule-shaped mound, or into two smaller rounds. (I think this is where Vánočka becomes Mazanec—if you were making Vánočka at this point, you’d braid it). Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the remaining almonds and raisins. You can cut a cross in the top, if you like.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, turning the baking sheet around halfway through. (The original recipe recommends starting at 375°F and lowering the temperature, but I started at 375°F, lowered it to 350°F after 15 minutes, and then cranked it up to 400°F for about eight minutes to brown it, since I’d forgotten to brush it with egg). Remove from the oven and let cool on a baking rack.

First, track down that last package of yeast floating around your cupboard. No, not the pizza yeast.

Butter and sugar with vanilla and lemon zest added…

Dough at the “feathery” stage.  Maybe the more technical term is “fluffy.”

Not quite as risen as it could be…

But respectable! (I forgot to brush the bread with the beaten egg, though.)

It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo, but the loaf turned out to be about ten inches across—definitely enough for the toasters and the non-toasters (and non-partisan guests) to enjoy, on their own terms, well past Easter.

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