It’s Slovak Sunday #6! And that means a beautiful braided loaf of poppy seed buchta is sitting on my counter. If you’re new to the series, every Sunday I post a recipe from my grandmother’s copy of The Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, published in 1952. All of the recipes have been delicious, and you can find the whole series here. For today, I decided to tackle one of the yeasted breads from the book, a braided beauty of sweet enriched dough stuffed with a not-quite-sweet, not-quite-savory, completely intriguing poppy seed filling. With three ropes braided together, each slice of this cake reveals lovely ribbons of poppy seeds dancing through the bread. It’s a simple showstopper, perfect for breakfast or afternoon tea.
According to Google Translate, buchta means ‘bun’ in English. This made me think of hot cross buns, and the sort of breakfast treats you eat on a special holiday. While this isn’t exactly a bun, it does seem like the kind of loaf that my grandmother would make the night before a family gathering and serve for a celebratory breakfast after church. I can’t remember her making this particular loaf, but that shouldn’t stop you!
The recipe begins by having you ‘soften’ the yeast in a tablespoon of sugar. I’ve never done this when making yeasted bread, but I didn’t want to mess with a classic and went with it. On the other hand, the original also called for using scalded and cooled milk, which I know was wise when milk wasn’t as reliably pasteurized, but I felt wasn’t necessary today. I warmed my milk in a large mixing bowl the microwave (you could also do it on the stovetop), then added the remaining sugar, salt, and butter, followed by the yeast-sugar mixture, eggs, and vanilla. Add the flour and stir with a spoon.
Turn out onto a lightly floured counter and knead until smooth and elastic, and place in an oiled bowl.
Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel, wait for the yeast to rise and the bread to double in size (about two hours), and appreciate the magic of kitchen science.
Once the dough is risen, turn it back out onto the floured counter. With a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 12” by 18” rectangle. I use a ruler or measuring tape because I am terrible at estimating measurements, but I’m guessing there are some amazing bread bakers out there who can eyeball it.
Cut the dough into three equal parts along the shorter side, so that you have three 12” by 6” pieces.
Spread the poppy seed filling as equally as you can onto the three pieces, leaving a ½” margin. Roll each piece tightly, then braid them together. Place the braid into a buttered or oiled bread pan, and let it rise until it’s doubled in size again, about an hour.
Bake for 40 minutes in a 350°F oven, and you’ll have a lovely golden brown loaf. After a few minutes, you can turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack. When you’re ready to eat it, slice into it to see the beautiful poppy seed lines running through the bread, different in each slice.
- ¾ cup poppyseeds
- ½ cup milk
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- ⅓ cup butter, melted
- ⅓ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave and let it cool. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the poppy seeds and milk. Cook slowly until the milk is absorbed, five to ten minutes. Add the sugar, butter, and vanilla and stir to combine. Continue to cook for five to ten minutes longer, until mixture is thick.
- Combine the yeast with one tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl. (I’ve never done this before, but the original recipe says that it will ‘soften’ the yeast, so I went with it.)
- Heat the milk in the microwave or on the stovetop until it is warm but not hot. Add the remaining sugar, salt, and butter and cool the mixture until it is lukewarm.
- Add in the yeast, eggs and vanilla and stir. Add in the flour and stir to combine. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead until it is smooth and elastic, three to five minutes.
- Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise until doubled in size, about two hours.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll into a rectangle about 12” by 18”. Cut the dough into three equal parts, cutting the length of the shorter side.
- Place a third of the filling on each part of the dough, leaving a small margin on each side. Roll tightly, beginning with the longest side.
- Braid the rolls loosely together, then place them carefully into a greased bread pan. Brush the top with melted and cooled butter, and allow to rise until doubled in size again, about an hour.
- When getting ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the bread for 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a cooling rack.