This recipe for Ukrainian Christmas bread or kolach is a slightly sweet yeast bread that is braided and shaped into either an oblong loaf, a round braided loaf, or three separate round braids stacked one on top of the other. (See the Note, after the recipe directions below, if you plan to make the stacked version.)
In the case of a stacked kolach, a candle is placed in the middle and is an essential part of the Christmas Eve supper (Sviata Vechera). The bread isn't eaten until Christmas Day because it contains eggs and Orthodox Christians fast for Advent, including Christmas Eve.
Kolach is a symbol of good luck, eternity, prosperity, and also is featured at memorial services for the dead.
- In a small bowl, mix yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/3 cup lukewarm water. Let stand 15 minutes or until bubbly.
- In a large bowl or a stand mixer, beat 3 eggs until thick. Beat in the yeast mixture, 2 tablespoons sugar, oil and salt.
- Then add the 1/2 cup lukewarm water and mix until fully incorporated.
- Add 2 cups flour and mix well. Add remaining 2 cups flour and knead until dough is smooth and blistered.
- Place dough in a greased bowl. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour or until doubled.
- Punch down dough and let rise again until doubled. Knead by hand a few times and then turn out onto a lightly floured board
- Divide the dough into three equal pieces and braid. Shape into an oblong loaf and place on a parchment-lined pan. Or shape into a circle, joining the ends, and place in a greased 10-inch tube pan.
- Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled.
- Heat oven to 350 F. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until instant-read thermometer registers 180 degrees.
- Brush bread with 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water the last 5 minutes of baking or until instant-read thermometer registers 190 degrees.
- Remove from oven and turn out of pans to cool completely on a wire rack.
Note: This recipe will make either 1 braided oblong loaf or 1 braided round loaf. To make three round braided loaves that are stacked on top of each other, triple the recipe. The three loaves should be baked in 3 tube pans of decreasing size, 12-inch, 10-inch and 8-inch would be perfect.